Brothers, Brian Bluff, cofounder and CEO, Site-Seeker Inc., and Eddie Bluff, cofounder and vice president of key accounts, will reveal the results of HARDI ROC, a year-long case study designed to identify the most successful comprehensive marketing strategy for HVACR distributors, at the Marketing and Sales Conference held Sept. 17-19 in Philadelphia.

“It’s going to help the distributor really do one thing, and that’s to move product, their product, to and through their contractor customers and into the hands of the end user,” said Eddie Bluff. “That’s really what the program’s intended to do.”

Brian Bluff agreed, adding that it’s one layer deeper than just marketing to the contractor. “It’s really just to market themselves and grow their business,” he said. “The lion’s share would be to the contractors, but a lot of these folks are considering building on different online platforms, so that really wouldn’t go through the contractor necessarily. I mean, it could — but it’s also more than that. “

The case study was triggered after Site-Seeker helped Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) identify its members’ personas in order to assist and improve the organization’s marketing efforts, according to Chris DeBoer, marketing and communications manager, HARDI. “HARDI members in marketing roles are facing the same dilemma — trying to better understand their customers and how they tick. So, the idea ran through the marketing committee, and the initiative moved forward.”

While Brian and Eddie Bluff have been working in marketing for over a decade with multiple different industries, they both mentioned that in the HVAC industry, distributor marketing is idiosyncratic and unique.

“What we’ve found in other industries and in a typical business is that the company will have to market to its customers,” said Brian Bluff. “In this scenario, the distributors — most of them are not marketing themselves. They’re leaping over and marketing on behalf of their customers, so it’s a whole different mindset.”

Internally, the Bluff brothers refer to this as “leapfrog marketing.” “We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is really marketing on behalf of their customers,” said Brian Bluff. “We’re leapfrogging over the client. So, that’s really the central point of what we see that’s so much different about this industry than others.”

Another intricacy of this industry is the technology gap. “We’ve all become extremely accustomed to technology, but HVAC as an industry has not made that transition,” said Eddie Bluff. Throughout the process of this case study, he has interviewed dozens of distributors.  “I’ve been impressed with the incredible level of support the distributors provide to the dealers.”

Considering there are HVAC contracting companies of all sizes, that means that some of those companies are simply too small to maintain human resources and marketing departments. According to Eddie Bluff, that’s where the distributors come in to support the contractors in every turn — but when it comes to marketing, they’ve been advertising on billboards and on the radio.

“It’s really kind of a natural thing for the distributors who are so supportive in every way we just talked about to just continue to do that,” Eddie Bluff said. “I mean if they’re putting the billboard down the street from where my location might be or advertising on the radio or all these things that have worked before in the past but are much less effective today, it would make a lot of sense just to take that and bring it into modern day technology and to put me, the contractor, in front of you, the homeowner consumer, in the places that you’re looking.”

Marketing is an ever-changing practice that will never grow stagnant and that will always be moving forward, according to DeBoer. “The goal of this project is to be the foundation of how HARDI members can utilize all the different tools that make the most sense within each of their perspective organizations,” he said.

HARDI ROC’s initiative is centered on three core concepts:

  • The “R” stands for “roadmap”. “If you’re a business that wants to market itself in the digital world, you have to have a plan,” said Eddie Bluff. “There’s a lot of moving pieces, and that plan has to start with the end in mind;”
  • “O” represents “ongoing efforts”. Marketing, and more specifically, digital marketing, is not a one and done deal. As technology changes, trends change, and the way people search changes. The strategy requires an ongoing effort;
  • And “C” represents the customer — “customer centric”. “Everything we do has to be customer centric,” Eddie Bluff said. “We live in a world where we expect things to be personalized.

Site-Seeker has been exposed to a lot of different solution providers since launching the case study in September 2017. Some of those providers have been in-store signage companies; some of them have been app developers and providers; one company actually keeps inventory of parts used on a truck and, therefore, allows a contractor to more quickly re-outfit their truck every day, in turn, selling more.

“In the beginning, we were thinking it was going to be a lot more digital stuff, but then we realize that even signage and direct mail are still a critical piece to some aspects of the business. Then you start thinking of all the different technology solutions, and it has kind of grown beyond that,” said Brian Bluff. “The spirit here is to try to provide or find out what’s the ideal — what’s working best — and come up with the right solution.”

Site-Seeker is still currently in the active state of the case study. The Bluff brothers have not yet vetted or confirmed any company as an HVAC distributor marketing solution provider.

“The majority of contractors are working in very small organizations where they aren’t working on their business — they’re working in their business, and that is where the gap exists,” said Eddie Bluff. “So, if you look at 80 percent of contractors that are out there without representation, that’s one of the problems we’re trying to solve with this project.”

“We know that marketing to specific segments is more and more important in today’s world,” said DeBoer. “The project’s goal is to lay out the basic framework for HARDI members to start better understanding their different types of customers and begin to better cater to their needs.

Publication date: 7/17/2017