According to theInternet Advertising Report, there are 138 million Internet users in the United States. Online spending topped $1.3 billion in 2002. As experts predict that both of these numbers will increase this year, it’s no wonder that having a Web presence is becoming more of a priority for many HVACR contractors.

It’s not just the actual purchasing of parts and services that drives companies to launch a Web site. For many consumers, the Internet is the first line attack when gathering information, and businesses want to make sure their message is out there.

News contractor consultant Larry Taylor of AirRite Air Conditioning Company Inc., Fort Worth, Texas (, said the importance of the Web will only increase as more “tech-savvy” generations put the Internet at the heart of their information gathering and purchasing systems. “The next generation of customers will have grown up with the Internet and feel much more at ease in using it for more interaction with business,” he said.

Some Web surfers use the Internet to find out about a company and its services. That’s OK with News consultant Jim Hussey of Marina Mechanical, San Leandro, Calif. ( “Customer feedback implies that about 60 percent of our new clients went to our Web site for more detailed information about our firm,” said Hussey. “These clients were directed to the Web site by us.”

The Internet has become an essential tool for a growing number of contractors, including Energy Management Specialists, Cleveland. Pictured is Deanna Gellner, service operations manager. (Photo by Esther Dadian.)
“I feel in the residential replacement market the biggest advantage is allowing the potential customer to get information,” said Mark Schneider of Pacific Aire Inc., Ventura, Calif. ( “In the process, they built — we hope — loyalty and trust with us.”

One contractor, Gary Marowske of Flame Furnace, Warren, Mich. (, said that although he doesn’t use the Internet to purchase parts and supplies, he soon hopes that his customers will have a different attitude.

“We are in the process of setting up e-commerce for filters, pads, etc., hoping that we can increase our business,” Marowske said. “I don’t see any minuses for ordering miscellaneous parts. However, for furnaces and air conditioners we still need to go to the home for our presentation.”

Another News’ consultant, Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal/Service Experts, Fremont, Neb. (, put some hard dollars on the importance of a Web site. “In 2002 we probably generated close to $20,000 from our Web site, versus about $5,000 in 2001.”

Consumers often look to the Internet as their first source for obtaining information about companies, products, and services, and thus a growing number of contractors have made sure their marketing presence is on the Web.

The Many Functions Of A Web Site

Newsconsultant Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service Inc., San Jose, Calif. (, said his Web site serves a multitude of functions.

“We use it to market to new customers and potential employees,” he noted. “The most significant use is directing potential clients to the site to see the extent of services we provide and the depth of our expertise. We focus on the ‘About Us’ section, which we feel differentiates us from other vendors. It does make a difference, and people expect to see a professional site. We have had new clients specifically mention our site as part of the reason they have decided to use us as their service vendor.

“We also get employee applicants from the site, as well as potential clients and existing clients sending in information requests, etc. Since we don’t monitor the site continuously during the day, we do not recommend a customer place a service call that way. However, we do have a DSL connection in our office and run it over our network.”

Many contractors cite the ease of use for ordering parts and equipment as one of the big pluses of the Internet.

“Using the Internet business-to-business is a convenient way of placing orders and submitting paperwork 24/7 with companies I do business with,” said News consultant Steve Miles of Jerry Kelly Co., St. Charles, Mo. ( “We order most of our equipment online and pick up at the brick-and-mortar [store]. We also register all warranties and warranty claims on the Internet.”

“We love ordering on the Internet through our distributor’s Web site because we don’t have to deal with busy counter people,” noted Dave Boehmer of Boehmer Heating and Cooling, Pittsburgh ( “We order by 5 p.m. and our distributor delivers by noon the following day.”

News consultant Arthur Pickett of Royal Air Systems Inc., North Reading, Mass. (, said that his Web site adds credibility to his business. “We have had a Web site for approximately 15 years. We have had it rebuilt three times, and it needs to be redone again.

“The business we get from the Web is sometimes customers we are quoting, and they find us more credible because they can find us online and this makes them comfortable. This accounts for probably $150,000 last year.

“Then there are the people that use the Web like their telephone directory, and through dealer locators find us. Most of the time, we don’t realize that people used this method of finding us until after the sale is made.”

Hussey likes the marketing benefits of his site. “The Internet is a big part of our marketing presence,” he said. “Not so much for finding customers who are surfing the Web, but more as an online company brochure. It is less expensive than a printed brochure, it can be updated regularly, and customers like to navigate to the info that specifically interests them.”

“I think the Internet is a wonderful place to get information,” said Miles. “Business will grow to the extent that the public makes good use of the information available to them regarding proper installations, higher efficiency equipment, and indoor air quality.”

Sales Leads

One contractor who is always linked to the Internet sees lead generation as an up-and-coming benefit. “We were one of the first to go online and tie in with ACCA [Air Conditioning Contractors of America] in the early years,” noted Taylor. “We do get some leads from the site, but it is not a prime lead generator. It is, however, necessary, and we do have a lot of customers that comment about the information they retrieved from it.”

Taylor said there is still the uneasiness that comes with sending out private information through cyberspace. “Security is the biggest concern I have. I don’t mind placing orders, etc. I do have a concern each time I place an order and have to give a credit card. Once that issue is secure, I think business volume will increase.”

Miles said that the Internet is an open forum for freedom of speech — which isn’t necessarily a plus.

“The biggest risk is that anyone can say anything, anytime on the Internet, and your guard should always be up.”

“I feel over time the use of the Internet for our company will grow as the Internet grows,” said Tom Lawson of Advanced Air Conditioning, Bossier City, La. ( “The advantages to business transactions on the Internet are that it saves time and is convenient.”

Even contractors who have seen limited success via the Internet still feel the need for a Web presence.

“We feel the need to have a Web site, even thought we are not getting much from it at this time,” said Kenny Sugarman of Riteway Service Co., San Antonio ( “But who knows about the future?”

But for all of the positives that doing business over the Internet provide, there will always be one thing missing — the personal touch.

Don Bowen of Bowen Refrigeration, Heating & Cooling, Muskegon, Mich. (, said, “Sometimes we would rather talk to someone and get more information that the Internet doesn’t provide.”

Publication date: 03/24/2003