When mechanical contractor Summer Breeze Comfort Systems decided it wanted to create a specialty niche for itself in indoor air quality work, the 17-year-old company made a financial commitment that’s now paying dividends. 

IAQ now represents 30 percent of its total sales, said company President Rick Henson. 

One example of financial commitment was the Morgantown, West Virginia-based company fashioning its newest service truck into a mobile IAQ billboard. Soon after, Summer Breeze also began leasing a corridor kiosk space at the city’s main mall for marketing and selling IAQ products directly to consumers.

Henson started the IAQ division in 2012 after performance-testing a variety of air purification, energy recovery ventilator and humidity control HVAC market products and brands in his own residence. One product, Apco, manufactured by Fresh-Aire UV of Jupiter, Florida, appeared as one of the more marketable IAQ products. Installed in the supply duct, plenum or air handler, it uses an ultraviolet lamp to disinfect the airstream and air handler interior surfaces of biological contaminants while simultaneously applying photocatalytic oxidation to regenerate the titanium-infused carbon media that adsorbs volatile organic compounds out of the airstream.

Henson also added whole-house humidification and dehumidification energy-recovery ventilator products by Madison, Wisconsin-based Aprilaire.  

Henson’s idea of wrapping his new white Nissan service van with Fresh-Aire UV IAQ product images has proven to be very profitable. Henson’s HVAC wholesale distributor, Habegger Corp. of Clarksburg, West Virginia, helped design the truck’s layout and connect Henson with Fresh-Aire UV’s in-house graphic artist, who provided free, high-resolution images of products and logos. Then, the Stick Co. of Morgantown digitally printed the design on clear vinyl and applied it to the truck’s exterior surface.

From concept to reality

The concept is an elaboration on HVAC contractors putting authorized dealer manufacturer affiliation logos on their service vehicles. However, the difference is Henson’s entire truck was covered with IAQ product images and the $4,800 wrap treatment wasn’t subsidized by Fresh-Aire UV. 

The investment was paid back quickly however, as IAQ sales skyrocketed 150 to 200 percent the first year the truck was on the road, according to Henson, whose business is approximately 40 percent service work.

“The truck’s graphics tell hundreds of people a day that we go way beyond general HVAC and that we’re IAQ experts,” Henson said. 

If he had to do it over again, Henson said he would make the IAQ products larger on the truck for better recognition at longer distances. He’s now considering doing a similar IAQ wrap on a company trailer that’s parked at special events, such as mall shows.  

After his success with the truck wrap, in 2016 Henson began marketing his IAQ division with a kiosk and a permanent 12- by 17-foot space he leases from the Morgantown Mall at $300 a month.  Once again, Henson used Fresh-Aire UV’s free high-resolution graphics, but this time they were digitally printed on foam board constructed into nine 3- by 3-foot shadow boxes that are mass displayed. Various air purification and humidity control products are displayed in the shadow boxes and lit with low-voltage lighting.

There is also an air handler on display with several parts of its infrastructure switched out with clear plastic glass to offer internal views of installed air purification products and how they operate. The air purification products’ lamps have been replaced with safe-viewing black lights supplied by the manufacturer so passersby can see the disinfection process simulated. The display also includes a 3-foot-high, tin man figure constructed out of round metal ductwork.  

An attraction

The kiosk attracts attention even though it’s typically unattended; however Henson and his staff do sell directly from the booth during high mall attendance periods such as holidays, home shows, health care exhibitions and other special events.  Mall positioning is critical, according to Henson, and he has steadily moved his kiosk location toward the main entrance as prime space became available. 

tin man hvac kiosk

The mall kiosk Summer Breeze operates includes a 3-foot-high tin man constructed out of round metal ductwork.

“The mall kiosk is a great deal,” Henson said. “Where can you advertise in front of hundreds of people daily for only $300 a month?”

Other IAQ division marketing efforts include direct mail campaigns and charitable donations where Henson will donate and install free air purification system to churches or veterans.

IAQ products are also an incentive for Summer Breeze’s unitary system sales. During a home evaluation for a new HVAC system, Henson shows laptop videos describing how air purification enhances breathing environments and air handler cleanliness. If persuaded, customers receive free air purification with a unitary equipment purchase. The incentive gives Henson a competitive edge, he said. 

“We’re not selling just heating and cooling equipment,” Henson said. “We’re selling IAQ and a healthy living environment.”

Part of Summer Breeze’s IAQ services also include in-home testing where Henson’s crews collect and send airflow samples out for analysis of formaldehydes, allergens, acetones, mold and a host of other contaminants commonly found in homes. The tests, which are manufactured by Prism Analytic Technologies of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, range in cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the number of tested contaminants of concern.

Future growth in the IAQ division will come from the new trend of on-demand IAQ, according to Henson. This emerging concept requires contractors to install a bundled air quality monitor, smart thermostat and a whole house air purifier. The monitor wirelessly signals the thermostat to activate the HVAC system blower when predetermined IAQ levels of particulates, carbon dioxide, and VOCs are surpassed. Activating the HVAC system also passes airflow through the UV lamp field for disinfecting airborne biological contaminants.

Henson said he believes this new technology will take his HVAC business to the next plateau and continue to increase the IAQ division’s sales percentage.