I believe my history is far from unique in our trade.
My first exposure to the industry was holding a light and running for parts for my father at an early age. He did small commercial refrigeration and central air system work for additional income to help supplement his Postal Service job.
After high school I attended Western Technical Institute in La Crosse, WI, where I earned an Associate’s degree in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Sciences. Graduating in 1974, I worked for a local company until in 1975, my father and I joined together to form a company doing refrigeration and air conditioning work.
My start in the trade was a technical background — nuts and bolts, service and install — like many guys in the trade. Today, as a business owner, I do everything but turn wrenches. I’m kept plenty busy running the company.
We have eight full-time people at present. We are located in Portage, a small but growing community of just over 9,000 friendly people. So you can see we are not big, nor are we in a large population area. We have never felt that being a small company was necessarily a negative.
We have always tried to do the best we could for our customers: good equipment, good service, and good people representing our company.
But, like everyone else, we were also looking for something more — something that could set our company and our services far apart from our competition, something to keep us busier in the slow months, and something that would also add to our bottom line.
In September of 1999, we, along with a handful of other contractors, were invited to an informational dinner meeting. The meeting was recommended by our district regional manger. We happen to be a Lennox dealer and our manager felt this meeting would be of great interest to us.
Enter the Comfort InstituteThe meeting was presented by representatives of a company called Comfort Institute, based out of Bellingham, WA. They spoke to us about a variety of test equipment, an adjustable-panel blower door with a separate, impressive gauge panel with a small computer and printer, a variety of static pressure gauges, and a variety of airflow hoods, which they sell.
More important, though, was how we could use this equipment. Equipment was not for sale or even priced that evening. They had equipment, but more important was knowledge and training. They could teach, train, and provide on-going support in how to use this equipment to present ourselves differently in this business.
We presented ourselves as comfort consultants. We no longer had to be simply a heating and air contractor; we could be uniquely different. This is when things started to change.
So you ask, what has changed since that meeting last September? The answer is, lots!
First, we invested in needed equipment and the training to go along with it, provided by Comfort Institute people. We have learned how to look at a home as a total package, not just as a box with heat loss and gain and a need for equipment.
With the technical and comfort consultant training we have invested in, we now can go into a home or small business and really solve some problems. By thinking and going outside the box, we can now test and evaluate the air distribution system, the thermal envelope, and the air tightness and ventilation levels.
These are all areas that go beyond the equipment but affect safety, comfort, indoor air quality, and utility bills. We no longer are salespeople: we are comfort consultants. Comfort Institute has given us the ability to provide a low-pressure, problem solving, consultant-type sales approach that is simply extremely hard for the competition to beat. And the answer is yes; it is helping the bottom line.
But, I think the best in all of this is what our customers say.
Customers WOWedHow do you like the word wow? When was the last time you did something for a customer, or anyone, that had them say wow? I never, in over 25 years in this trade, had a customer say wow to anything we did.
We have many letters of thanks for our service and the work we do as most any good customer-oriented company does. But when you have a customer say wow in response to what you are doing for them, I believe it’s a good thing. I actually have had several customers say wow!
By taking the time to look at the entire home as a system and everything going on in our customers’ homes, by asking questions, addressing concerns, and doing the proper testing, we can find problems, offer solutions, and truly provide our customers the best system and ultimate comfort and satisfaction.
This is what we are doing different today. This is what is having such a positive response from our customers. At this time, only a very small number of hvacr contractors possess this knowledge. Our customers thank us for caring enough about them and their homes to invest in the technology and training to do our job better and take care of their needs.
One customer said, “Wow, I can see that you guys really know what you are doing, and I’m sure that when you put a system in that it will work right.” That turned out to be over a $10,000 job.
Another customer said, “You know, I really liked that testing you did at my house and the problem areas you showed me. I like you guys and want you to put in my new system.” This system was for a rental property and she is spending nearly $7,000 with us. These are only two examples — there are many more.
These jobs were sold at a good margin and then some.
What started last September will remain a work in progress because when you stop learning and growing, you start to lose something. There is always something more to learn, even after 25 years in the trade, and I have learned much since last September.
Hey, this business is actually fun again! Knowledge truly pays when put to proper use. So, with a little help and guidance, I believe great things are in the future for our customers and us.