Birds are chirping, bees are buzzing, and baseballs are flying over fences. That can only mean one thing: spring has arrived.
And crops aren’t the only things budding. According to Chisult Insight Co. Ltd.’s Global and U.S. HVAC Market Research Report, the U.S. HVAC market is estimated to achieve 5 percent growth in 2017.
Much like gardens need fertilization to bear fruit, HVAC companies require constant investments to flourish.
The NEWS asked contractors how they were concentrating their investments in 2017. Their answers may surprise you.
From social media, pay-to-play click advertising, email marketing, and more, HVAC contractors have multiple opportunities to elevate their online visibility.
Social media remains a hot commodity, and it’s not going away any time soon. According to estimates from eMarketer, spending on digital ads in the U.S. will likely grow this year to the point where more money is spent online than is spent on television, the former Goliath of the industry.
Only behind Google, Facebook is the lead contender when it comes to digital advertising. According to Facebook, 16 million local business pages have been created since May 2013, which is a 100 percent increase from 8 million in June 2012. With statistics like these, it’s easy to see why more and more contractors are advertising their services on social media sites.
John Aliano, general manager, American Residential Services, Omaha, Nebraska, has delved deeply into social media to increase visibility.
“We are heavy on social media and constantly doing what we can to increase our SEO [search engine optimization] strength,” he said.
With the abundance of social media platforms available, it’s important to select the proper channel for your business, which isn’t always an easy feat.
And, while it may seem antiquated, email marketing is still viable.
“Our online reputation is working quite well,” said Paul Sammataro, owner of Samm’s Heating and Cooling, Plano, Texas, who utilizes email marketing along with social media advertising.
“While we’re going to continue our email marketing and online pay-per-click advertising, we’re aiming to get away from direct mail marketing a little more this year.”
Many contractors are aligning with Sammataro and giving pay-per-click (PPC) advertising a try. PPC is a model of internet marketing in which advertisers pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. Essentially, it’s a way of buying visits to your site, rather than attempting to earn those visits organically. This is yet another step for a company to get its company in front of customers seeking HVAC services online. While you have to pay to play, it is an effective way to increase online traffic and has become an attractive option for contractors nationwide.
“The most successful HVAC contractors in the country understand that winning online is about cost-effectively maximizing your real estate — starting with search engines,” said Ben Landers, president of Blue Corona, a web marketing, analytics, and optimization company. “Consumers using Google demonstrate their interest and intent with the keyword phrases they use. Not everyone on Facebook is in the market for a new furnace, but virtually everyone searching ‘cost of furnace replacement [city, state]’ is.
“To maximize your search engine real estate, you must intelligently invest in SEO and PPC,” Landers continued. “And, while recent Google changes are largely overlooked by some business owners and marketers, they make PPC advertising even more important for local HVAC contractors.”
REVIEWS AND REFERRALS
Many HVAC contractors have reported great returns by encouraging customers to leave reviews. Reviews give contractors a chance to spotlight why their businesses are superior, connect with customers, heap praise, and learn how and where they need to improve.
Will Merritt, managing partner, Effective Media Solutions, asks customers to rate their service experience on a regular basis.
“If they had a great customer service experience, we send them a link directly to the contractor’s Google reviews page. The link takes them exactly where they can leave a review, no extra steps or clicks; it’s that easy. If there was a problem, we offer them a link to a hidden landing page on the contractor’s website. The customer’s comments then go directly to the HVAC company and are not seen by the general public. Reviews are also a key component Google looks at for organic rankings for your website.”
“We listen to our customers on how they review us on our survey sheets,” said Aliano. “We pull good ideas from other service industries and insert them into our business.”
Consumers are frequently turning to review sites to learn more about businesses prior to enlisting their services. This has become an integral part of the modern-day shopping experience. Presenting superior service via positive online reviews can take a business to new heights.
Positive reviews can be further strengthened with referrals. Referral programs are popping up left and right in the HVAC industry. They help customers see the value of doing business with you. If they are rewarded for doing business with your company, they are more inclined to stick with you for the long haul.
