Showrooms are a common feature in most retail operations, from automobiles to furniture. Many trades even offer showrooms, including plumbers and electricians. But HVAC contractors remain less likely to invest in this type of customer outreach. Those who do say their peers are missing out.
Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning opened its showroom in Clinton Township, Michigan, in 2003. HVAC showroom were even more rare then, said Josh Bigelow, Great Dane’s owner. The display consisted of all the furnaces and conditioners the firm sold. None of them were hooked up to anything.
Over the next nine months, Great Dane saw a 100 percent closing rate from customers who received estimates in their homes and then visited the showroom. Bigelow realized the showroom created a higher level of trust.
Great Dane took it a step farther and ran its first open house in October 2004. On the first afternoon of the three-day event, Great Dane’s local Carrier distributors stopped by to wish the team well. No one was in the shop, Bigelow said, and the distributors tried to comfort the staff. The staff responded that the distributors arrived in a lull, and minutes later, the crowds started pouring in again. The Carrier distributors wound up staying there for the next four hours, answering questions about the products, Bigelow said. More than 350 people visited the showroom during that first weekend.
Open Houses, Grand Openings Put On Hold
That would seem like a poor turnout in the past few years. Last year, Great Dane welcomed just over 2,500 customers during the open house event, which took place during the first two weeks of October. The firm sold 2,000 media filters and 1,800 humidifier pads. Great Dane staff scheduled more than 700 furnace check-ups during the event and sold $650,000 worth of equipment. The open house featured food popular in Michigan, such as chili-covered hot dogs. In an interesting tradition going back several years, a women’s bridge foursome plays at the store during the open house.
FULL HOUSE: The annual open house at Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning drew hundreds of people each year. This year’s event will be more subdued because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, the open house will be different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bigelow said Great Dane will host an event that runs from Labor Day to Halloween. Consumers can choose to either buy a filter and get the second half off with no delivery fee, or buy two for the price of one and pick it up themselves.
The showroom Great Dane customers would have entered this fall would have looked different than last year’s. The firm recently updated the showroom as part of a major facility overhaul. The new showroom will present indoor units in a basement setting and outdoor units in a backyard setting.
“When they look at it, they’ll be able to see what it will actually look like,” Bigelow said. “They’ll be able to turn on the unit, hear the compressor, and experience how it works. That is not something a lot of people are able to do.”
Live in the Showroom
The Great Dane showroom is located on a busy road in an eastern suburb of Detroit. That helped draw people to the facility in the early days, Bigelow said. Michael Beam, owner of The HVAC Doctors in Greer, South Carolina, hopes heavy traffic in front of his store will lead to a steady flow of customers in his new showroom. Beam said 10,000 cars pass daily by what was once a car dealership.
DOING BUSINESS: A customer makes a purchase in the Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning showroom. Having a showroom improves the retail mindset for HVAC contractors.
Beam moved his business into the location last year and started working on the showroom. He said his goal is improving consumers’ opinion of the HVAC business. Beam believes in-home sales often create too much pressure to buy, leaving the customers unhappy with their decisions.
The HVAC Doctors showroom features a working high-efficiency system with UV lighting and whole-house filtration. Beam sees an increased interest in IAQ. It also features an outdoor unit so customers can get a sense of different decibel levels.
The coronavirus pandemic derailed plans for a March grand opening. Beam was all set to have a popular local radio station do a live remote. The barbecue restaurant across the street was going to set up a food truck. The showroom is open, but Beam is unsure when he’ll have his grand opening.
Howard Air also planned on having a grand opening this spring and that too was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. The Phoenix HVAC contractor’s 20,000-square-foot showroom and design center remains open to the public, Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5. The facility features a number of fully-operational interactive displays, including split gas and heat pump systems, ductless mini-splits, luxury garage systems, indoor air quality products, and smart home automation. It also features a miniature Zoning Home that educates clients on the many benefits of home comfort system zoning. There is even a wine cooling system on display.
Showrooms Attract Technicians, Vendors as well as Consumers
Howard Air’s showroom and design center also features a state-of-the-art custom metal fabrication facility. Construction companies and their clients, including new home builders, can craft a completely customized home comfort solution with Howard Air’s Residential New Construction division, and fabricate it in-house with their metal fabrication capabilities.
SET UP: A technician with Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning sets up a display in the firm’s showroom.
“The ultimate goal of the showroom and design center is to allow clients to decide what their idea of comfort is, and be confident in their new purchase,” said Howard Air President Kevin Howard.
The Howard Air showroom and design serves the public, but it started with the goal of providing better training for Howard Air’s new employees, said Nick Radachi, the firm’s marketing coordinator. The owners realized while they were educating the firm’s new technicians and installers on their products, there was a need to educate customers as well. Radachi said Howard Air always encourages customers to visit the showroom and design center before making a purchase.
“It’s a good way to establish a relationship a client early on,” Radachi said. “They feel more comfortable when they know about what they’re buying.”
Bigelow hopes more HVAC contractors join him, The HVAC Doctors and Howard Air in building showrooms. He hosts several HVAC contractors as guests at the open house each year to show them how he does it. As an industry, HVAC contractors need customers to view them as a retail operation, Bigelow said. His initial inspiration came from a survey that showed customers buy most of their air filters at big box stores like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.
Creating a retail mindset counters the way many consumers shop for HVAC units. Bigelow said many people come into the showroom looking for the cheapest unit. Once they feel and hear the difference between units, they often opt to spend more.
The showroom also helps with industry relations. Technicians who come into the showroom want to work there, Bigelow said, and vendors who come into the showroom want to do business with Great Dane.
He understands why many HVAC contractors skip the showroom. It is a large investment. Bigelow said his old showroom took up 800 square feet in what was then a 4,000-square-foot building. That was space not used for inventory. Also, a showroom requires staff trained to answer questions. Once any equipment is installed for display, it can’t be sold as new. That all costs money, but Bigelow believes it is money well spent.
“It really says something to people in the industry and not in the industry when they walk in,” he said. “I want more people to do this.”