Do you remember the last time you purchased a major appliance? I do. I bought a side-by-side refrigerator with the water and ice dispenser in the door. My kids were getting to the age where they would soon need that luxury of instant ice and water.

The store that sold me the refrigerator also suggested a two-year warranty with a renewable option. I decided to take them up on their offer because the price seemed reasonable, as did the peace of mind that went with it.

The store “locked me up” for a couple of years at least. Yes, I did need service because the access panel on the bottom wouldn’t stay on but they repaired it and I was happy. I didn’t renew the option of an extra year because I felt comfortable with the break-in period of the refrigerator.

I could have been locked in for the long term but I was so impressed with the product and the service, I have since purchased other products from the store. They have, in effect, made me a customer for life.

This cradle-to-grave approach to selling service is not new — but it is worth mentioning again and again to hvacr contractors. In this changing climate of utility and manufacturer competition, and with the emergence of the Internet as a means for marketing service agreements, contractors need to tie up their customers now.

I don’t mean rope and tie them; I mean commit them to a lengthy service agreement when you close the sale or wrap up your first service call. It doesn’t take a lot of expertise or savvy to lock in a customer. It does take a good product and even better service.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me give an example of how you can sell yourself to your customer and ensure that they won’t shop around for a better deal from your competitors.

Let’s say you are writing up an estimate on a new furnace for a first-time customer. Make sure you add in the price of an extended warranty and/or service agreement (or both). I am sure many of you do this already but it should be automatic as part of your sales pitch.

If you want to install add-ons at a later time, give your customer an option to purchase them at a discount. For example, offer 10% off for a dehumidifier or electric air filter, possibly 20% if they choose to add central air. And make the warranty/agreement transferable to the new homeowners if your customer decides to sell their home. It is a very strong selling point for both you and your customer.

If your customer is still shopping your estimate to the local competition, ask if they may give you the courtesy of seeing the other bids — and offer to match them. Will it cost you a little more up front? Possibly, but think of how much more it would cost you in the long run if you don’t make that sale.

Think of this simple philosophy: The cost of getting and keeping a customer is the cost of doing business.

There are some very good and keen competitors out there. I have met residential contractors who utilize the “whole-house” approach to doing business. They sell their customers all types of services beside hvacr, like carpet cleaning, drain cleaning, maid service, etc. Others prefer to focus on one thing and do it well.

Many commercial contractors are taking the “total building management” approach to selling to their commercial and industrial customers. They want to install the equipment, manage the building hvacr system, and in many cases, supply the energy to the building.

Some call it one-stop shopping and others call it cradle-to-grave service. Whatever name you give it, this type of selling and service is here to stay and will only continue to grow. But getting back to what I said before — you have to back up your sales pitch with quality products and service.

Remember, cradle-to-grave customers will also tell others about your service. I’ll save the “word-of-mouth” speech for another time.