BARBERTON, Ohio - Some contractors think of IAQ and duct cleaning as a fairly recent business opportunity. Blind and Sons/Tri County Inc., however, has been doing it since 1951. That’s when the company purchased its first duct cleaning system from Kalamazoo Furnace Manufacturing Co.
That first duct-cleaning machine had an 8- by 30-foot bag deployed, said owner Bill Blind. “It’s like a great big sweeper bag,” he said. When the company first got started in duct cleaning, all ducts were metal, and a lot of the heating systems were coal and gravity furnaces, he said. “They were probably cleaning some coal dust out of those first ducts; it didn’t necessarily produce coal dust in the ductwork, but some of it was in the system.”
Today, IAQ work (filtration and duct cleaning) accounts for a substantial portion of the company’s work. “One out of three people is aware that their ductwork needs to be cleaned periodically,” Blind said. “People are having so many more respiratory ailments today, especially among children,” where asthma is the main concern.
“It’s easily 10 percent of our business,” said Blind. “It’s really a cornerstone piece. A conversation on IAQ often leads to a complete system changeout or maintenance contract.”
Often recommendations for the work come through physicians. Too often, however, they recommend room-by-room filtration units. “Our systems are designed to do the whole home,” Blind said. The room units have a much higher degree of consumer awareness, “yet that equipment isn’t nearly as effective as a whole-home system hooked up to your ductwork.” With those, customers can either “live in one room, or buy 11 room units.”
The contractor sells Aprilaire whole-home filtration systems, in addition to whole-home humidification and dehumidification systems.
HEART OF THE MATTERWhen it comes to marketing its IAQ services, the contractor focuses 99 percent of its efforts on its existing customer base. “We do advertise in the newspaper, but the IAQ story is most appropriately delivered face to face,” Blind said.
The company has HVAC, plumbing, and electrical service divisions, and all employees are cross-trained on the products and services of each department. “If I’ve got an electrician working in someone’s home, he has the knowledge to be able to answer questions if someone has an IAQ concern,” Blind explained. An IAQ specialist gets those leads.
The contractor has an approach that helps identify customers’ true IAQ concerns, allowing them to offer the most appropriate solutions. “When customers call us, and they want to know the price of air duct cleaning, we ask them, ‘How do you know you need it?’ We offer to send our IAQ specialist out to the home. He will take a scope, take a return air grille off, and show the customer what’s in the ductwork. Is it dirty enough to be cleaned up?
“Anyone calling for a price on duct cleaning really could care less if their ductwork was clean or not,” he continued. “They’re trying to solve a problem - usually one or several reasons why they called you. We find it very beneficial to get past the issue of price, and get to the issue of what they’re trying to accomplish. We want to make sure they’re not buying duct cleaning for the wrong reasons.” Over time, the ductwork will get dirty again unless appropriate steps are taken. “We find it’s a much better way to address the issue.”
Like most IAQ professionals, Blind has valid complaints about the way many companies try to sell duct cleaning: “It is completely unprofessional. When you read the fine print, the main trunk lines aren’t included” in the low advertised cost. “We try to get at the consumer’s real pain. What is it that this ductwork is going to do for you?”
CROSS-POLLINATIONFor contractors who have a hard enough time convincing their techs to offer things like maintenance agreements, it might seem like a stretch to get them to offer IAQ products and services. However, it’s all part of the culture at Blind and Sons.
In short, the company’s cross-training fulfills a promise made to all customers, and employees know that they are obligated to fulfill that promise.
“We promise our customers that our guys are going to be looking at their systems holistically,” Blind said. “We tell our technicians that our customer service people have promised that we’re going to look at everything, so you’ve got to do it. It’s part of the job.”
“This business model increases customers’ frequency of purchase,” Blind said. “They know us, they know we clean up after ourselves, they know we will be in a truck that’s lettered, and our guys will be in uniforms.” It allows the contractor to be the go-to shop for most consumer needs.
It also helps keep true technicians interested in their work because training is continuous in many new areas. “The technicians love knowledge, and they love to learn stuff,” said Blind. “They soak it up like a sponge. It’s funny; we keep changing the way we operate our business, adding more and more computerization, and the techs love it. They’re actually very advanced when it comes to computers. They’re masters of software. They can manipulate it; it’s unbelievable.”
SMART ECONOMIZINGProbably the biggest consumer misconception regarding filtration and IAQ, he said, regards the amount of damage particulate can do to the system with just an ordinary furnace filter. “If you do not have a high-efficiency filter on your heating-cooling system, 85 percent of the air goes through a standard furnace filter, and goes to the components,” Blind said. This reduces airflow, heat transfer, efficiency, and capacity, and it can affect the system’s longevity.
“It’s really important to have high-efficiency filtration equipment in the home, not only for IAQ, but also to keep the system clean,” he said. “We strongly recommend that no one buy a high-efficiency HVAC system without high-efficiency filtration. They won’t get the full benefits because inside a year or year and a half, the system is gunked up with dirt.
“There’s some real economy in protecting the system’s life,” he said. Customers do understand the car maintenance analogy. “We take care of our company trucks, and if we really do a good job, we’ll get a couple hundred thousand miles on them,” Blind said. In addition to long life, maintenance ensures against untimely breakdowns in both cars and mechanical systems. “Air filtration is a peace of mind provider.”
The contractor also recommends having a sealed duct system for all of its customers. This is typically handled by the IAQ department, but if it is truly a major renovation, it goes to the installation department. Balancing and sealing is included in all new system installations. “We ask many questions, such as, ‘Do you have any spots in the home that are uncomfortable in summer and winter?’ Some people don’t really care; others assume duct sealing will be taken care of as part of the installation.” It’s important that the customer understands what is included in Blind’s proposal, versus what is included in most competitors’
Sidebar: Timeline1937:Company founded by John W. Blind, installing and servicing coal furnaces and gas conversion burners.
1946:Company moved into storefront location on 2nd St. in Barberton.
1948:Started installing and servicing forced-air furnaces.
1954:Richard J. Blind Sr., son of John W. Blind, became president.
1974:Began a popular radio campaign.
1975:Moved into the current location on 4th St. in Barberton, formerly a grocery store.
1987:Richard J. Blind II, son of Richard J. Blind Sr., became president.
1992:Current president Bill Blind took the helm.