Fighting through Stagnant Shoulder Seasons
Use the Time to Balance Maintenance Agreements, and Bolster Customer Relationships
The so-called shoulder season is often a difficult time for HVAC contractors. The waning weeks of March and the first days of April, as well as parts of fall, often result in slow business for contractors as consumers don’t have to deal with the immediate repairs and replacements brought on by the extreme cold of winter, nor the scorching heat of summer.
As the busy season fades into the rearview mirror and the spring shoulder season begins, the Weather Channel’s forecast models show “below-average temperatures persisting in March and April for the southeast and south-central regions of the U.S. However, there are indications the northeast and north-central sections of the country will see a trend toward above-average temperatures beginning in March and continuing into April.”
With polar temperatures subsiding and milder weather approaching quickly for the parts of the country most affected by the shoulder season, contractors are preparing to deal with the traditional decrease in business by focusing on key aspects of their business model.
Many within the HVAC industry see the slower season as a great time to manage maintenance contracts. These continuous inspection and cleaning services of heating and/or air conditioning units provide a means of ensuring continued business and that a system is functioning properly.
“We try to do maintenance work during the slow months,” said Robert Axelrod, president, Cooling Equipment Services Inc., Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “Usually our slow season only lasts about two months — March and April. Even that is relative depending on how many commercial installations we have. It’s become less and less predictable as our customer base diversifies.”
“Planned maintenance is a critical part of our business,” said Joe Kirby, service sales, Hawks and Co., Deptford, New Jersey. “We emphasize performing proper maintenance on each piece of equipment we cover through each building. Doing planned original equipment manufacturer [OEM]-recommended maintenance in the shoulder months and throughout the year helps prevent down time, wear and tear, and extends the life of our customers’ equipment.”
Robert Crawford, HVAC operations manager, Abacus Plumbing and Heating, Houston, echoed the sentiment of preventive maintenance agreements being the way to go in the shoulder season. “It gets your technicians in the door once in the spring and once in the fall,” he said. “Then you train your guys to focus on IAQ issues in the home while they are there.”
While most contractors would agree preventive maintenance is essential in the shoulder season, there are varying ideologies on what types of marketing exertion should be utilized. While some ramp up their efforts to stay in the minds of the public, others believe sticking with a consistent marketing plan throughout the year is the best way to generate business and maintain a steady level of brand awareness.
“We’ve done [bigger marketing efforts during the shoulder season] a couple of times,” said Axelrod. “Basically, we’ve offered service or maintenance specials to try to entice customers to plan ahead for the upcoming season, increase energy efficiency, and review their needs for the future. We just try to maintain contact with them during the time when they don’t see our servicemen so often.”
“Our business model is based off of referrals from our existing customers,” said Kirby. “We do small marketing events, some trade shows, and on-site training seminars to help educate and bring awareness to potential new customers or existing facility managers.”
Joy Gendusa, founder and CEO, PostcardMania, said an integrated marketing approach and an organized marketing plan can propel marketing to a level where contractors no longer need to worry about slow seasons because they will be confident their marketing will produce.
Building Customer Relationships
While maintenance agreements and marketing plans are of critical importance, so is developing a strong contractor and customer relationship, especially during a time of the year when servicemen are not at their busiest.
Such a relationship allows contractors to educate the people they serve and help them reduce what they spend overall through the reduction of energy consumption.
“By performing maintenance on a regular basis during the shoulder months we are able to identify equipment issues to eliminate failure and be proactive for either repair or replacement,” said Kirby. “When [identifying equipment issues], we always look at the facilities’ needs and question if replacement with newer technology would offer a greater return on investment [ROI] for the customer.”
“Obviously, [the shoulder season] is not a good time for the servicemen,” said Axelrod. “There can be some short hours for them, but, as I mentioned, we try to increase our customers’ awareness of how important maintenance is to help avoid any crises during the hot weather. I think the overall answer to dealing with the shoulder season is diversity. That can be through managing your customer base, increasing the variety of products you handle, and even branching out into different types of work that you do, such as plumbing, electrical, appliances, etc.”
Robin Boyd, technical service advisor, US Supply Co., West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, said the shoulder season is a time to contact existing customers whom you’ve already provided with heating and/or cooling services, and educate them on the healthiest and safest options for their home environments.
“This is the time to fine tune existing HVAC systems to provide the best performance under the specific circumstances of each system,” said Boyd. “It is the time to teach existing customers how preventing their homes from having negative pressure, which most homes are when all of the windows and doors are closed, will create a healthier indoor environment for their families. The shoulder season is also the time to seal and better insulate ducting that is outside of the house-conditioned space envelope.
“You already have the respect of customers, and they already know who to write checks to, so, cash in on doing things that will benefit your existing customers,” said Boyd.
Publication date: 4/6/2015