When J. Scott Needham, president, Princeton Air Conditioning Inc., Princeton, N.J., made the decision to enter the home-performance contracting (HPC) business, he discovered there were many different ways to go about it. After initially thinking about going it alone, he ultimately chose to partner with an organization that knew the industry, and then he jumped in with both feet. “That has been one of the best business decisions we’ve made. The pace at which we were able to get up to speed was amazing.”

Many others have followed Needham’s path, seeking guidance from numerous organizations that have the experience necessary to help contractors start and/or grow their HPC businesses.

Going Green

After considering all of his options, Needham decided to partner with GreenHomes America, an Irvine, Calif.-based turnkey operation, offering HVAC contractors on-site home performance training for marketing, sales, production, service technicians, technical advisors, customer service, and metric tracking, as well as daily support.

Needham noted that he was first attracted to the organization’s training programs. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. The professionals that we interface with keep us focused on the important things, while helping us avoid costly mistakes. The success we’ve had in the HPC business makes us feel like anything is possible, but finding the right partner was the key.”

GreenHomes also has a national purchasing program that provides partners with deep discounts on all the tools, materials, and equipment they will use as HPC professionals. In addition, hands-on field training is offered for auditors and production crews.

In fact, being hands-on is a big part of the GreenHomes philosophy, said company vice president Michelle Knaszak. “We don’t hand you a bunch of manuals and say, ‘Read this and you can become a home-performance contractor.’ We offer support every step of the way as an on-going partner to all of our franchisees. We provide continued daily support on how to change your business culture; how to incorporate home performance into your entire business. We have had many partners start out with a home-performance division, then after about a year, they change their culture to incorporate the entire business into a home-performance company.”

GreenHomes tailors its training programs to each company, and most contractors become profitable in HPC in their first year in business, said Knaszak.

“GreenHomes America has partners in 12 states, and some of these states have low utility costs and do not offer [incentive] programs, but our partners are still flourishing,” she said. “You don’t need a program for our industry to grow, but you do need to know how to market to let people know there are solutions to their comfort problems.”

Call the Doctor

Hal Smith, co-owner, Halco Heating, Phelps, N.Y., already had a well-established HPC program in place when he met with representatives from Dr. Energy Saver Inc. (DES). “Even though they offer first-class technical training, we didn’t need that. What DES brought to the party was a home-performance software and sales system that is designed to be used at the kitchen table. Along with that, they provided us with tremendous website marketing.”

DES has 59 dealers in 30 states, and, according to Larry Janesky, company founder, owner, and CEO, his dealership is very contractor-friendly. “We do not have any franchise fees, royalty fees, or long contracts to sign, and dealers can leave the program at any time without further financial commitments. There is a dealer support fee of $995 per month for territories of up to 500,000 people, and we can create a custom fee structure for larger territories.”

The way the program works is that DES becomes the dealers’ principal supplier of materials used in their home-performance businesses (not HVAC equipment). There is no quota, but DES sells everything that dealers need for HPC. “That’s the deal, and there is no cheating,” said Janesky. “Our dealers have to buy materials from somewhere anyway, and if they buy them faithfully from us, they get world-class marketing, sales, training, and support for their business for free.”

As Janesky explains, the monthly dealer support fee is reduced by rebates on the products the dealers buy from DES. “Every product in the catalog is designated with a rebate amount — most carry a 10 percent rebate. So, for example, if a dealer purchases $10,000 worth of products one month at the 10 percent rebate level, his support fee for that month would be $0.”

DES also provides dealers with additional resources, such as a 40,000-square-foot training center that houses an entire test home, which is used for blower door training and Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification, as well as 25 different HVAC systems that can be used to train dealers about various equipment. “Our ‘Fish On!’ marketing program covers branding, positioning, advertising, and promotion, and ‘My Lead Tracking’ enables dealers to arrange off-line advertising and only pay for the leads they get,” said Janesky. “Our team of 40 Internet professionals creates and optimizes websites for all of our dealers, and our sales software, GreenPro™, is updated and supported by our own in-house software experts who also happen to be experts in HPC and HVAC.”

