HVAC contractors are doing their part to serve their communities during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to providing essential services, they are making donations of time, money, and equipment. Some are even using their work trucks to deliver needed goods in their communities.

Williams Comfort Air, based in Carmel, Indiana, converted some of its preventative maintenance teams into grocery delivery drivers. The firms operates several home service providers in Ohio and Kentucky. They are providing free delivery of grocery pickup orders to healthcare professionals working with COVID-19 patients and people considered high risk for severe illness from the coronavirus.

“Our services are considered to be essential, and many of them — like HVAC and plumbing repairs and replacements — absolutely are,” said Jacob Huck, president of Williams Comfort Air. “But we don’t need to be completing preventive maintenance work right now. Still, we wanted our field teams to be getting 35-40 hours of work per week, so we came up with a meaningful new way to serve the people in our community. We’re proud to offer free delivery of grocery pickup orders to those who need it right now while still keeping employee and client safety top-of-mind.”


HVAC Contractor Matches Gift Card Buys

Corey Hickmann, owner of Comfort Matters Heating and Cooling in Hanover, Minnesota, also had the idea to utilize his firm’s vehicles and employees to deliver goods. Hickmann saw it as way to help his own employees as much as the company’s community. Comfort Matters’ comfort specialists work on a commission-only basis. He knew summer was coming and they would be busy, but he was unsure how to carry them until then. Hickmann switched them to hourly and tasked them with coordinating the deliveries.

Hickmann put the word out on social media and saw more shares than for any post before that. Still, the business received few phone calls asking for the actual service. That was when he came up with a new idea. Hickmann said on social media that the firm would match gift card purchases for local restaurants for up to $75.

After that, Hickmann got on a call with some local businesses, and a salon owner shared that the 14 women who rent chairs at her business were going to be out of work. Hickmann decided to expand the gift card program to hair salons, nail salons, and massage providers. He put a video on Facebook Live to announce the move.

“Next thing you know, we had hundreds and hundreds of shares,” Hickmann said.


Fundraiser Turns into Challenge Among HVAC Contractors

The program has raised more than $40,000 and received lots of positive feedback. Comfort Matters matched the gift cards up to $50, but people spent hundreds on their own. One person bought a $900 card. Hickmann shared his story with other member of the Service Roundtable, and Steven Miles, of Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. in Missouri, turned it into a challenge for any essential business that had the cash flow to do it. He presented it to the Roundtable members and member of the Facebook group Service Einsteins. At least a dozen firms responded to the challenge, Miller said. It wound up on TV stations, radio stations, and other media.

Miller’s own program had no set match, but there was a deadline of April 30. At the end of the month, St. Charles County, where Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. is located, announced it would start re-opening on May 4. Miles decided to turn the deadline into a kind of Cinco de Mayo party and extended the deadline to May 5. In the end, Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. helped raise more than $150,000 in gift certificates.

The response from the community was impressive. The response from the affected businesses was moving, Miller said. Several firms said the gift certificates bought by customers allowed them to pay their utility bills and the match from Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. allowed them to pay the rent.

Miller was surprised at how many small businesses were not equipped for e-commerce. He personally had to pick up many of the gift certificates and pay with cash.


Commitment to Community

The programs helped create a lot of goodwill for both companies and boosted their profile. Hickmann said it seems to have helped sales, which took a hit in the middle of March. Incoming calls dropped 25 percent, and replacement leads dropped about 80 percent. Business bounced back after that and sales were actually up 42 percent year-over-year in April. Hickmann attributes some of that to the shopping program.

“It’s not air conditioning season,” he said. “We had no reason for our phones to ring.”

Long-term, the program also put Comfort Matters in the mind of business owners. Commercial work makes up a small portion of the firm’s business — about 15 percent. The biggest benefit comes from staff morale, Hickmann said. He couldn’t say where this community outreach would lead, but staff wanted to know they were going somewhere.

“We kept everyone in the company in a positive focus of mind,” he said.

Now Comfort Matters is making mask inserts. The company received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. To get the full benefit, Comfort Matters needs to spend 75 percent of the money on payroll. This mean Hickmann needed something to keep his staff busy until the summer season gets into full swing. David Squires from OnlineAccess suggested taking extra air filters and turning them into masks. Staff started cutting the filters to fit, and Hickmann shot another video to announce the latest program. Comfort Matters has now sent mask filters to well over 1,000 homes, as well as meat processing plants. Include instructions on how to clean and sanitize the masks.

Eric Knaak, general manager of Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning.

HERE TO HELP: Eric Knaak, general manager of Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning, said his firm always looks for ways to serve its community, but had the good problem of not being needed during the coronavirus outbreak.

Hickmann said a firm needs community engagement before a crisis happens, or it can look like it’s taking advantage of the situation. Comfort Matters had that and so does Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning in Rochester, New York. As a company, they normally do a lot of volunteering, said Eric Knaak, Isaac’s general manager. Part of the annual review for managers includes a discussion of community involvement. Isaac went so far as to survey its employees on how to best serve the community and developed a formal process to review donation requests.

When the outbreak started, the firm started looking for opportunities to help out. Knaak said the “problem” was so many people the area were looking to volunteer because they weren’t working that there was hardly anything anyone really needed. Knaak even tried to volunteer personally and couldn’t.

Isaac did donate a few hundred face masks to health care workers and remains willing to answer any request for help.

“We’re able to,” Knaak said. “We’ve got people, we’ve got trucks, we’ve got space, we’ve got talent. But for the most part, it just has not been needed in our area.”

Running service calls as an essential business still helps the community, he said. Isaac finds dozens of furnace leaks every year during these calls.