Add-on IAQ products, such as humidification and dehumidification systems, can be a great way for HVAC contractors to improve the profitability of their businesses. Because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of managing IAQ, they are willing to spend money to purchase products to improve overall comfort in their homes. In fact, the U.S. IAQ market is forecast to grow to $11.4 billion by 2019 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7 percent over the next four years, according to a report from BCC Research.
CAPITALIZING ON FREE TRIALS
Rick Stanton, owner and president of Sibley Sheet Metal Inc. in Sibley, Iowa, has become a dehumidification sales guru, selling 30-40 Honeywell whole-home systems each year. The company sold five systems in the month of July.
“We believe in this product, said Stanton. “It consistently outperforms our expectations.
“We live in a community of 2,400 people, and I run a fairly good radius, but I rely heavily on IAQ accessories in order to maintain a successful company. I was the guy five years ago who said people in my small community wouldn’t pay — or couldn’t afford to pay — that much, and Honeywell and their reps convinced me differently. With the way business has been, my distributor said I would run out of customers to sell these things to, but it just keeps growing every year. ”
Stanton said he’s found success because his technicians are trained to offer the product to everybody. “We don’t judge who we feel should or shouldn’t have one. We’re in every basement in town. When my technicians spot an unplugged portable dehumidifier sitting around, mold, or increased moisture levels, they offer it to people.”
According to Stanton, when offered, they’re experiencing a 50 percent closing rate. If the homeowner is on the fence, Stanton offers to install the product and leave it there to let them try it for free. “We leave the dehumidifier there for a week, and, in a day or two, they can tell the difference.”
But, Stanton said he hasn’t had to demo the product in quite some time. “They’re just selling themselves,” he said. “My customers are even doing a fairly good job of selling them for me. We have lots of relatives approaching us, asking questions.”
Another useful technique is installing thermostats that read the humidity inside of a home.
“I use Honeywell’s Prestige Thermostat on the majority of our installations. That has been a massive tool for us because people can physically read the humidity level in their homes. Once somebody’s got a Prestige, usually within the year, they’re buying a humidifier or dehumidifier. When they see the percentage of humidity in their house, it bothers them more so than the shocks and the dry skin. It allows people to see what their problems are.”
Nate Adams, founder of Cleveland-based Energy Smart Home Performance, a home-performance consulting company, said he has found the best tool is asking homeowners good questions and listening to their answers. “Once you start digging and asking questions, they’re fairly likely to tell you about an existing humidification or dehumidification problem.”
According to Adams, dry skin during the winter is the easiest way to tell if there is a humidity problem. But, there are other things contractors can pay attention to, as well. “If you notice that air conditioning set points are kind of low, it often means they’re dropping the air temperature so they feel comfortable. But, more than likely, they have a humidity problem. 75° with 45 percent humidity can be quite comfortable.”
Like Stanton, Adams also likes to show homeowners how to monitor the humidity in their homes by either installing an ecobee thermostat or by selling them a $10 general humidity and temperature monitor. “I tell them what is normal and what is not normal and have them start watching it. I encourage them to log a few days worth of data and to report back what they see. By doing that, you make them aware of the fact that a problem exists. I like a more permanent data logger, if I can, like the ecobee thermostat, because it monitors indoor and outdoor temperature, indoor humidity, set point, and equipment run time. It’s an awareness thing. It’s important to get them interested in what’s going on. Sometimes, all it takes is a $10 unit.”
Adams suggested HVAC technicians carry cheap monitoring units on their trucks. “If the tech thinks it’s justified, he can leave one with the client, or have the client pay $10 for it. The freebee is always a dangerous thing because then it won’t be valued.”
Adams said it’s ultimately about slowing down, asking questions, and, above all, not jumping to conclusions. “When you build trust with people and not try to ram something down their throat, then they know you’re there to solve a problem rather than just sell them something.”
EDUCATING THE CUSTOMER
Getting the consumer to understand the relationship between humidity and heat can be a challenge, said Robin Boyd, technical service advisor, US Supply Co., West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. “It all comes down to the relationship between evaporating and condensing good old H2O. Evaporation of water puts humidity into the air and condensing water vapor removes humidity from the air. Once humidity is removed by condensing it into water, that water needs to be efficiently removed from the building so that it doesn’t get reintroduced into the air.”
Using physical metaphors are a great way to explain humidity to consumers, Boyd noted. “A sales person must walk a fine line of being able to get the consumer to understand how humidity affects them without getting so deep into the physics that the consumer loses interest and feels overwhelmed. The best way to do this is to use as many metaphors and parables as possible. For example, if the consumer has a fish tank, discuss having to add water to the tank during the winter months as a result of the air being so dry it allows the fish tank water to evaporate. Then, explain the same thing is happening to the moisture on their skin, comparing it to removing 970 Btu of heat per pound of perspiration, which causes their skin to feel cool. For adding humidity in the winter months, talk about dry, itchy skin and the use of more moisturizers. Winter nosebleeds, waking with dry mouth, and crusty eyes are other ways to get consumers to relate to the importance of proper humidity control. Tell them that, when it comes to humidity, we need to strive for the ‘baby bear’ level of humidity; not too much, not too little, but just right.”
The biggest mistake contractors can make when trying to sell these products is to not understand the basics of humidity control, Boyd said. “Those selling a new cooling system have the best opportunity to sell humidity control built into the new cooling system. Understanding why the system should never be oversized more than the physics of changing temperatures and changing relative humidity levels is a major factor. [Contractors should] understand that ‘high efficiency’ is not a friend of humidity control unless measures are taken to change the recommended settings designed to achieve high efficiency.
“Don’t shy away from personal issues such as sweating or dry skin conditions,” Boyd continued. “Discuss wood furniture and flooring developing gaps and/or becoming loose due to a loss of moisture. These are tangible conditions that consumers can relate to. The consumer must be able to see a benefit to humidity control before he or she will pay for it.”
Publication date: 8/10/2015