DES also has its own finance company, which operates in 20 states and can offer six- and 12-month, same-as-cash installment loans. Smith has been happy partnering with DES, and he noted the results speak for themselves. “We have been with DES for two years, and sales in our HP department have gone from $5 million a year to $10 million a year; in addition, we went from getting almost no Internet leads to about 20 per week.”

Building Competence

Troy Tanner, founder, The Home Energy Detective Inc., Manassas, Va., attended his first ACI (Affordable Comfort Inc.) meeting several years ago and was impressed with the amount of information and training that was presented. “I think what drew me to the association is the fact that the people there really wanted everyone to not only succeed, but to be the very best in the industry of home performance. It is not about competition, it is about competence.”

ACI presents regional and national events, online education and communities, research and white papers, and initiatives that enable contractors to sharpen their HPC skills. In addition, ACI provides opportunities to earn continuing education credits (CEUs) and most importantly, stay up to date on the most relevant information in building science, technology, program design, and business practices, explained Amy Kozusko, marketing manager, ACI.

“ACI believes that growth happens when all sectors of an industry come together — one vision, one voice, one industry,” said Kozusko. “For 27 years, ACI has served as an unbiased go-to resource for home-performance professionals. We convene professionals from every sector — contractors, manufacturers, utilities, program managers, and more — all under one roof, so our educational sessions meet a variety of needs, and our networking opportunities are more meaningful. Contractors can choose from an array of informative educational sessions based on their interests and desired CEUs, discover the latest in technology and services at our trade show, and connect with peers to learn about best business practices and explore new partnerships.”

Tanner noted that ACI conferences have helped his company in numerous ways. “I like that they provide the opportunity to develop mentorships, both as a mentor and a mentee. In addition, learning the different approaches to running a home-performance company from the folks who have succeeded and failed and then succeeded again is very helpful. As is finding out more about writing reports, conducting energy evaluations, improving client interaction, new processes and gadgets, etc. Every time I attend, I learn and can apply new concepts that can make a dramatic change in how I run my company.”

House as a System

As Kieth Hilligoss, president, Air Solutions Heating & Cooling Inc., Tulsa, Okla., progressed in HPC, he quickly found out that there was a lot more to heating and air conditioning than just changing out boxes, which is why he sought guidance from BPI. “BPI educated the industry. They demonstrated that there were different ways of doing things, and they opened up our company to new opportunities,” he said. “They showed us that a house is a system and that all the things connected to that system are very important and easy for our company to sell.”

BPI certifies professionals who are involved in residential building energy auditing and analysis, heating, air conditioning/heat pumps, shell/envelope, manufactured housing, and multifamily designations. These certifications verify that workers have house-as-a-system building science knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to diagnose and solve critical performance factors in a home, said Leslie McDowell, director of marketing and communications, BPI.

“BPI professional certification has changed the way HVACR contractors approach both their projects and their customers’,” said McDowell. “HVACR contractors are now aware that solutions to customer comfort and high utility costs go beyond the heating or cooling system and involve the whole house through air sealing, insulation, ventilation, and combustion safety. They have the opportunity to provide complete solutions to customers’ comfort, health, and energy issues by addressing the house as a system. This not only expands project work scopes, it allows for reduced callbacks, improved satisfaction, and fewer emergency replacements. It also improves the conversion rates of referrals from customers and reduces the need for competitive bidding.”

The certification process is supported by a nationwide network of 200-plus independent testing centers that provide local training to prepare candidates for BPI certification exams. It certainly helped Hilligoss, who noted, “BPI certification opened the door to increased profits. It changed our company in the way we approach the market.”

As McDowell stated, becoming a home-performance contractor takes a good business plan, a commitment to change, and an investment in training and equipment. That’s a lot for contractors to take on themselves, which is why so many professionals choose to partner with organizations that can help put them on the road to success in HPC.

Publication date: 9/23/2013 

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