As IAQ products permeate the HVAC marketplace, more contractors are finding ways to incorporate these tools of the industry into their businesses. However, actually selling IAQ products to consumers is not always a simple endeavor.
While IAQ can be an integral part of an HVAC installation, not every consumer is aware how or why these products are necessary. That education must come from the contractor. And, those who present solutions through an informal, low-pressure approach seem to have the most success.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is you cannot ‘sell’ IAQ,” said Lisa Whitson, service manager at Al-Don Indoor Air Quality Specialists LLC in St. Louis. “There has to be a genuine concern about a situation and a valid solution that will remove that concern.”
If you do not educate and give your clients options on IAQ products and services, they won’t ask for them, said Michael Rosenberg, president of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort in San Antonio. “It’s also important to test in and out when selling these products. For example, when we suspect a humidity issue in a client’s home, we use data loggers to measure humidity and temperature for a week. The numbers usually prove they have a problem we can solve. Once the solution is installed, we test again to show the client their investment with us was worthwhile.”
Most customers are unaware of industry terms, such as cfm, volatile organic compound (VOC), antimicrobial, HEPA, MERV, and more that are commonly used in conjunction with IAQ. How contractors explain and apply these principles may often tip the scales of a sale.
“Never judge or make a decision for your client,” said Luke Shafer, IAQ specialist for Service Champions Heating & Air Conditioning in Yorba Linda, California. “You shouldn’t make an opinion or judgment based on what you’re seeing in that customer’s home and let it determine whether or not you offer certain services.
“When I see a home that is disgusting, most people would want to get in and get out, but those are often homeowners who want to purchase something to improve their home’s air quality,” continued Shafer. “Clean and tidy homeowners often don’t want anything because they’re so hands-on.”
Along the same lines, Shafer said approximately 20-30 percent of Service Champions’ customer base has solid knowledge of IAQ, but those who’ve done the research tend to purchase products online and complete their own installs.
On a service call, a technician can only learn and accomplish so much. That’s why many contractors encourage their techs to conduct a thorough customer interview while surveying the scene.
“We always interview the customer and talk to them about their needs right away,” said Steve Moon, president of Moon Air Inc. in Elkton, Maryland. “We look for medicine bottles on the kitchen counter as a sign they may have issues. We ask if we can talk to them about any improvements in the home that can be made based on what we find, and they almost always say yes.”
Instead of asking a customer if anyone in the home has allergies, we ask how many people living in the home have allergies, said Whitson. “Our technicians are trained to spot problems in the ductwork and HVAC system and approach our customers with valid concerns.”
On a replacement appointment, Rosenberg said his techs come equipped with a list of specific questions to ask.
“We ask, ‘Do you have any areas of your home that are uncomfortable? Do you have any family members with any allergy or respiratory issues? Do you have an abundance of dust in your home? Do you have high utility bills?’ Once we get the answers to these questions, we give them options for air cleaners, duct sealing, ceiling insulation, dehumidifiers, and additional returns.”
These strategies and approaches did not simply spring to mind for contractors, however. Trial and error is a part of the process, and contractors shared many lessons they’ve learned since incorporating IAQ into their portfolios.
“I’ve learned where not to put IAQ,” said Moon. “People with big dogs usually shouldn’t get IAQ products. It’s such a nightmare to maintain because it will do its job and will plug up immediately. In other words, where not to put IAQ products is as big a question as where to put them. [An IAQ system] is going to clean things out of the home that have been there since the day it was built. These systems need lots of contracting attention at the start because the initial job can be quite a chore.”
Paul Burns, IAQ manager at TDIndustries in Dallas, said the most important thing is to simply shut up and listen.
“While the customer may not be able to always clearly express what they’re experiencing, they’ll give you the clues needed to find the root causes of their problems. Also, look outside. No structure exists in a vacuum. Often, the root causes stem from external situations.”
Whitson acknowledged that there’s often not a one-stop solution, as IAQ problems often involve the envelope of the house, the ductwork, and the HVAC system.
“[Customers] often do not know that we as an HVAC contractor can help with their IAQ,” said Travis Smith, owner of Sky Heating & Air Conditioning in Portland, Oregon. “I’ve seen pest control guys selling filters, duct cleaners selling filters, and vacuum people selling IAQ products. [The customers] don’t always think it’s an HVAC company that can solve their issue. You need to be very upfront and let the customer know what solutions you offer because the customer just thinks we heat and cool air and that The Sharper Image is the company that purifies the air.”
“IAQ offers contractors a way to expand their businesses, even in mature markets where most basic HVAC needs have been met,” he said. “Customers are increasingly concerned about health issues related to IAQ and are eager for solutions. Contractors that offer IAQ solutions stand to make significant profits satisfying this demand. It can also provide them with a focus during the slow times of the year.”
Publication date: 12/28/2015