Ray Carlyle (left), counterman, and Rob Fraley, branch manager, both use their personal experiences with products to help customers. (Click on the image for an enlarged view.)

PORTLAND, Ore. - One of the greatest challenges HVACR wholesalers face daily is convincing service technicians to try new products or tools, but two Johnstone Supply countermen have discovered a solution - use it themselves to help skeptics become believers.

Whether its new wrench styles, multimeters, or refrigeration sealants, selling new products is easier for both Rob Fraley, branch manager, and Ray Carlyle, counterman, because service techs respond to the fact that they’ve already tried products they’re promoting at their Portland, Ore., location, which is one of 13 branches in Oregon, Washington, and northern California for the Tigard, Ore.-based Johnstone Supply franchise. “There’s a big difference between someone who simply says, ‘It’s supposed to work,’ versus someone who says, ‘I’ve used this product myself and Iknowit works,” said Fraley, who spent 12 years as a service tech before joining Johnstone Supply.

A case-in-point is vacuum-packed refrigeration sealants, which have become more popular in the HVAC industry during this recession as consumers opt for leak repair versus more expensive equipment replacements. However, the problem sometimes arises where service techs can’t find the leaks economically or get accessibility to repair them. That’s when sealants are apropos, but many wary service techs wrongly associate them with automotive industry a/c sealants, which have formulas and applications that work vastly different than HVAC refrigeration sealants. Or the worst myth yet, according to Carlyle, is any similarity to automotive radiator plug leak products. Instead, an HVAC refrigeration sealant is a unique liquid formula of organisilanes that flows indefinitely with the refrigerant/oil and reacts only when exposed to atmospheric moisture at the point of leakage while exiting the system with the refrigerant. Additionally, vacuum-packed HVAC sealants maintain system purity because they use the system’s refrigerant to charge the can, versus automotive-type sealants, many of which use system contaminating, flammable hydrocarbons as propellants.

The Portland, Ore., branch of Johnstone Supply.

Skeptical techs need only to hear Carlyle’s personal account of using Super Seal Classic by Cliplight Mfg., Toronto, which the company says now has more than 1 million successful applications worldwide. Carlyle, currently the president of the Multnomah Chapter of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), Portland, simply recalls his favorite tale as a former owner of HVAC contractor A Beatitudes. An independently-owned restaurant’s 5-ton, 10-year-old ice machine/remote condenser had an R-22 leak that Carlyle couldn’t find regardless of electronic sniffer tests, soap bubble testing, a 400-psi nitrogen test, several dye applications, plus Schrader valve replacements. “I spent many hours checking the machine, its condenser, ice plates, not to mention a few hours crawling in the attic with the line set,” said Carlyle, “but each time we thought the leak stopped, we were called back in a few weeks.”

Meanwhile after nearly two months and four unbilled follow-up service calls, Carlyle was losing money and his longtime customer’s confidence. With no other option than an $8,000 replacement, Carlyle put in one 3-ounce can of Super Seal HVACR™ at a materials and installation cost of less than $400. Four years later the ice machine is still fully charged and working perfectly.

Rob Fraley spent 12 years as a service tech before joining Johnstone Supply.

Fraley’s former service experience has also converted skeptics to believers. For example, Alligator Pliers by Knipex, an all-in-one type of wrench that minimizes the number of conventional pipe wrenches inventoried on service trucks, is a top selling product as well, but few service techs opt to switch until Fraley recommends and/or demonstrates it.

Another recommended product Fraley used in the field is the all-in-one series of multimeters by Fieldpiece that test for amps, volts, microfarads, temperature, and other performance specifications. Fraley says the line of multimeters eliminates the need for multiple individual test instruments, but it’s a tough sell for service techs that are loyal to other brands. However, Fraley’s use in the field and expertise on the product eventually sway customers. “Trying to get service techs to switch test instrument brands they’re familiar and loyal with is the most difficult, but having past experiences generally wins them over,” said Fraley.

Like Carlyle, Fraley uses his own Super Seal HVACR tale of sealing his own 2.5-ton, R-22 residential central air conditioner that he had just installed four years ago. Fraley spent many unsuccessful hours searching for the slow nuisance leak with soap bubbles and/or electronic detection on several occasions over the first 1-1/2-years of operation. He stopped short of system evacuation and nitrogen testing because he would have needed to borrow or rent the equipment.

When a manufacturer representative left a sample can of Super Seal HVACR on his desk, Fraley felt he had nothing to lose because he was faced with replacing out-of-warranty components. The unit is still working perfectly five years after the sealant application and Fraley suspects the residual sealant in the system may have stopped other leaks as they occurred without incident.

Fraley and Carlyle both preach the sealant instructions to service techs, such as prepping with a triple evacuation to boil off moisture in a deep vacuum of 500 microns, followed by filter/drier change-outs. Another tip is to use the connecting hose that comes with every can to avoid any contamination.

While many service techs are hesitant to try new products capable of advancing the profession, it’s the trustworthy experiences of counter people such as Fraley and Carlyle that help new techniques penetrate the HVACR market.

Publication date:02/08/2010