Manufacturers Make COVID-Era Adjustments to Bolster Contractors
Assisting with lead generation, altering marketing plans, and updating training are among efforts to keep dealers moving ahead.
Contractors have been facing an unprecedented one-two punch. Homeowners developed an understandable desire to minimize who comes into a residence. Meanwhile, an economic shock has meant significant job losses and a spending slowdown.
Difficult times at the contractor level makes for harder times at the manufacturer level, too. In early May, a Honeywell email to its homeowner mailing list took the simple step of leading off with a reminder that its contractors are ready to help with all manner of pre-summer HVAC work. A button made it simple for customers to go to a dealer locator engine.
The gesture may have required a low investment in terms of resources, but it was likely more timely than ever. That raised a larger question of what manufacturers have been doing to help their dealers get through this period, through either internal or public-facing tactics.
Extending Marketing’s Reach
Most major manufacturers made COVID-related adjustments on the marketing side.
Lennox used its blog to tell consumers how dealers can improve and maintain IAQ, and another post went through the “meticulous steps” its contractors take to maintain safety during home visits through the pandemic.
Rheem’s vice president of sales and marketing, Randy Roberts, said that it has provided several tools for contractors. One such tool was “proof for essential worker status,” useful especially in earlier weeks where confusion arose over the details of essential business and its official status from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
LG Electronics U.S.A. has collaborated with local distributors to create “customized digital campaigns” to support LG Excellence contractors in local markets and generate quality leads.
The company said the process involved discussions to “understand the specific needs and pain points our contractors are facing” in each market.
Bob Norton, senior regional sales manager for LG, said the contractor interview process revealed “a great deal about the challenges and successes of promoting HVAC services in a post shelter-in-place market,” adding that the results revealed some new applications for their products.
The strategy’s follow-through includes search engine marketing, email campaigns, and programmatic digital marketing.
Alongside its own online dealer locator, Carrier has continued with its co-op marketing fund to supplement local advertising for its dealer and distributor networks, according to Holly Rhodes, senior manager, channel marketing, HVAC-Residential, Carrier.
Rhodes added that the company assisted contractors in another way during the pandemic by releasing its OptiClean™ Negative Air Machine, designed for air cleaning in hospital settings.
Carrier instituted one additional promotion: customers buying one of the company’s new Infinity air conditioners or heat pumps would receive an Infinity air purifier as part of the purchase.
Mitsubishi Electric Trane U.S. HVAC (METUS) has adjusted by evaluating the temperatures of both the business and outdoor climates. One step involved extending its spring media campaigns and promotions through the summer.
“We recognize that while summer is typically contractors’ busiest season, that may not be the case this year,” said Michelle Robb, METUS senior director of marketing.
“In addition to extending spring campaigns,” she continued, “we’ve introduced a new hot weather campaign for contractors serving our western regions, which are projected to have above-average temperatures in June and July.”
Rebates and Financing
A couple of manufacturers launched targeted rebates or discounts to raise the profile of contractors. METUS’ Comfort for Heroes program started in its South business unit. The 10 percent discount applies for first responders, military personnel, and educators buying Zoned Comfort Solutions systems. The company is promoting it on social media, with plans to expand its geographic reach.
Lennox has extended its Friends & Family Rebate to first responders and frontline workers, applying to residential IAQ products.
Carrier’s Rhodes mentioned her company also “connects dealers with resources like consumer rebates and financing to benefit everyone.”
Speaking of financing, Erin Mezle, vice president of marketing at Fujitsu, noted an info sheet the company created for contractors. It is designed to show them how to make new systems more affordable for homeowners through resources like financing, state/utility rebates, and any internal rebate programs.
“These tools were available pre-COVID,” Mezle said, “but they are often underutilized.”
Mezle sees financing as crucial during tougher times. Consumers have not saved up for new HVAC hardware, but they are acclimated to financing many other types of purchases.
“If contractors learn to put the cost in monthly terms versus one lump sum, it becomes a lot more affordable to the consumer; hence, the contractor closes more jobs,” she said.
Back-End Support From Manufacturers
Some manufacturer adjustments to support dealer business through the pandemic have taken place away from the public eye.
Rheem’s Roberts reports creating a best practices flyer and has transitioned in-person training programs from its five Innovation Learning Centers in North America to e-learning and webinar formats.
Rheem also moved up the launch of its new online technical training program, Interplay. This tool “provides interactive, highly engaging training classes that feature VR technology and 3-D simulations,” said Roberts. The NATE-recognized classes offer CEU credits.
LG recently launched its LG Virtual Academy. This comprises virtual versions of popular classes in an effort to respond to pandemic restrictions, government guidelines, and contractor interest.
A new microsite from Carrier works to consolidate input for contractors that touches on a number of pandemic-era issues. It hosts information on areas like best practices for service visits, how to increase effective social media contacts, and flexible options for training. The site also offers business-relevant links to info regarding the CARES Act.
Finally, METUS’ Robb noted that her company has adjusted and then adjusted again as circumstances developed. In March, the manufacturer began live daily training webinars for contractors. These explored wireless connection basics, best practices for working with CITY MULTI systems, and the difference between refrigerant charges in ported versus branch box multi-zone systems.
Now, Robb said, “we offer these trainings twice a day, making recorded versions available for contractors who may have missed a webinar.”
Whether developing new topics, tweaking timelines, or reaching out through new channels, recent months have seen much of the industry adapt to the times in an effort to keep interested contractors trained and on top of trends.