The HVAC Company Name Game
HVAC contractors discuss strategies in naming their businesses
An HVAC contracting company’s name is the essence of its identity. Whenever customers are in need of service, contractors are hopeful their name is the one that rises to the surface. According to Melanie Tauring, marketing coach with the Nexstar Network, it’s important for HVAC contractors to break through all the clutter and noise in the market and be memorable.
Historically, the most common HVAC company names were typically family-named or alphabetical, which helped the positioning in media that listed companies A to Z.
“A lot of companies were trying to be ‘AAA Heating’ or ‘AA Cooling’ because they were trying to leverage that alphabetical advantage in the Yellow Pages,” Tauring said. “It was one strategy people leveraged back when they were first starting their businesses. Additionally, a lot of people, because they might have started out on their own, have a family name. When a company has a long history, it’s great to leverage that family name because companies that have been around for 40-50 or more years are pretty rare.”
Tauring said when Nexstar members rebrand, they’re more often looking at interesting, unique names that say something about the services they offer.
“Names need to be catchy and memorable so people see them and have a nice emotional reaction, but it also helps to share what the business does.
“Consumers see about 5,000 advertising messages a day, so when we’re honest about it, nobody is thinking about the HVAC industry, except for maybe in the fall and spring or if something goes wrong,” she continued. “They don’t want to think about HVAC because that means they have to spend money on something not fun or exciting. HVAC companies have to work harder to penetrate into that household and remain a household name in between the shoulder seasons. Because of this, I’m seeing a lot more companies finding ways to be more creative about their brands.”
When Steve Moon, owner of Moon Air Inc., Elkton, Maryland, decided to open his company, he elected to use the same name of his father’s company
“Back then, we used our driver’s licenses to name our companies,” Moon told The NEWS. “It started out as Moon Services, so it encompassed everything we could do. Then, we wanted to rein it in to try and make it more associated with air conditioning, so we switched it to Moon Air. And, because I’m so well branded where I am, I didn’t want to give it up and change it to ‘Excellent Air Conditioning’ or something like that, which is what the newer, more modern guys do.
“They name their companies for success,” he continued. “We just named ours after ourselves.
“It was a great idea at the time. Now, I may have named it something different like Excellent Air, because it would have been more appealing to today’s faster-paced customers. With these types, you have about five seconds to make a decision. The name has to speak to you.”
Greg McAfee, owner of McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning in Kettering, Ohio, started his business in 1990, choosing to name it after himself in order to personalize the company and inspire a trust factor.
“I feel it [using our last name] personalizes the company,” he said. “For the most part, 95 percent of my business comes from homeowners, and homeowners want to know who they’re doing business with,” McAfee said. “You can build trust in any name, but that’s how you have to brand yourself — as trustful. In our industry, we were lacking trust, and that’s what put HVAC in the top three Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaints as far as industries go for a long time. One of our slogans is: ‘You can count on my company, because you can count on me. I’m a McAfee.’ That’s me saying it. I’m a McAfee. This is McAfee Heating. The No. 1 reason people call us is because they trust us.”
McAfee said he never even considered naming his company anything else. The only thing he had to make a choice on was to use ‘Heating & Air Conditioning or Heating and Cooling.
“I looked at other companies and Heating & Air sounded more professional at the time,” McAfee said. “And the ‘Heating & Cooling’ companies seemed to be a little smaller.
“I’ve built a trusting brand with my name,” he continued. “I’ve heard young guys come into the business and say, ‘I’m not going to name it after my name in case I go out of business.’ That’s the wrong attitude. If you’re thinking that way now, you probably won’t last. Years ago, your name was who you were. The name works with the good and the bad. If you’re the guy, it’s your face, name, and company. What you do personally can impact the image and the brand of your company, and vice versa.”
Jaime DiDomenico purchased Sarasota, Florida-based N&M Heating and Cooling Inc. in 2004. He originally tried to create a brand campaign with the name but found it very difficult. He decided to change it to Cool Today.
“When people can’t pronounce your name, even long-term customers, you know you have to do something different,” DiDomenico said. “We started to research names, and we knew it had to be relevant to our industry. If it’s not relative to your trade, then you have to spend more money branding the name. We looked at studies like Nike and Starbucks — both had to spend a lot of money to create that connection with customers. We didn’t have the resources to do that, so we knew we had to do something different. We tried different types of names, but the one that kept coming back to me was Cool Today, because, in Florida, there really is no heating. The name was relevant to 90 percent of our business. And the ‘Today’ in the name signified speed of service. We also knew it was a double entendre — we’re cool today or we’ll do something cool today for people.”
However, rebranding an old company wasn’t exactly easy, according to DiDomenico. “Never underestimate the power of an old brand. It’s always difficult for customers to accept change. When I first renamed the business to Cool Today, I started gradually with N&M Cool Today — we dropped the ‘Heating & Cooling.’”
