If one had to select the "hot button" for the year, "branding" certainly comes to mind. Not only did manufacturers create more brands, they pushed them. Meanwhile, contractors tried to "be the brand."

Nordyne, for instance, made one of the bigger splashes when it entered into a contractual relationship with Maytag in 2002 to market a line of high-end air conditioning and heating systems. This year they brought together selected distributors to provide them with research information to substantiate the value of the Maytag brand with the consumer.

More brands are available, and contractors are also selling more brands this year. In The News' 2003 Unitary Heating/Cooling Study, 25 percent of the contractor respondents revealed they sell at least three brands, but 25 percent also said they sell four or five brands. Such was not the case just two years ago. In 2001, 27 percent said they sold three brands, but only 19 percent said they sold four or five.

When contractors were asked in 1999 if they sold more than five brands, 8 percent of the respondents said they did. That answer jumped to 16 percent in the 2003 survey.

Discussing sales training opportunities with the Maytag line are (from left) distributors Tom Distler and Haynes Williams of Slakey Brothers (Sacramento, Calif.), Dennis Kloster, former vice president of marketing for Maytag Inc., and Jim Hinshaw of Sales Improvement Professionals.
While contractors are selling more brands, manufacturers are finding more ways to distribute their brands. Carrier's partnership with Sears, announced in late 2002, raised more than a few contractor eyebrows in 2003, enough to warrant several open discussions between the manufacturer and dealers. One such meeting took place at the ACCA convention. Halsey Cook, president, North American Residential HVAC, Carrier Corp., answered questions regarding Carrier's decision in both an open forum and a closed-door session with contractors.

The agreement between retail giant Sears and Carrier is that Carrier-brand equipment is sold by Sears and installed and serviced by Sears subcontractors. Cook said, "The relationship is tracking just as it should." Cook said Carrier made this move to develop different channels to market, not to bypass traditional distribution.

"There's room enough in the market for our mutual success," he said in an interview with The News.

Instead of touting a manufacturer's brand, some contractors opted to make their business the focal point. For instance, 2003 saw the launch of One Hour Air Conditioning, a national franchise organization funded by parent company VenVest Inc. In a two-month period, 30 companies had signed on.

"It's an idea whose time has come," said One Hour President Alan Mintz. "I think contractors realize the days of the small independent have passed, and they want to leverage the value of a national brand."

Jim Abrams, president of VenVest Inc. and co-founder of Contractors Success, said, "We are absolutely convinced that he who gets there first with a brand name that means something in the HVAC retail business wins. By ‘wins,' I mean that contractors can attract a large amount of customers in a different fashion than has been done in the past."

Publication date: 12/29/2003