Barb Checket-Hanks

How do HVAC contractors fit into this economy, and how might they actually benefit from it? Yes, benefit. I’m an optimist by nature, although that drives some people (like my husband) slightly nuts. He’s a pessimist by nature. I admit that I want to see the good in things.

Lately I’ve noticed a lot more interest in information that hearkens back to the Great Depression. For instance, there’s an older lady whose videos are going around, because she remembers the type of cooking her mother did to keep body and soul together for her family when both food and money were scarce.

Their tight budgets mean they are spending more time at home … and noticing their indoor environments more.

Today more than ever, consumers are looking for values and bargains. True bargains include getting more value than you might reasonably have paid for otherwise. These have a high factor of luck, and require a high degree of perseverance to find them. True bargains are like truffles. You’ve got to hunt for them. Value is a necessary component of the true bargain. Without value, it’s not really a bargain.

Today’s consumers are also learning that some purchases are more necessary than others. Appeal to consumers’ practical interests and you have a good chance of getting a portion of their dwindling discretionary dollars. What are you up against these days? Entertainment - not as much a competitor as it was. Clothes - again, not so much. Your biggest competitors these days are probably housing, medical expenses, and utilities, and your product has a direct impact on two or possibly all three of these categories.

But first, this needs to be brought to their attention.

PRACTICAL ATTITUDES

Maybe I’m being too much of an optimist again, but I can see consumers becoming more practical these days. Few things are more practical than installing a new heating-cooling system that saves money and works better than the old one. It offers new bragging rights they can share with family and coworkers.

Maybe it’s not time for them to get a new system. How about restoring the performance of the old one? HVAC system performance restoration is a new and growing trend, designed to offer consumers something in between plain maintenance (which might not be enough) and system replacement (which might be too much).

HVAC restoration, as defined in our March 2 issue, is designed to bring systems back to a level where they can be maintained afterwards. It’s not an “as-new” promise. If done properly, however, it has a very good chance of improving reliability, comfort, and efficiency - all very practical concerns for today’s consumers.

According to recent news reports, consumers are still spending money. However, the places where they choose to spend are changing. They are looking for ways to reduce their consumption. They are looking for smart investments close to home.

GET THE MESSAGE OUT

If you want to take advantage of changing consumer attitudes, you will definitely need to communicate what you have to offer them. Look for opportunities to work with local media on story development.

Perhaps this is something you can develop with the local group of contractors you associate with professionally or socially. There is power in numbers.

If you feel comfortable with your degree of expertise and communication skills, offer yourself as a resource to local TV and newspaper sources. You could offer comments on how consumers can save money by taking care of their HVAC system. “How to save” stories are very big these days, and a fresh angle like this could snag an editor’s interest.

Hold an open house, invite people to your business for free consultations. These could get your foot in the door, or at least get some new names on your mailing list. Use your current customer list and hold a seminar on saving money through practical methods (with your HVAC system); describe how companies like yours can help, then spell out what you have to offer. Keep it short and to the point.

It’s all good, folks. The traditional competitors to consumer dollars are falling by the wayside. This industry’s products and services remain on the short list of necessities. Make sure people know that you are on that list. Don’t make them dig with a truffle-sniffing dog to find out about you.

Publication date: 03/30/2009