ST. LOUIS, MO — More than 300 hvac contractors from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri gathered in the Hyatt Regency Hotel’s ballrooms here to get a taste of the new programs and incentives that The Trane Company will unveil during the year 2000, as the company’s annual dealer meeting commenced.

During the dealer preview meeting, Trane representatives wore leather flight jackets, khaki pants, and captain’s hats similar to those worn by pilots during World War II to introduce a new sales incentive program: XL Squadron. The new program will reward contractors for selling the manufacturer’s XL 1800 air conditioner and heat pump.

Although the bomber pilot attire certainly grabbed everyone’s attention, the “Team Trane Breaking Through” theme took center stage and best described the company’s plans to excel in areas of customer service, product technology, and dealer training.

Tom Ginnever, manager of the Heartland Dealer Sales Office, announced that the company’s goal is to double its sales within the next five years. The company plans to reach that goal largely by using the Internet and other tools to cater to the needs of contractors and homeowners.

Here are a few of the highlights from this year’s meeting.


The company will soon unveil an e-business venture designed to make it easier for contractors and homeowners to do business with the corporation.

The Trane Extranet, as the new model is called, will allow contractors to access product and technical support information, check equipment availability and pricing, estimate cost savings for customers, and check the status of orders.

Initially, service technicians will be able to download and print out instructional modules for any repair job before they head out to a jobsite. Ultimately they will be able to access service instructions and other information from any location via a cordless web link.

The program is currently in the pilot phase. Trane expects to implement the initial phases of the Extranet before April of this year.

Financing helps boost profits

What’s an easy way to increase your profits on residential sales by more than 30%?

Offer financing as a payment option, said Mike Holtman, retail finance manager for American Standard Financial Services.

The key is to offer payment options early in a sales presentation and allow the consumer to take control of choosing the payment method. When given the opportunity, most consumers will choose a “six months same as cash” type of arrangement instead of paying cash, says Holtman.

Besides, when customers pay with credit, they’re more likely to buy a higher quality (and therefore more expensive) system.

New: 'Inside sales specialists'

The manufacturer said it is currently reorganizing its internal structure to provide better customer service to dealers and consumers.

The company is staffing offices throughout the country with “inside sales specialists” who will assume some of the customer service duties that territory managers now handle.

Currently, Trane’s territory managers travel so much that it can be difficult for contractors to reach them, the company explained. Inside sales specialists will help alleviate that problem.

Ginnever concluded the meeting by announcing that Trane plans to change the way it does business to capture and retain the increasingly sophisticated consumers in the marketplace.

“For us to boldly stand up here and tell you that we’re going to double our business without changing is not possible. We’re going to have to change.”

Sidebar: Training teaches contractors to listen to customers' needs

Contractors attending the Heartlands dealer meeting fine-tuned their sales skills in a day-long workshop with Greg Woodman of The ACT Group, a Tempe, AZ-based firm that provides sales training exclusively to the hvac industry.

According to Rich Kynion, a Heartland dealer territory manager, many contractors go into a consumer’s home with a preconceived idea of the type of system they’re going to sell, rather than building a system based on the consumer’s needs.

The training session showed contractors that by allowing homeowners to participate in the design of a system, they are more likely to spend additional funds for higher quality equipment and servicing.

They will also be more likely to view the contractor as a partner in the decision-making process, rather than someone who tried to sell them something.

Trane contracts with The ACT Group to provide training specifically tailored to its dealers and offers sessions year-round throughout the country.

Sidebar: Contractors still don't advertise enough

Susan Garver of Garver & Garver Advertising, New Orleans, LA, co-owns one of the few advertising agencies in the country that specialize in hvac advertising. She talked to Trane Heartland dealers about ways to sharpen their advertising programs.

The biggest mistake that Garver sees is that contractors are simply not advertising enough to be effective. The key, Garver said, is to establish a budget and then develop a consistent advertising program based on that budget.

She recommended that contractors devote 3% to 5% of residential sales and 1% of commercial sales to their advertising budgets as a base.

Garver also offered these tips for more effective advertising:

  • Be consistent. An ad that’s run for six weeks and then dropped altogether is essentially a waste of money. Take a few weeks off and then run the ad for two- to three-week intervals during the months after your initial run to keep your name in front of the consumer.
  • Don’t forget the female audience. Garver pointed out that women are more likely than men to make the first call in response to an advertisement, and they also tend to make decisions alone regarding repairs or other minor purchases. Decisions regarding more expensive purchases tend to be made jointly in a two-person household.
  • Don’t clutter print ads (like those found in newspapers or the Yellow Pages) with irrelevant information. Create a focal point within the ad and always include a reason for the customer to call you.
  • Figure out what is unique about your company, and use the information consistently throughout all of your advertising.

By advertising on a consistent basis, contractors can predispose potential clients to like them, and can earn more profits by selling based on their merits, rather than low prices.