One of the biggest challenges HVAC contractors face is trying to differentiate ourselves from the myriad of other HVAC contractors that are out there. When I talk with contractors, it seems that, regardless of the size of their markets, there are always a large number of competitors in the area. For example, here in St. Louis, even though we are not a growing metropolitan area, there are more than 725 listed heating and air conditioning contractors, and that doesn’t include the moonlighters or those who have gone in business since I began writing this article. It is definitely a challenge to find ways to differentiate your company in this crowded marketplace.


Some contractors are wrapping their vehicles with a unique style of wrap to differentiate themselves. Some of these are very good and make the company’s vehicles recognizable, others became so concerned about the graphics that they forgot to make the name easily readable. While it is important to have graphics that make your vehicles stand out, if your name is not clearly readable, when a customer needs your services, he or she won’t know the name of the company to call. Seldom do people write down phone numbers or websites from trucks. The idea is to make the vehicle recognizable with a very obvious name so that consumers will remember the name when the need arises.


Another method of attempting to differentiate yourself is by the style and look of your advertising. This is not only extremely important, but it is also very difficult. As I have mentioned before, it is very difficult today to determine what method(s) of advertising you should use to reach your target market. Then, once you have determined the media you feel will be the best to reach that market, it is necessary to have a message that will stand out from all of the other media messages. That is obviously very difficult, and for us, as small HVACR companies, it would be very hard to achieve something as recognizable as Budweiser’s Clydesdales or Geico’s gecko.


While all of this may make it sound nearly impossible to differentiate yourself with the limited budget we have, I believe I have a suggestion that will really help you to differentiate yourself — and the good news is that the smaller your company is, the easier it is for you to put this in place. The plan is simple: empower your employees — whether you have one, two, or 100 — to do the extra things that will make you stand out. The reason this is easier for a small company is because a short meeting with your employees is all that is necessary to put this into action. The larger the company and greater the number of layers of management, the less likely employees will be empowered to take care of customers. Think about when you have called a large corporation with an issue. Usually, the person on the phone has a strict list of instructions to follow for whatever you are calling about. The large company is not willing or able to give all of those employees the authority to go “off the script” to solve your problem.

This is an area in which the smaller company can show its benefits. You can easily tell your two or five or eight employees how far they can go to satisfy a customer. This gives you the perfect way to differentiate yourself. We empower our people that way. Here are two recent examples.

One of our service technicians saw a lady on the side of the road with a flat tire, and she seemed to be in distress. He stopped and learned that she had been there an hour, and no one had stopped to assist her. He took the time to replace the tire for her. Sure, it took him a half hour, but in the big picture, it was the right thing to do. He knew we would be proud of him and not upset.

In another example, a service technician learned on a service call that  the client he was visiting that day was celebrating her 20th anniversary of being cancer-free. The technician took it upon himself to give her a 20 percent discount in honor of that 20th anniversary. He, too, knew we would be proud of his thoughtfulness.

I know most contracting business qualify as small, and I speak from experience when I say that small contractors can easily differentiate themselves by empowering their people to perform random acts of kindness to benefit their customers or potential customers. 

Publication date: 8/14/2017

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