Long-time readers of The ACHR NEWS won’t be surprised by the fact that the ductless market has grown significantly in the U.S. in the last 20 years. What was once a fringe product, used only for apartments and converted buildings lacking central air, has become a prominent subset of the HVAC world.
The Growth in Sales
Depending on where you’re located in the country, this wave of consumer interest may be years old, or it may have yet to hit. In the Columbus, Ohio, market, we’re starting to see awareness grow exponentially year-over-year, which has put us in a unique position. We’ve been told by some of our customers that we’re the “mini-split experts,” despite not marketing ourselves that way.
But it’s not an accident that we’re hearing these claims, because we’ve been proactive about this product line and are beginning to be known for it. Even in areas with more widespread adoption of ductless in HVAC contractors, there will remain untapped markets that allow for growth.
The Remaining Knowledge Gap
Despite the boom in popularity, there are two chief problems:
- Plenty of people have still never heard of this technology.
- Many installers and service technicians still don’t know how to install and maintain the equipment.
This makes it both an internal and external problem for contractors. Addressing only one side of the equation is pointless; without customer interest, tech training will go to waste. And without qualified techs, you won’t be able to meet any demand you create.
And to dispel some myths, the market for mini-splits is more specific than traditional HVAC, and the expertise required to install and maintain them is different as well. It’s folly to think we can adopt the same practices as the rest of our business and succeed in this area.
The time and cost involved in focusing on both areas can be intimidating. But if you’re in a market with a “vacuum of power,” so to speak, there’s a lot of opportunity for that investment to return many times over.
The Opportunity: Education and Growth
We’re in the business of educating our customers, not simply selling to them. This area is a case in point to that fact. We can’t sell something the customer knows nothing about. So the majority of our outreach is awareness-based or educational.
Our sales team is similarly prepared to discuss the benefits of ductless, whether or not the customer has called us out for that specific reason. If they have a three-seasons room, finished attic, garage that’s used as a workspace, or other area where ductless makes sense, they may not have even considered a mini-split as a way to solve their issues with the space.
The other big opportunity is one of growth. It’s comparatively hard to squeeze out another 1% of the market share in most cities and regions. Growth can always occur, but it’s uphill sledding when you’re using the same products and services you’ve had for decades.
With a new product line and a plan to grow this wing of the business, faster growth is far more likely.
The Challenges: Price and Situation
This isn’t to say that our larger foray into the ductless market has been entirely smooth, or that yours will be either.
Leads for mini-splits tend to have less knowledge going in, so there are greater hurdles during the sales process. Many are expecting something akin to a window a/c unit that costs no more than $1,000 to purchase and install.
The actual price is a rude awakening for such potential customers, and we frankly don’t sell many units for such leads. More holistically, when customers want to get the bottom line before understanding all of the potential benefits, even a well-prepared sales process can be difficult to execute.
The other big issue is that while the vast majority of U.S. homes need installation and maintenance of central air systems, far fewer will need or want a ductless system. So if you simply target the entirety of your existing market, you’re not being specific in your outreach and will waste a lot of time and energy.
Knowing the Customer to Realize Success
To somewhat refute the point I just made, general awareness can be valuable to help to stoke interest. There’s nothing wrong with a broad approach when you’re first expanding a product line. But that still doesn’t gets down to the specifics of why ductless options are appealing to many.
So it’s worth understanding why ductless customers end up purchasing, then finding ways to target your area to hit the same pain points. You understand the reasons that your business is successful in more traditional services. So why not here?
This understanding takes time, and will come with some false starts. But the light at the end of the tunnel is being recognized as a trusted, go-to contracting partner for a product type that has grown a ton in recent years and will continue to in the years to come. Those contractors that embrace this fact will be the ones everyone else has to catch up to in the coming years.
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