John R. Hall

During a recent trip to a trade meeting in North Lake Tahoe, I got a slap of reality right in the kisser. While traveling from Sacramento along I-80, I happened upon the Donner Pass region of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is not exactly the place to be in late January driving a rear-wheel drive car but there I was. About 40 miles from my exit, I noticed people pulling off the road and putting on tire chains. Four-wheelers didn’t have to and most of the vehicles on the road at that time were of the four-wheel drive classification.

At one point I was signaled off the road and told I had to have chains on my car. Chains on my car? Heck, I’m a Michigander all of my life and have driven in all kinds of heavy snow but never with chains on my tires. However, this is the Sierra Nevada mountains in winter. Different story. I complied and crawled along to my eventual destination. It was an eye-opening experience.

As usual, I translated that adventure into how a similar situation could affect HVAC contractors. It’s not that much of a stretch.



NOT A BAND-AID

First of all, the tire chain scenario represents a preventive measure, not a quick fix action. People use tire chains to provide better traction and prevent loss of control on icy, snow-covered roads. While they must sacrifice speed for safety, I am sure it is a trade-off that anyone would take. And by the way, the California Highway Patrol was very visible to ensure every driver complied while I crept along at 25 mph in what I assumed was the right lane.

HVAC contractors also need preventive measures to protect their businesses from the ups and downs of the trade, including weather spikes and economic slowdowns. If they wait until something adverse occurs, then even the strongest tire chains aren’t going to help them out of a snow-covered ditch - or in “HVACese” - out of a negative cash flow situation.

Let’s face it, slow times are part of the business. But the smart business owners prepare for these slowdowns by being aggressive and doing what they have always done to remain successful and profitable.

One of these tire chains is a strong service agreement program. If you have a large number of residential or commercial customers, or a mix of each, you likely have many of them locked into service agreements. These are customers who have given your company guaranteed business for at least a year and possibly up to three years. As long as you treat them right, they might even be customers for life. These are the people who will give you business during slow times and are possibly the best referral customers you could ask for.

Here is another tire chain. Since many homeowners are facing tough times selling their homes, some choose to refinanace and remodel instead. They are making their homes more comfortable, livable, and marketable down the road. They are spending thousands on new marble countertops, plumbing fixtures, flooring, windows, etc.

My suggestion to you is to drive around your service area and take note of the homes with home improvement lawn signs planted in their lawns. These people have obviously decided to upgrade. If they are in the mood to improve their home cosmetically, maybe they are interested in improving it mechanically. Write down the addresses and send them a marketing piece or leave a door-hanger.



THIS GUY GOT IT RIGHT

I got an e-mail from a Mississippi contractor who I will call a “real tire-chainer.” Steve Nunes of Noon-Air Heating & A/C, Purvis, said it so well I will let his words wrap up my column:

“I have had a very profitable January - equal to or exceeding most summer months in south Mississippi. I realize that the housing market has tanked, but the writing I see on the walls is that a lot of homeowners have to refinance their homes. Thinking along those lines, when they do a re-fi, most of them will get equity cash out of the deal that could be used for comfort system replacement.

“How do we go about targeting that particular source of additional revenue? I, for one, carry a handful of business cards for a friend that is a loan originator for a major bank. What are you doing?”

By the way, anyone want to buy a used set of tire chains?

Publication Date: 02/11/2008