Right tools, right training, right support. It sounds so simple, but in the highly competitive New England marketplace, it's anything but simple.
THE RIGHT TOOLS"Picking what tools and instruments to stock is an ongoing struggle," said Roger Epsling, parts manager and tech support specialist for HVACR distributor Air Purchases Inc. of New Hampshire. "There are new products coming out all the time, and it's difficult to find the time to keep up with everything. Take my meter supplier. I had a good supplier for DMMs, clamp meters, leak detectors, and such for many years. Good, but not great. There were always issues - customer service wasn't always as responsive as they should be, and there were some accuracy problems. And there was nothing about their products that made them stand out from the competition. I always had my ear to the ground when I had time. About seven years ago, a rep came to me trying to sell me on Fieldpiece Instruments. I hadn't heard of them because they didn't have a big presence in New England, but I finally gave in and let him make his pitch.
VERSATILE METER KIT"First, he told me they only made products for the HVACR industry. Every other instrument maker I knew targeted multiple industries and that meant that every instrument was a kind of compromise and didn't have exactly what our technicians needed and also had features they didn't need. He said they focused on two key things for the HVACR tech - durability and accuracy. He also claimed they were innovators. Well, everyone says that. Then he showed me one of their new products - a modular multimeter. It was a stick meter that accepted multiple heads - what he called accessory heads.
"The kit actually had three instruments that accepted the heads: a top of the line autoranging DMM stick meter, a data logger, and an electronic handle that can make each head a stand-alone instrument. Each of them accepts every one of the snap-on accessory heads. The individual heads measure air velocity, air temperature, relative humidity, wet bulb, dew point, carbon monoxide, ac current, gas pressure, static pressure, vacuum, and microamps for flame rectifier diode circuits.
"I rolled the dice and made the switch. I've been selling Fieldpiece now for seven years, and I've been increasing my meter sales every year in double digits. Customers love that they are designed for what they do. A lot of the larger contractors I sell to bring their new hires in to get them started with the kits. They help them with contractor-sponsored payment plans, and I usually start them out with explaining how the stick meter is the trunk of the family tree, and explain what I mean by that with the accessory heads and how versatile it is. When they see the possibilities, they're right on board with that.
TRAINING"When a tech comes in to buy a wrench or a set of screw drivers, obviously there's no need for any training," said Epsling. "But when he buys something that he's not familiar with, say a new kind of CO meter or the modular meters I was talking about earlier, I make sure he knows how to use it before he leaves my place. I learn the ins and outs of every new product I take on and I prepare kind of a mini-class to make sure the customer is comfortable using it in the field. I also make sure he has my phone number in his wallet in case he forgets something.
SIMULTANEOUS SUPERHEAT AND SUBCOOLING"With modern ac systems there are more and more TXV problems. The proper way to test a TXV to see if it's throttling or having an issue is to check subcooling against superheat in real time. The other manifolds I sold would do one or the other, but not both at the same time. So a tech would get stuck putting his sensor on there and sit at the system running subcooling with the manifold, then pulling a digital thermometer out and checking the superheat and doing the math.
"The Fieldpiece SMAN3 has two clamp sensors that show both subcooling and superheat at the same time so the tech can make the proper diagnosis without having to do the math. It gives him a snapshot of the whole performance of that system on that screen."
ACCURATE DEEP VACUUM"Using the SMAN3 minimizes the hoses a tech has to have connected, it minimizes the possibility of leaks, and it measures deep vacuum better than a digital micron gauge. It's much more sensitive, it's very accurate. And it's so convenient to have it built right into the system that you're going to have hooked to the system anyway.
"We're the only instrument manufacturer who focuses solely on the HVACR professionals," said Russ Harju, product manager for Fieldpiece. "We don't design an instrument as a one-size-fits-all. All of our ideas for new HVACR test tools or design improvements come from what HVACR contractors and technicians need. Whether they tell us directly, or we see a need and fill it."