In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy. I wish I wasn’t — as does my wife — but I am. So, a few weeks after scaring contractors in this very space by saying an Uber-type business might open up and undercut them, I’m sounding off the alarms once again.

This time it’s in the thermostat business where it was recently announced that Apple’s smart home platform was gaining another member in the form of the ecobee3 smart thermostat. This means the thermostat is going to be sold across the country in Apple stores. The product will be able to be controlled by Siri and now officially inherits the “cool” factor.

Now, I myself am not cool enough to go into the Apple Store. Kohl’s is more my speed. But, suffice to say, shelf space in these stores is some pretty valuable real estate, and this is a pretty big win for ecobee. To be horribly simplistic about the situation — Google has the Nest thermostat and Apple has the ecobee3.

As I wrote years ago, when the Nest was being sold in Apple stores, this can be looked at from different perspectives. One is that thermostats in Apple Stores raises the awareness of thermostats (and, in turn, HVAC) and gives the industry a type of cool factor. The other viewpoint is that contractors are going to be cut out of the process and be on the outside looking in when it comes to thermostats.

Obviously, I don’t need to tell our contractor readers that the latter is already happening, to some extent. When I talk with contractors, one of their main concerns is do-it-yourselfers installing these thermostats after buying them at a local store — Best Buy, Home Depot, etc. The bigger concern should be support services sprouting up to perform that very same job.

How long before Apple creates some sort of tech support group to install these in the customers’ homes for a small fee? This is already happening with the Best Buy Geek Squad. A quick search of thermostats on the Best Buy website produced more than 35 products from multiple manufacturers. Intrigued, I began an online chat with the Geek Squad. They assured me they would be able to install and program the thermostat for me. The individual did not quote me a price — that would be up to the individual store — but when I inquired if this is something that needs to be installed by a certified HVAC contractor, they responded with a simple “no sir.”

Well, there you go.

This isn’t a new problem. In fact, the first time I wrote about this topic, in June 2012, Nest was being sold at Apple stores. How do HVAC contractors make sure this doesn’t eat into their bottom lines? The answer is by simply providing better service. There is no way the 22-year-old in the funny Geek Squad uniform and car knows the HVAC system better than you and your staff. Do you think Skip from Geek Squad is checking out the air conditioning unit, looking at ductwork, or measuring IAQ?

It’s your job to prove your value to the consumer, because the options are only going to increase going forward. More people are going to be offering this service — not fewer.

Most customers have likely already heard of the Nest or Honeywell Lyric before you walk into their homes. They might have seen them while shopping for clothes at Target. Leverage that while you’re in the home and let that be the entry into all the other products you offer.

Know the product. Don’t fumble through it or roll your eyes when talking about the technology. A few contractors did that when I was getting bids a few months back, and it made them look like they were stuck in the past.

So, basically, I’m telling you to be the opposite of me. When it comes to thermostats, be a glass-half-full kind of person.

Publication date: 8/3/2015

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