Peter Powell

The issue of selling up has always been a controversial one. Some contractors and technicians are happy to tell a customer about the value of upgrading existing equipment or installing a higher-quality new product. Others cringe at the thought of doing either. What do we say about a situation in which a customer wants top-of-the-line equipment but the contractor seems to discourage that customer?

This issue came to light in an extended letter to the editor I saw in a general circulation newspaper. The owner of a business dealing with bird feeders and related products was moving into a newer strip mall. He specifically wanted high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

He wrote: “My building owner was surprised that anyone would ask for this, and the installer questioned me as to why I would want to spend more money than I had to on a roof-mounted heating and air conditioning unit. I went ahead anyway. I estimated the extra cost was recouped in 18 months through lower energy bills.”

There are a number of points to be made here.

First, why would the contractor not want to install a high-efficiency unit? More than likely there would be more profit in such a job. (I’m sure the manufacturer of the unit, as well as the contractor’s wholesaler, would also appreciate that.)

Second, this was not a selling up issue. The customer wanted the higher grade. In this case, he was trying to be environmentally conscientious in a way that would fit into the nature of his business.

He also saw the financial return on investment. He appeared to be an educated consumer. I doubt any contractor could feel guilty offering this fellow top-of-the-line equipment.

The contractor certainly didn’t need to say something that sounded like selling down.


Most importantly, this type of exchange shows what contractors can expect more of in the future.

It relates to this whole issue of sustainability.The NEWShas had quite a number of articles on the topic in the past year or so. In several of those articles, it was noted that it would be building owners who initiated the desire to have their properties made greener, both for political correctness and for lower operating costs versus a more conventional building.

One article said the real sustainability push would start in earnest in about 2015. Right now, building owners, for the most part, are watching the growing number of sustainable buildings that are often prototypes of what is expected to become more common. They are trying to get a handle on the payback.

This sustainable emphasis is expected to continue to grow, even more so given rapidly rising energy costs.

The storeowner mentioned here is operating on a smaller scale than some of the massive commercial buildings most often highlighted in sustainability case histories. But he demonstrates the knowledge future commercial customers will have when meeting with contractors.

Listen to how this owner has analyzed what he could do for environmental and cost reasons:

• “I recently replaced 52 point-of-sale flood lights with high-efficiency, compact fluorescent flood lights. The old floods were rated 75 W. The new lights are rated 23 W, but with 100 W of brightness. The new lights also last about seven times longer than regular floods. I recouped full cost in just less than 11 months.”

• “I also installed a programmable thermostat and use very little heat or cooling when the store is closed. In addition, all computers, monitors, printers, and other such equipment are turned off every night.”

• “My store collects packaging peanuts from our deliveries and provides them at no charge to local companies for reuse.”

• “Customers can purchase seed in one-gallon milk jugs. When the milk jug is returned, I pay a return deposit and reuse the jug.”

The owner is an example of the kinds of customers contractors may well be seeing much more often in the future. It certainly would be in the best interest of contractors to be up to speed on the newest HVAC technologies - and be ready to supply and install those products.

Publication date:06/02/2008