Mike Murphy

A favorite billboard advertisement that I saw many years ago was for a Kentucky bourbon that my father was quite fond of - Maker’s Mark. The ad pictured the brand’s trademark red-waxed bottle and six simple words, “It Tastes Expensive, And It Is.”

Obviously, that was quite some time ago. In today’s advertising world, billboards featuring things such as liquor and cigarettes are more difficult to find in the United States, and completely banned in some cities.

The old ad certainly caught the attention of many as Maker’s Mark was, and still is, arguably considered the top bourbon on the market, certainly not to be confused with that nasty sour mash rot-gut from Tennessee.

HVAC contractors could use a shot of Maker’s Mark. I certainly mean this figuratively, as any connoisseur would gag at the notion of anything less couth than slowly sipping a fine Kentucky bourbon; and for the love of Pete, do not mix it with Coke!

However, the point is that the industry is quite well known as one suffering from low self-esteem. It’s obvious in the pricing practices. (I may live to regret this last admonition - I recently choked down a $780 blower replacement - as I’ve just given Paul cause to raise my rates.)

Doctors don’t haggle about price; we don’t go into their office expecting to negotiate a better rate for a proctology exam. It seems that most consumers would never consider bargaining for certain professional services because they consider those services to be of such a high stature - lofty enough to be above the fray. But, gimme a break! A proctologist should be discounting. Nobody wants what he’s offering.

Everybody wants what you’re offering. Everybody wants warm and cozy, cool and calm, fresh and clean. I believe HVAC contractors really are house doctors. No one else can do the things you can do. Sure, a bunch of people can repair or change out a condensing unit.

Some of them are legitimate contractors and some are brother-in-laws, firemen, and general moonlighters. Set yourself apart from everyone who is just simply making a few bucks on a changeout this summer by differentiating. I’m not suggesting just simply differentiating your offering, though it may be part of the solution. Every proctologist is offering exactly the same thing. Differentiate yourself as a professional. That is really the biggest opportunity you have going for you.


I borrowed the line above from the Habegger Corp. Bryant dealer meeting in Cincinnati. It was the theme of the distributor’s conference.

Professional HVAC contractors see things differently as they look down the road, and certainly in the immediate future. During a rough economy, the competition for commodities gets tougher. If you think you are selling a commodity, you will price yourself in the market accordingly. However, if you believe you are providing such a unique service that consumers wouldn’t think of haggling over price, then perhaps you are on to something. There are countless examples in business where a company has made a simple mathematical change in order to elevate the perceived position of a product or service - a price increase.

Dear old Dad once told me, perhaps while sipping on a bourbon with a splash and twist of lemon, “Always leave ’em guessing.”

There are plenty of contractors’ bids that are clustered around a low mark, and far fewer that are priced in the stratosphere. Which one do you think might gain the curious response, “What have you been smoking?”

Nobody has to guess why you are the low bid, but a customer might wonder why you are so different that you can price up in a down market. Sure, you will have to walk away from some business, but you’re also going to be walking out the door empty-handed a lot of times when you can’t beat the lowest price, right?

In athletics, as in life, we learn that visualizing success often makes it so. The first step in visualizing an HVAC profession held in lofty, high esteem is to see the vision of a completely professional environment throughout your own company.

Once you see that in your head, you will set a price that will enable you to afford the vision. Then, evaluate your customer offerings. If you are not providing more than a changeout, professional services that rise above price haggling, you will not be able to charge the appropriate prices to fulfill your vision.

No one else can do what you can do.

The vision. The price. The offering. The future.

Murphy’s Law: Sip the expensive bourbon.

Publication date:05/19/2008