An oldest furnace contest is a time-tested promotion for HVAC firms. But one Idaho firm found success by adding a social media aspect to the campaign — that and dressing staff in a dinosaur suit.

Last year, the management at Access Heating and Air in Meridian, outside of Boise, looked for a way to create business during the company’s slow season in February and March. Owners Keith and Julie Lithander and their staff considered a number of ideas involving a giveaway. They knew they needed a substantial prize and a qualification for winning that covered a wide range of consumers.

They settled on giving away a furnace to a homeowner with the oldest model still installed in the house. They ran a couple of ads in the local paper, but the main focus came from social media. Consumers entered the contest on the website and were then redirected to a Facebook page. They then received a notice from Facebook Messenger each day before a video went live. The videos aired at 9 a.m. every day in February.


Fans of Furnacesaurus

Each segment started with a new misadventure for Furnacesaurus, the contest’s mascot. Early on, Furnacesaurus just ran around and made noise. Over time, he evolved into possibly the worst employee ever. He showed up late, ate other people’s food out of the breakroom fridge, and once tried to call in sick because of snow.

Access Heating built a sandbox in the company’s lobby and buried pieces of paper with names and prizes. At first, staff would draw a customer’s name and announce the prize, such as a Wi-Fi thermostat or a Starbucks gift card. After a few days, Furnacesaurus start doing the honors. Marketing manager James Barrett and the staff spent 15 minutes each morning coming up with some ideas for what Furnacesaurus would get up to that day. Different employees took turns in the suit and acting in the stories.

During the contest, technicians visited each homeowner who entered the contest to take pictures and measurements. Barrett said they had the chance to see some really old furnaces. Some units weren’t even listed in the Preston’s Guide. The units rarely saw service, either because they couldn’t be repaired or they never needed repair.

People really wanted to win the contest, Barrett said. Some even tried to file the date off the serial number. The grand prize went to Ray and Gayla Pace, owners of a 1958 model.

“It was definitely a relic,” Barrett said.


Huge Return On Investment

The entire team, including Furnacesaurus, came out the house to present the couple with their prize. Trane co-op money paid for the furnace and related labor. After winning the contest, the Paces decided to buy an air conditioning unit and get their entire system redone. Everyone else who entered the contest received a $500 coupon toward a new furnace. Barrett said about 50 took advantage of the offer.

Access Heating spent about $1,000 on the promotion, and generated about $135,000.

“It was a huge return,” Barrett said. “It took on a life of its own.”

He credits much of the success to Furnacesaurus. That said, the company retired the character after the contest rather than fall into the trap of overusing it.

“There’s a really good response when there’s a character people can get behind,” Barrett said. “What made the campaign go was the visibility on social media. There was no plateau. We just gained more and more traction as we kept going.”


Contests Bring Risks Along With Rewards

Justin Jacobs, marketing coach for Hudson Ink, said social media contests provide a great way for an HVAC contactor to build its brand, if done right. Despite the success of the Furnacesaurus campaign, one key often comes from offering a prize unrelated to HVAC. Jacobs said few people go on social media looking for a contractor. Sometimes it works when a contractor expands the offering, such as adding IAQ products. Most of the time, however, Jacobs said it’s better to use a more universal prize — even though free service seems like an easy giveaway for an HVAC contractor.

A contractor in Tennessee that Jacobs knows put together gift baskets from local businesses. The giveaway promotes buying local, which emphasizes the HVAC contractor’s role in the local community. It also means the people who enter the contest are in the HVAC contractor’s market. Jacobs said that contractor now has 7,000 Facebook followers. Before the contest, he had a database of 5,000 potential customers, so the promotion greatly increased his marketing ability.

Contests often encourage action, which creates greater reach. If an HVAC contractor can get even 10 percent of its followers to like and share a post, that puts the contractor in front of each of those people’s friends. Followers may like a photo of company barbeque, but they will share a post if it rewards them, Jacobs said.

There are risks that come with the rewards of these campaigns. HVAC contractors should run any contest idea past their lawyers, Jacobs said. Some states place restrictions of what kinds of contests a business can run. Social media platforms also have their own guidelines for giveaways. Jacobs also recommends checking with the manufacturer if the contest involves giving away equipment.

“Even though it’s free publicity for them, they might have a problem with that,” Jacobs said.