The Internet is a useful tool for HVACR contractors the way a set of gauges is a useful tool for field technicians. The various Internet sites offered by Rheem Manufacturing to its network of contractors, for instance, are designed to help contractors find company and product literature, including spec sheets, user's manuals, installation instructions, photos, product updates, etc.

Other sites allow Rheem contractors to access the latest program information, advertising materials, training classes, and other business-building resources.

The Rheem Web site is consumer-friendly and provides links to product information and Rheem dealer locations.

Why The Internet?

The Newsasked some Rheem contractors if the Internet has changed their businesses and what features and benefits they have derived from communicating via the Web.

Dan Depontbriand, owner of Mountain Air, Castle Rock, Colo., said that, in general, information is much easier to gather. "It has allowed for a much faster response time when we look for hard-to-find technical information," he said.

"The most helpful feature of the Internet is the ability to target a demographic as far as advertising," he said. "We find that the majority of the people who contact us through the Internet are more knowledgeable about what they want and need, and more willing to pay to have the work done properly."

Doug Brewer of Brewer Heating Inc., Ripon, Wis., said his company puts its Web site address on all of its ads and business cards. "On our Web site, we have links to various other Web sites, such as," he said. "This helps our current and prospective customers research common questions they may have with the equipment. The customer becomes better informed, and when we meet them face to face, what we tell them is backed up by the Web site.

"Everyone is on the Web now, and information is very accessible," he said. "We want our Web site to be in the mix. We do a lot of the preliminary work via e-mails with homeowners, but we always make sure we meet with them face to face. We found this approach closes more sales for us."

Dave Ariano, vice president of Ravinia Plumbing & Heating, Highland Park, Ill., said the Internet is a time saver. "The Internet has reduced the amount of time it takes to retrieve information about the products we provide to our customers, as well as keeping us informed of the day-to-day changes that occur in our industry," he said.

"The ability to look up technical information and parts breakdowns to facilitate repairs increases productivity both in the office and in the field," he said. "In addition, contractors who use the information provided online by Rheem at do not have to worry about maintaining up-to-date product catalogs."

Technician Frank Precopio of Rheem Team Top Contractor Mountain Air Comfort Systems in Castle Rock, Colo., uses Rheem Web sites to obtain sales leads and product information. The company also uses the sites to interact with and assist other dealers across the country.

Web Site Benefits

The contractors talked about some of the specific benefits of the Web sites.

"What I like most about the Rheem Web site is our ability to connect with not only Rheem factory sources, but other contractors around the country," said Depontbriand.

"I like the access to [Rheem] newsgroups," said Brewer.

"Sometimes we read a problem a different dealer has, and offer some advice. I also like the customer area, which is well put together. It gives them basic info about all they need. I think it is a great tool to link other Rheem dealers together. The information is very powerful, and makes a business look professional. You will satisfy more customers."

"Rheem Web sites are available to us day or night and allow us to obtain information we would normally have to wait to receive verbally," said Ariano.

"The Internet also allows us to provide product training to our office and service personnel. This allows us to serve our customer base faster and better.

"In addition to all of the technical information available, Rheem has included a lot of information to help the smaller dealer improve their marketing efforts. It is a smart move for Rheem because the better a dealer markets itself, the more business they're able to acquire and more product is sold. This enables growth for the dealer as well as the manufacturer."

David Ariano, vice president of Rheem Team Top Contractor Ravinia Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc. in Highland Park, Ill., utilizes various Rheem sites for business-building information. He appreciates the ability to view parts and wiring diagrams.

Advice To Non-Internet Users

Thanks to the Internet, communication is split-second. So why would a business owner prefer other methods of communicating with customers, peers, and employees?

"If you're not using the Internet as a business tool, you're missing the bus into the future," noted Depontbriand.

"Over the next few years, the amount of business you lose by not advertising through the Internet will grow at an increasing rate, and your lack of Internet presence will be noticed by consumers - or worse yet, not noticed."

Brewer agreed. "Almost everyone has access to the Internet. Anyone who does not use this powerful resource is missing out big time. There are a lot of people on the Web, why not make them your customers?"

If you snooze, you lose, implied Ariano. "The Internet services provided by manufacturers will only increase over time and eventually may only be offered via the Internet," he said.

"It's also your only resource available 24 hours a day with the information you need now. Don't be left behind. Your competition is on the Internet - you must be as well."

Publication date: 01/31/2005