For Rob Minnick, CEO and president of Minnick’s Inc., Laurel, Maryland, his referral program is beneficial to new and repeat customers.
“Our referral program is tied into our VIP rewards program. We give customers who give referrals 100 points, which is valued at $100. These points can be used toward any service Minnick’s provides. We also do the same for new customers, though new customers need to have a service done before the points are activated.”
Merritt says a few simple things can drive referrals: “Offer a coupon for future services, a gift card for their favorite restaurant, or a donation to their charity of choice. Referrals are a must for heating and air conditioning companies. Heating and air conditioning services are out of sight and out of mind to consumers except when they need you. So, capitalize on the opportunity when you come out and fix their problems because, at that moment in time, you are their hero. So, it’s time to use that to your advantage.”
TRAINING AND RECRUITING
In order to grow this year, many HVAC technicians are making an effort to recruit and train technicians. With a known shortage of technicians, new efforts are being made in the recruiting process.
“We’ve reached out to high school seniors and have talked to them via roundtable meetings,” said Hank Bloom, owner, Environmental Conditioning Systems, Mentor, Ohio. “We just hired one of them who went to the local trade school. Some of our top leaders are on boards of different trade schools. We have hired directly out of trade schools with a one out of three success rating.”
Reaching out to trade schools is inevitably still a huge recruiting method, but contractors are now taking it a step further in order to reach new demographics.
“Goettl Air Conditioning is hiring new technicians,” said Ken Goodrich, CEO, Goettl Air Conditioning, Tempe, Arizona. “We seek prospects from many sources, including trade schools, competitors, out-of-state recruits, and veterans.”
Some contractors offer their employees significant spiffs anytime they successfully recruit new hires.
“We have increased our employees’ referral program to $5,000 when they refer a new employee,” said Minnick.
Recruiting is a constant for many contractors, especially with there being a shortage. Therefore, many contractors are recruiting nonstop in order to grow their businesses for the 2017 year.
“I have not stopped recruiting in the last six months, and I have no plans to slow down,” said Steve Moon, owner, Moon Services Inc., Elkton, Maryland. “I am targeting smart people with great attitudes.”
Furthermore, many contractors are seeking out women for all positions.
Travis Smith, owner, Sky Heating and Cooling, Portland, Oregon, is always willing to consider female candidates.
“We’re always encouraging women to join our company,” he said. “I think there is a huge opportunity for women to join this industry. I know many stay-at-home wives have said they would feel more comfortable with a female technician.”
Bloom is also recruiting women and has several working for him already.
“We have always encouraged women to join our company,” he said. “They’re perfect for our industry but are hard to find.”
Once contractors find technicians, it’s key to their success to train them continuously as technology and policies are always changing. Whether conducted in-house or through a manufacturer, contractors are making sure technicians are properly and continuously trained. Trained and skilled technicians ensure customer satisfaction and retention.
“Having the most well-trained technicians will reduce callbacks, increase the customer experience, and bring us referrals,” said Smith.
Contractors are tasked with much more than just training technicians on new technologies and the technical aspects of their jobs.
“Goettl Air Conditioning holds training for our technicians every day,” Goodrich said. “We train our technicians on new skills, technologies, communication, new services, and more. We also cross-train technicians with exceptional skills in areas to help train their colleagues, which helps raise the team to new standards. We also engage outside sources, such as industry specialists, to provide training.”
Training is critical to Moon’s business. This year, he plans on expanding on that training even more.
“We now not only pay for our technicians’ training but we pay them to go to training. We also are bringing in trainers in-house. We’re encouraging our managers to be more hands-on in the field. This ensures we are all doing things the same way and have a consistent product across our markets and install crews.”
So, if you’re an owner looking to make 2017 your best year yet, with ample amounts of growth, focus on your online presence, reviews, referrals, training, and recruiting. Once you’ve mastered these facets of your business, you’ve set yourself up for great returns.
Publication date: 3/20/2017Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!