Tom Perić: I think a lot of people are familiar with Bosch Thermotechnology, especially its role in the HVACR industry, but in case they only have a hazy notion, give us a thumbnail sketch.
Jim French: Bosch is a $70-plus billion global company. Bosch Thermotechnology in North America started in 1993 through Bosch’s acquisition of Buderus, with its cast-iron boilers. Buderus acquired Controlled Energy Corp., which was selling Bosch tankless water-heating products, so that they had control of both boilers and tankless water heaters in North America. Later, Bosch chose to get into the geothermal business and acquired Florida Heat Pump. Now we offer a high-efficiency combination of geothermal, tankless water heating, as well as boilers and indirect-fired water heaters.
We’re now moving into the air conditioning side of our business, where we recently introduced some inverter ducted split products, so we offer whole-house heating and cooling as well; we’re now into more mainstream ... air conditioning, as well as geothermal, boilers and tankless.
Tom Perić: Bosch has training facilities at your campuses in Florida and New Hampshire. Tell us why you did this, when it began, and what was the strategic vision when you took this approach.
Jim French: Our products are higher-end, higher-priced so they have a tendency to be very technical. The contractors that we have pursued on the HVAC side, to separate themselves [from the competition] with our products, wanted to learn more about outdoor reset controls and condensing technologies, things to differentiate themselves [in the market] with Bosch. We needed to put in a solid training organization to make sure the contractors are comfortable installing our technologies.
It started in New Hampshire. We worked with boilers years ago. We were the first ones to introduce outdoor reset wood boilers with logamatic controls [note that wood boilers are no longer offered by Buderus in North America]. We did a lot of education on live fire controls where we brought in contractors and installers and took them through the program, the applications and the operations of system stuff. Controlled Energy Corp. was doing some of the same with tankless water heating; when we bought the Florida Heat Pump company, we then emulated that model.
Tom Perić: How do you differentiate where they’re going to get the training?
Jim French: We have a menu of classes that the contractor can register for online, so if someone wants to go to New Hampshire for tankless training, they can register on our website, pay and then attend the classes. We have regularly scheduled classes at our facilities or a distributor will request our trainers, and when we do that, we either charge for it or use the distributor’s co-op funding in many situations to pay for the installer’s education.
Tom Perić: Given the well-recognized shortage of new techs and installers, is there a component in your overall strategic plan where you try to recruit people to the industry, or do you just focus on providing the training that you think they need if they’re going to carry your line?
Jim French: In terms of distributors, we encourage them to utilize our trainers and our facilities. It’s something we take pride in. We do generic training on the geo[thermal] side. For example, we have a trainer who’s a specialist on water systems, and when he does his training, he’ll bring in components and show system application, that’s not just coming from us to push our product, but to get people educated on the systems. The thing that we do regarding younger people coming in is donate equipment at times to tech schools for young students who are trying to learn the trade. Sometimes we go around the country with distributors and visit tech schools when there is an opportunity, but we don’t have a strategic focus [on recruitment]. We focus on making the training available and accessible for the professional.
Tom Perić: What do you see for attracting enough new talent so that ultimately Bosch has enough people to train who will service the products that you’re offering to the public?
Craig Lazinsky: I heard this argument from a number of very well-qualified installers around the country that the pool of talented labor is falling short and probably growing shorter. It’s becoming competitive to find good, qualified young people who want to come into the HVAC industry, and, as such, installers are opening up their options to a more diverse audience. [This includes] women and young people that may not have typically been in the industry, not just the father and son part of the business. Bosch is a higher-end product, and we focus on professionals and train them properly. The benefits of an Accredited Bosch Contractor, for example, is someone who has taken a significant amount of training and is qualified in some areas or special products, like tankless or boilers and controls. Those are the people we try to get at the top of the list when a consumer’s looking for a local qualified installer.
The Accredited Bosch Contractors come up first in the dealer search. We have very limited capacity to encourage new people in the industry, but we’re trying to support the professionals in any way we can to make sure they have the tools they need.
Tom Perić: Then if a tech enters the industry, you’re suggesting it behooves them to consider joining a higher-end, highly respected company like Bosch over some other brand that might not have the same market reputation? Am I going off base with this?
Jim French: I think you’re on base with it. The challenge in our industry, and I think Craig alluded to this, is that there aren’t a lot of schools or places for young people who want to become heating and air conditioning technicians to get experience. A lot of the experience [traditionally is gained] when someone comes out of school and ends up working in the summer as a helper for an HVAC company, and they say to them, “Bring the kid up, and let him know there’s a future in the company,” and then they invest in that individual and train him internally. A lot of the heating and air conditioning companies are reaching out to suppliers, manufacturers such as ourselves, to help train their employees.
What I’m finding is that a lot of good business owners that want to build from within are very open to letting their younger employees come to our locations and get trained. Of course, if these young people ultimately become business owners, stars or successful technicians within the industry, they started on our product, and that benefits us. They’re familiar and comfortable with our product, and hopefully, as a result, it helps us gain market share with them promoting and selling our product.
Tom Perić: Are we all in agreement that techs in the future will require a higher skill level?
Craig Lazinsky: I was just going to say the equipment in the industry is becoming much more technical. Controls are getting more sophisticated. Connectivity in the home is the biggest buzzword you can find in the industry, and thermostats working with equipment that can provide information to the technician [displaying] what’s wrong. These things take advanced training. It’s not something you can just throw a wrench at.
Tom Perić: Well, if somebody goes to your campus for training, how long are they there?
Jim French: An average would be between half a day and two days.
Tom Perić: Where do you see Bosch on this entire training issue in 2020? Will anything have changed, or is something coming down the pipeline that’s going to change in the process or anything like that?
Jim French: I think we’ll continue to ramp up training, but I think we need to, and the industry needs to, and we’re beginning to do this. We’re bringing more of our training tools to online training capabilities, so technicians can go online and get more of a base level of training and not have to be there in person. We get a lot of requests now for online training modules, and I think that’s the direction that we’re going to have to put some more investment and time into, moving forward.
Craig Lazinsky: That’s why the local trade schools can be very valuable, too. If we can support them with equipment that’s current, and it’s what the technicians will be working on in five years, they can do a better job locally of training the young people and apprentices that are coming up.
Jim French: We know we need to provide those tools. Selfishly, we love to have the guys come out to our facility; there’s more of an attachment. The younger generation, they have so many apps and more computer availability; they want online training because they want to get things done with technology more quickly.
Tom Perić: Do you get a great return on your investment?
Jim French: We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think we did. I think what you’re finding is, 15-20 years ago when we, as Buderus, were doing a significant amount of training, you didn’t see that much of it out there at the manufacturer level. But now, even wholesale distributors are using it as a differentiating factor, and they’re putting live training facilities in because our products have gotten to the efficiencies and the technologies that, outside of controls, get harder and harder to differentiate your products. If we look at the geothermal side of our business, for the most part, we’re all using the same condenser manufacturers, and a lot of the controls are the same. You’ve got the same suppliers and vendors offering the components, so outside of brand, training and the marketing, you’ve got to find a way to differentiate yourself, and our best way to maintain a value for our product is to educate.
For more information, visit http://www.bosch-thermotechnology.com.
Jim French is residential sales director for U.S. wholesale sales, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.
Craig Lazinsky is marketing program manager, Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.