HVAC contractors learned about linking the major components of home-performance contracting during the National Comfort Institute’s (NCI) 13th annual Summit meeting in April in Savannah, Georgia.

The theme, ‘Connecting the Dots,’ focused on three major concepts — lead generation, closing the sale, and delivering products and services — in order to become successful.

“Our members are already doing a lot of great things,” said Dominick Guarino, CEO of NCI. “One of our members came to us and said he really needs help connecting the dots. They’re learning all these pieces — the technology, work, and sales — but there’s a disconnect between all of those things. So, we decided to take the process and connect the dots from start to finish and do it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm
[our members].

“We’re starting with the basics and talking about lead generation and how it connects to the sales process using performance testing,” continued Guarino. “Then, we’re connecting the sales process to the delivery process. So, now you’ve got end-to-end, from lead generation to actually delivering a finished product. Of course, there are lots of little dots in between those processes, but at least we’ve got the major chunks connected, and that’s what these sessions are about — helping to connect those things.”

Rob Falke, president of NCI, said the organization tries to look ahead and lay out the dots for its members.

“When you were a kid, remember the connect-the-dot pictures? There were lots of dots, and, while they were numbered, when you looked at just the dots, you couldn’t figure out what it was,” he said. “But, as you began to put the dots together, a picture formed. After a while, you could see where you were going. There are a lot of parallels in that here.”

The event, which drew the most attendees in NCI’s history, included a number of classroom workshop sessions, networking, and a trade show with NCI partner vendors. In addition to the classes and networking, attendees were treated to an opening session skit and video that took a humorous look at the difficulties of integrating home-performance concepts into individual HVAC businesses. Attendees met the fictitious management team from Connor’s Heating and Air Conditioning, who were struggling with getting their field personnel onboard with performance-based contracting. An intervention was organized by the NCI team to help Connor’s team understand the relationships between the home and HVAC systems. The intervenors also helped Connor’s crew connect the dots, which helped transform their fragile customer base into raving fans.


Attendees also were able to learn from successful contractors who have implemented home-performance contracting into their companies during a panel discussion. The panelists included John Ellis, owner of So Cal Air Dynamics in Northridge, California; Tom Johnson, general manager and president of TM Johnson Bros. in Cambridge, Minnesota; Rob Basnett, president of Basnett Plumbing and Heating in Littleton, Massachusetts; Mike Hartman, owner and president of Thomas E. Clark Inc. in Silver Spring, Maryland; and Mark Pippin, owner of Pippin Brothers Inc. in Lawton, Oklahoma.

The discussion ranged from best practices for implementing home-performance contracting and overcoming roadblocks to adding new products and services.

Ellis advised contractors to get started with implementation sooner rather than later.

“The biggest thing you can do is to just get out there and start,” he said. “You get introduced to this stuff, and you’ve heard the term ‘drinking out of the firehose’ at these conferences. It is a lot of information [to take in], and it creates a lot of apprehension. Just take that first step and go. Will you make a mistake? Yes, but that is how you learn.”

Hartman suggested making a list. “Right now, everybody has a bunch of ideas of what they want to do. My recommendation is to make a list of your top 10 things, and then don’t move onto number two until number one is done. Don’t try to do too many things at once. That’s where I dropped the ball, I think. I was trying to throw everything out there, and I wasn’t concentrating on getting one thing done before moving onto the next one.”


NCI also recognized several HVAC contractors for excellence in performance-based contracting. The organization annually presents three Contractor of the Year Awards, an Annual Training Award, the David Debien Award, Vendor Partner Award, and the Chairman’s Award. New this year was the Implementation Award.

Additionally, the Contractor of the Year Awards are broken into three categories: the small category, which includes companies under $1.5 million in gross sales; medium, which includes companies with $1.6-$3.9 million in gross sales; and large, which includes companies with $4 million or more in gross sales.

So Cal Air Dynamics received the 2016 Contractor of the Year in the small category; Basnett Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning won in the medium category; and Schaafsma Heating and Cooling, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, won in the large category.

Pippin Brothers was presented with the NCI Training Excellence Award during the event while Lakeside Service Co. of Brighton, Michigan, received the first-ever Implementation Award.

NCI’s David Debien Award is presented in memory of Houston contractor David Debien who, during a life-long battle with diabetes that eventually took his life, dedicated himself to non-stop learning, developing, and teaching strong technical skills and teaching others in his company to test and measure HVAC system performance. Reps at Woodbury Heights, New Jersey-based W.B. Steward & Son received the award.

TM Johnson Bros. Inc. in Cambridge, Minnesota, received NCI’s highest award, the annual Chairman’s Award, and R.E. Michel Co. took home the NCI Preferred Partner of the Year Award.


Attendees were also updated on new trade tools and changes at NCI. Guarino said the organization has been growing rapidly in Southern California and has nine full-time employees. NCI has also added staff members in Georgia within the last year, he noted. Additionally, the organization relocated its headquarters in Ohio and is in the process of designing and building a new training center nearby.

“What’s exciting about that is the more we grow and expand, the more value we feel we can bring to our members,” Guarino said.

NCI also updated its member website with added benefits and upgraded areas to allow users to find more information about themselves and their team certifications, launch online training, manage email subscriptions, and more. The organization also launched a redesigned consumer site — www.myhomecomfort.org — which is now mobile-friendly and has undergone search engine optimization. Every page of the site now displays a link to the ‘Find a Certified Professional’ location tool. Every NCI-certified company will be displayed in the tool according to distance from the zip code entered.

The organization also created two new training workshops and three online technician training modules. Guarino said the organization’s online library will grow quickly this year.

“We’ve had online training for several years, but we’re stepping up our investment in developing these modules,” he explained. “It’s great to go to training for two or three days, but it’s a little bit like breaking out the fire hose because you’re getting a lot of information all at once. And, unfortunately, we kind of have to give them all the information at once because we want them to have the complete picture. Online training allows contractors to prep their people with some basics before the class, and it allows them to continue reinforcement training after the fact, because they’re not going to absorb everything during the class.”

Additionally, NCI announced its ComfortMaxx Air software is now free for all members.

“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where members are more likely to use the benefits,” Guarino said. “We’re trying to simplify things so it’s easier for them to navigate to any of the member benefits. And, obviously, the reason is so we can grow our membership. Essentially this year, ComfortMaxx Air — our entry-level software — is now available to members at no extra cost to them. The value of that is equal to the cost of the membership. They basically double their value for the same amount of money. We’re all about our members. The more value we can bring them, the more successful they can become, and then we feel like we’ve done our job. We want to constantly bring them the cutting-edge to where they can continue to differentiate themselves from the competition.

“The most important thing is for them to leave here with a plan — not just a plan that gets put on a shelf, but a plan that can be implemented immediately, even if it’s at a low level,” he continued. “That’s the key. They could implement this process at a high level where they’re delivering measured performance in every aspect of the system, and that’s a lot to ask. Or, they could just start with the basics and deliver a starter product, if you will, to the customer that begins to approach performance. Once they master that, they move on to the next level and to the next level after that. If they do that, then I feel we’ve done our job.”

Publication date: 6/20/2016

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