Let’s face it: Our trade isn’t exactly trendy. We sell, install, and service systems that are vital for comfort and safety, but most homeowners prefer our products to be out of sight, out of mind.

We know the tired old story about homeowners who were asked what type of furnace they had, and they answered “Honeywell.” If the furnaces and condensing units we sell aren’t the first things people think about when they wake up or return home, then we’re doing our job.

But what if we wanted to offer some high-profile products homeowners are proud to show off and even prouder to talk about? What’s more, these high-profile products can add thousands of dollars in profits to your business, with just some minor tweaking in the field and aggressive selling in the showrooms and over the phone.

No, you don’t have to switch careers.

If your interest is piqued, read on.

Gas fireplaces

Three years ago, Todd Howlett was on a no-heat service call. His customer mentioned that he wished he had another source of heat if the furnace broke down again.

Howlett remembered seeing some literature on fireplace inserts so he took a chance and ordered some, hoping that other customers might like the idea of an alternative source of heat.

He was right. He sold out his first shipment in a week. Howlett was so confident that gas fireplaces were the way to go, his company took the ball and ran with it.

“Our company owned a building nearby that housed a beauty shop,” he said. “When they went out of business, we took over the building and remodeled it to resemble a home.”

Howlett’s company, Aire-Flo Heating & Air Conditioning, Hillsboro, OR, created a showroom resembling a home. It was not an inexpensive venture.

“I knew we were rolling the dice but it turned out good,” he added. The company sells a line of Heat-N-Glo fireplaces. Howlett said his company is probably the largest contractor for these fireplaces on the West Coast. “Having the fireplaces takes the lull out of the slow spring and fall business.”

Howlett said that once people are in the showroom, it gives his salespeople the opportunity to sell a variety of products. It’s also a routine installation job for his installers, usually “half a day with no trouble at all.”

John Greiner of Greiner’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Dixon, CA, is into his second season of selling fireplaces out of his newly constructed showroom. He took the idea of selling fireplaces from another vendor’s presentation.

“Our Trane dealer brought their line of fireplaces in and we took a look at them,” Greiner said. “We decided it would be a good match for our business.”

Flame appeal

Greiner thinks the appeal of a gas fireplace is very different from the more conventional gas furnace.

“A furnace usually hides in an attic or basement, out of sight,” he said. “The fireplace is a finished product that people show off.”

He said the fireplaces are “selling like crazy” in his area, and he expects to triple his sales volume this year from around $60,000 last year.

Arthur Pickett of Royal Air Systems, North Reading, MA, is anxiously awaiting a few more installers before jumping into the fireplace market. But he knows the time is right and he has the ability to install fireplaces while installing furnaces.

“A licensed plumber to hook up the gas line is required; we have them,” he said. “We know how to install flues. Class B vents are used for furnace flues and are also used for fireplaces.”

Pickett is a Lennox dealer and he has the advantage of selling furnaces from a company that also makes them. “We’ve done a few fireplaces simply because Lennox is so heavy into them.”

Barbeque grills

When you first think of barbecue grills, you envision rows and rows of them, with attached propane tanks, at the local hardware store or discount chain. Some hvac contractors envision something quite different — high-end grills.

“Selling a barbecue grill would be a natural connection because contractors are already hooking up gas lines and can easily install an extra product,” said Kathie Russell of The Holland Company, Holly Springs, NC, a manufacturer of installed gas grills. “If piping and water column pressure are there, the installation can take as little as five minutes.”

Contractor Pickett knows another good reason why his company could sell barbecue grills: “Burners always need adjustments and service techs are trained to do that.”

Pickett admitted that the most likely customers would be the more affluent ones, but that is no reason not to add grills to the product mix.

Build sales on your relationship

As long as contractors have a good dialogue with their customers, they should use this valuable relationship to sell grills, according to one grill manufacturer.

Joe McLaughlin, sales representative for Napoleon Fireplaces, East Providence, RI, said the customer list is the best bet.

“Customers will usually take what a contractor recommends,” he said. “All a contractor has to do is drop off a brochure.”

He added that some of his company’s grills retail for up to $3,000, while free-standing propane models range from $500 to $600; “The people that sell these products can make a nice profit.”

Contractor Howlett agrees that having gas grills is a nice addition to his product offering. “We probably sell about 10 of the high-end grills and 20 of the free-standing propane models each year.”

Gas fireplaces in fall, barbecue grills in spring — sounds like a great way to even out the lulls in a seasonable business.

Need to know more about fireplaces and barbecue grills? Contact Heat-N-Glo at 612-985-6648 (www.heatnglo.com); Napoleon Fireplaces at 800-772-3782; or The Holland Co. at 919-557-2001 (www.holland grill.com).