Contractors must be committed to zoning if they are going to enter the field, zoning contractors said, in order to best provide customers with top service.
Contractors must be committed to zoning if they are going to enter the field, zoning contractors said, in order to best provide customers with top service.

Is adding zoning applications a good fit for your contracting business? A number of HVAC businessmen have made the commitment and believe it is a worthwhile investment, if done correctly.

Paul Wadsworth, president, P.K. Wadsworth Heating and Cooling, Solon, Ohio, said offering zoning, which he’s done for 30-plus years, is a way to differentiate yourself from the competition. However, he cautioned that zoning success requires a grand commitment, which he feels is the biggest barrier keeping contractors from entering the field.

“It’s something you have to train your staff in as it’s not something you can do every once in a while,” Wadsworth said. “If contractors are willing to make a commitment to train all levels of their staff, then it may work well. But, there is a technological threshold you have to pass through, and I’m not talking about just one or two people, there has to be enough support to really serve the market segment.

“I think sometimes contractors make a mistake when they feel zoning is a must to capture a job. Once that’s occurred, they’ve sort of left an orphan out there they can’t take care of. That’s a mistake. The technology is such that you have to be committed to it. If you mess it up, you’re going to have a problem.”

Greg Smith, president, Quality Heating & Sheet Metal Co. Inc., Brookfield, Wisconsin, said his biggest concern regarding zoning was how customers would react. Many of his customers live in two-system houses and had grown accustomed to the redundancy that setup provides.

“Today, we’re trying to push comfort,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of different things with furnaces these days, but we have a rule in-house that when we get around 3,000 square feet, they better start zoning or having multiple units.”

Zoning, though, has been a revelation for those at Advent Air Conditioning Inc., Lewisville, Texas. Dan Leising, sales and marketing manager, said the company was rather anti-zoning for many years, but a local rep was able to swing them to the other side — and they haven’t looked back since.

“She really broke down the nuts and bolts of why zoning was important and the benefits of it,” Leising said. “She did a real good job educating us.

“We’re real big on training. If we’re going to sell something, we need to know the ins and outs of it, we need to know everything, especially what the end benefit is to the customer. Everything we do has to be good for our clients. My team, they got it; it made sense.”

Zoning led Advent to increased sales and revenues, Leising said. “We have a lot of empty nesters now, and they’re living in these larger homes, so we show them the benefit of zoning,” Leising said. “Of course, when you can add a few thousand dollars to a ticket in a home you’re already in, a lot of the labor is already there, so that gross turns into net. It’s absolutely improved the net profit side of
our ledger.”

Wadsworth said contractors considering zoning need to make sure they are committed enough to justify the fixed cost of getting tooled up and trained.

“From a business standpoint, it’s another club you can put in your bag,” Wadsworth said. “If you’re playing golf, you want all the clubs. If you just have a putter, a 3-iron, and an 8-iron, you’re not going to score as well as you would with all of them. It’s not something that’s going to dramatically affect your business, but I think it could significantly affect your business. It all depends on how you go to market. If you go to market as a full-service HVAC contractor, I think zoning needs to be in your bag. If you go to market as someone who says they can give a cheap heating and cooling unit, that’s great, go for that. But, from our standpoint, we want to be the best at what we do. When we think about taking on a technology, we tell ourselves we have to do this at a level of mastery, at a world-class level. That’s what we try to think about.”

From a technical perspective, Craig McGary, sales coordinator at Quality Heating, said contractors need to do a room-by-room heat- and-cool calculation to determine a cfm load for the space and be able to install the ductwork necessary to deliver.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge for somebody just getting into it,” McGary said. “Running a specific load to that particular zone and making sure you can deliver the amount of air that’s needed to take care of those zones when it’s needed most.”

Leising said the entire staff at Advent is properly trained, which is a critical function of becoming a successful zoning contractor.

“Managers need to seek out whatever manufacturer they’re using and get trained on how to properly size the system, especially when it comes to the smallest zone and its bypasses,” Leising said. “If you don’t understand a lot of that stuff, you’re not going to get it right, and you’re going to have a dissatisfied customer. Do your homework, go to school, get the proper training, and practice some real applications before you take it public.”

Leising said his company, in just five years of doing zoning, has already gotten a great return on investment. “Yes, there’s an up-front expense, and that’s a problem for a lot of people in our industry,” Leising said. “They look at the price tag, but they don’t look at what the cost is going to be long term. If you go through the proper training, it’s going to reduce the number of callbacks you experience, as callbacks are a killer in our industry. If you invest the money to train properly at the beginning, you’re going to reduce the number of callbacks you receive, which impacts the bottom line. We’re a firm believer in getting as much proper training as you can.”

Publication date: 5/19/2014 

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