In the midst of California’s rolling blackouts, published an article entitled, “What’s it cost to warm up leftovers?” The author, speaking for millions of Americans, didn’t have a clue what it cost to run various appliances. Most people don’t give a second thought to their furnace or air conditioner as long as it blows hot and cold air. The most vital system in their home gets hidden in the attic, crawlspace, or behind shrubs — out of sight, out of mind.

What’s missing is value awareness. Value awareness is in getting consumers to think about the problems you can solve and the benefits you can provide. It’s also doing what’s needed for consumers to understand that new energy-saving comfort systems can provide more benefits than anything else they could buy with the same money.

Value Awareness Message

You have less than two seconds to grab people’s attention. A strong headline, interesting graphics, and an inviting layout start the process. Compelling statements or timely questions can move them into action. The key is to let them discover the vital comfort benefits missing in their lives. We’ve developed the following example to give you a few ideas (see Figure 1). If you don’t have the time or inclination to write copy, lay it out, and test it, then contact a marketing professional.

Direct mail is the best medium for your value awareness message. Unlike the Yellow Pages, you can turn direct mail on and off, test new messages, and increase quantities when you need more business. The main reason direct mail is so powerful is you can target exactly those people most likely to buy from you.

You know this, but it bears repeating: Those most likely to buy in the future are the ones who bought from you in the past. You know who they are, where they live, and the problems they’ve had. They trust you and are the group most interested in your message. Start mailing to customers with the lowest efficiency and oldest equipment first. Stay in contact with current customers every quarter.

Figure 1. A strong headline, interesting graphics, and an inviting layout are integral to a successful direct mail piece.

Whales Are Easier To Catch Than Minnows

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, as household income rises, so does spending on home improvement projects. The study shows that 11% of households with incomes over $100,000 account for about one-fourth of all remodeling expenditures. Higher-income hvac customers typically have:

  • Larger homes — Larger homes usually mean bigger comfort problems.
  • Larger utility bills — The more homeowners waste on energy, the more they can invest in energy-saving comfort equipment.
  • Larger incomes — The group in their peak earning years with the highest level of discretionary income to spend on comfort are folks in their 40s and 50s (Baby Boomers).
  • The easiest way to identify these premium customers is by the value and location of their homes. Start by contacting firms listed in your Yellow Pages under “mailing lists.” You should be able to customize a mailing list by the following criteria:

  • Value of home ($100,000 income typically supports a $300,000-plus home);
  • Zip code (lets you choose the areas in which to do business);
  • Name and address of owner; and
  • Year the home was built. (The money spent on home improvement rapidly accelerates when homes reach 17 years and again at 30 years.)
  • Also, find out when the information was last updated and who compiled it. The fresher the list, the better. Once you have your list of premium customers, mail your message at least four times per year. Direct mail sent once does about as much good as leaving the front porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.

    New Buyers, Older Homes

    Research shows people trading up to their second home will spend nearly $5,000 on home improvements within the first 24 months of ownership. In the same period, first-time buyers only spend about $1,500. After two years, both groups spend less on discretionary home improvements, like replacing hvac equipment that is still running.

    To maximize this two-year window of opportunity, focus on the trade-up buyers. Ask your mailing list company to secure a “new homeowners list” for homes at or above the medium price range for zip codes where you want to do business.

    Newer Homes With Old Problems

    Untapped gold mines are subdivisions with poorly installed comfort and air distribution systems. When made aware they no longer have to suffer, many people in these homes become fed up and anxious for you to solve their problems now. The easiest way to pinpoint these win-win opportunities is by asking your service techs which subdivisions have the bad installations, poor equipment, or unsolved comfort problems.

    People only buy after they become aware. After they receive your value awareness message, future customers will realize the money they save on better comfort can pay for many other things, including a lifetime of warmed-up leftovers.

    Howard is president of The ACT Group, Inc., a firm that specializes in sales training for the hvac industry. He can be reached at 800 515-0034 or

    Publication date: 07/09/2001