From 2005 to 2007, the letters N&M were just as large and prominent as the Cool Today in the company’s name, DiDomenico noted. He also kept the same colors that were in the old brand. In 2007, DiDomenico shrunk the letters N&M to go above the name Cool Today. That transition lasted an additional three years.
“It was five years before we peeled the N&M name off our trucks and letterheads,” DiDomenico said. “It was very gradual, and, to most people, it was almost unnoticeable. We did change our vehicles to green, which people did notice.”
Eventually, DiDomenico added two other divisions to his company: Energy Today and Plumbing Today. Each brand is marketed individually.
“The more complex the company’s name, whether it’s your personal name or just an acquired name, the more difficult it is to brand,” he added. “If you’re the owner of a company, your goal is to make a profit, but your long-term goal is to eventually sell the business. When you name a business after yourself — especially a name like mine, because it’s a little complicated — I think you remove opportunity to separate yourself from the business when it’s time. That’s a personal preference. A corporate name is easier to sell than a personal name.”
Like DiDomenico, Wyatt Hepworth, president of Any Hour Electric, Plumbing, Heating & Air in Orem, Utah, also changed his company’s name. Founded by his grandfather in 1961 as Hepworth Electric, the company became Any Hour Heating & Air in 2009. The business still operates under the name Hepworth Electric, and Hepworth said he owns both names as well as Any Hour Services.
“The lesson I learned is we have to continue to adjust from generation to generation,” Hepworth said. “The market is always changing, and we must be willing to continue to grow, improve, and give customers the things they need and want.”
In choosing the name Any Hour, Hepworth said he thought about what the customer wanted, which is to get a hold of somebody when they need them, no matter what time of day. “Customers don’t want to feel as if they’re inconveniencing somebody. I was taught growing up not to call people after 8 p.m. Some people may feel uncomfortable placing a call to a company that late. So, if our name is Any Hour, they’re not going to worry about when they’re calling us.”
Additionally, Any Hour saw an instant change in the type of customer who called after the name change. “We found customers were calling us for more service-type work compared to the Hepworth Electric name, which seemed to call for a lot of commercial work and larger projects. Now, we get service calls. Our tagline is, ‘Any Job, Any Size, Any Hour,’ and our customers realize we’re not just a big commercial company doing only bigger jobs.”
Under Hepworth’s leadership, the company grew from a small $1.6 million electrical- services contractor to include plumbing and HVAC services and finished 2015 with $18 million in revenue.
“We realized with electrical service, electrical doesn’t break down as fast as plumbing or heating and air conditioning,” Hepworth said. “We realized we were going to see our customers once every five to seven years with electrical. For plumbing service, it was at least once every two years, and heating and air conditioning allowed us to connect with customers at least once a year. With our membership plans, we see them twice a year.”
Wade Sedgwick, president of Pronto Heating & Air Conditioning in Edina, Minnesota, and his brother Greg Sedgwick, sold their family name Sedgwick to Service Experts. Thus, when they decided to open their own company, they had to create a new company with a new name and brand.
“We had to dream up a name that was simple, easy to remember, and had some sort of meaning we could rally our troops around,” Wade Sedgwick said. “We went round and round and had 20 different options, but narrowed it down to Pronto. The reason we liked that name is, obviously, in the heating and air conditioning business, when your furnace or air is out, you want someone out right away to take care of it. So, it had that meaning of quick service. Also, I didn’t want to limit the company to a location or a product. We’re located in Edina, Minnesota, and I didn’t want to be Edina Heating & Air Conditioning and have people think we only operate in Edina, or be Air Pro’s and have them think we just do air conditioning. I wanted to have a name that could be expanded into different product lines and areas without a complete rebranding. Since we went with Pronto, we can do that, and it doesn’t limit our growth in certain areas.”
Building a new company has been a challenge, Sedgwick acknowledged. “My family’s been in the HVAC business for 65 years. We had already built up our family name, so the challenge was, how do we get recognized and get all of our old customers to realize we started this new company? A lot of our marketing was, ‘Pronto Heating & Air Conditioning, owned by Wade and Greg Sedgwick.’ But we’re getting to the point now, after eight years, where we can stand on our own without that line.”
In addition to choosing a name, Sedgwick said he wanted to ensure the company stood out from the competition. “There were lots of white trucks with blue and red letters and family names or first names — they didn’t really jump out. In Minneapolis, we had a florist with bright purple trucks and a grocery delivery with bright yellow trucks. I always liked them because they were so noticeable — you can see them a mile away. So, we created the Pronto brand with bright orange and green and hired someone to install creative wraps on the trucks. You can see them coming down the road. At first, when we only had two or three trucks, people would see them all the time and think we had 10 trucks. We now have 30. Hopefully people think we have a couple hundred because if they drive by, they can’t miss them.
“Part of our brand is definitely the colors,” Sedgwick said. “Our office has orange and green walls. It takes a little while to get used to. A lot of our employees say, ‘I feel I’m sitting on the sun.’ It’s just part of our look; it’s part of what makes us memorable.”
Publication date: 4/25/2016