|Distributors from Honolulu (above) to Pennsylvania are finding value in selling ductless equipment and providing training and support to contractors.|
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean — approximately 2,300 miles from California and 3,800 miles from Japan — sits Hawaii. The American state harbors a diverse culture and experiences significant influence from Japanese products, especially when it comes to the HVACR market. One of those influences is ductless equipment.
Andrew Santos is the president of Admor HVAC Products Inc., a wholesaler-distributor based in Honolulu. Approximately 35 percent of his sales to contractors are in the ductless sector, including equipment and accessories. Outside of his product offering, Santos and his team may be more recognized for their ductless training offerings.
“We are the leaders in training here in Hawaii,” he said. “We have provided training for hundreds of technicians from all of the Hawaiian Islands.”
The distributor has a Honolulu training center prepared specifically for contractors to gain hands-on experience with different pieces of ductless equipment. The facility includes 12 training rooms, which, according to Santos, helps the company retain a limited class size and continue to offer personalized instruction.
Classes are available in product training, installation training, troubleshooting, and repair. Beginners may start with basic training on single-zone systems and then progresses to multi-zone and variable-refrigerant flow (VRF) courses. The facility hosts multiple-length training sessions ranging from one day to one month for up to six months straight.
“With our hands-on set up, technicians can learn how to diagnose and repair as though they were in the field,” explained Santos. “We actually fault the operating systems and then have the technician participants diagnose and repair them.”
Most training occurs in full eight-hour sessions and Admor provides breakfast, lunch, and snacks to its trainees. Outside of training, the distributor also provides a selection of all of the equipment and accessories needed to successfully install and maintain ductless systems. Having these accessories in stock has been beneficial to his contractor customers, and subsequently, his bottom line.
Santos expects the market to continue to grow and become an even larger player in the U.S. market.
“As contractors become more comfortable with the installation of this equipment and believe in its benefits, I think they will begin to offer more ductless solutions to their customers,” he said. “Ductless is here to stay and I feel that it should be a part of any HVAC business.”
For contractors looking to get involved with ductless equipment, as well as those who are deciding which product lines to use, Santos stressed the importance of choosing the best manufacturer with the highest quality parts and good technical support. After seeing a rise in cheap ductless splits, he cautioned that follow-up service and support are extremely important, which is why he prefers parts and services made in America.
Santos also encouraged distributors offering ductless equipment to consider hiring an in-house technical support person to assist contractors with troubleshooting and repair.
“Most problems in the field can be repaired with the proper troubleshooting techniques and training,” explained Santos. “Contractors who do not take the time to learn become parts changers who will end up replacing expensive boards and components when they are actually good.”
Mainland Distributor Finds Success
Over on the mainland, Jeff Schmidt, president of Mar-Hy Distributors in Milwaukie, Ore., agrees with Santos that ductless products are here to stay. He has been successfully selling ductless equipment for the past 4 ½ years in response to the local market demand.
“About five years ago I began to see the market shift toward the ductless product,” said Schmidt. “Units that were once used for bonus rooms were being applied in small dwellings to eliminate baseboard or straight-electric systems.”
Mar-Hy offers multiple ductless sales and service classes each year to train its customers. The company will not sell ductless equipment to customers unless they have been through some sort of training.
“This type of product is sophisticated and requires best-practice training to maintain the product’s integrity,” noted Schmidt. “It can be a cost-effective solution for a contractor’s customers, especially for jobs that cannot be addressed using strictly conventional products.”
Training Solutions Offered
Across the country, in Pittsburgh, is a supply house that has maintained 50 percent of its sales from ductless equipment and its accessories for the past several years.
“Comfort Supply Inc. has been working with ductless HVAC products since the late 1980s,” said Brendan Heckler, marketing specialist. “We saw an opportunity to be on the forefront of an emerging technology and it has paid off.”
Finding ductless opportunities to be abundant in its market, the distributor has fostered a group of HVAC contractors dedicated to the product. Comfort Supply provides bimonthly ductless training and helps spread awareness via appearances at home shows and through ductless promotions and advertisements. According to the company, end-user interest in ductless seems to be rapidly growing.
As a factory-authorized training facility, Comfort Supply’s onsite training includes residential ductless service, residential ductless applications, introduction to VRF, commercial VRF service, and VRF applications.
“We have also developed specialized training for our contractor customers, diving deeper into the ductless product offering in regards to how the equipment and its application varies as you move through residential, light commercial, and commercial projects,” explained Heckler. “When it comes to ductless products, HVAC distributors and contractors alike should align themselves with a superior product and partner with the best contractors and distributors in the market, respectively.”
Ductless distributors, from Hawaii to the mainland, are finding value in supplying and supporting ductless equipment. It appears as if contractors can only benefit from learning more about the technology. And, one way to do that may be to turn to a local distributor.
Schmidt summed it up like this, “If you are not currently working with ductless equipment, it’s time to consider adding it to your lineup.”
Publication date: 4/29/2013