Joe Crisara had a brainstorm — not to be confused with an Excedrin headache, although his competition may be popping a few Advils or Tylenols by now.

Crisara, business consultant for Rosenthal Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, Wis., put together a promotion designed to make the most of a local historical event called “A Day in the Country.” He already has caught the attention of the local media, and he is expected to grab the spotlight away from other seasonal marketing campaigns.

Because the small town of Rochester is proud of its historical district and highlights its heritage during the annual event, Rosenthal developed an “Oldest Furnace Contest” for the occasion. The contractor is looking for the oldest operational residential furnace or boiler in the tri-county area of Walworth, Kenosha, and Racine counties. The winner is to receive a new, high-efficiency Rheem furnace valued up to $5,000.

As of this writing, Rosenthal received 147 entries. And we’re not talking about furnaces that are 20 or 30 years old, not by any stretch.

“We are seeing things from 1904 — equipment that can’t even be repaired,” said Crisara. “Some of the equipment is so old that we can’t even identify it. The majority of the furnaces are 75 years old or older.”

The company is taking digital pictures of all systems and will post them on a bulletin board on the day the contest results are made public.

The company views the contest as the perfect stimulus to start the replacement process.

Alerting The Media

While Rosenthal had a built-in marketing angle, he still needed to get the word out to the local media.

“We did a bunch of press releases for the contest,” said Crisara. “We got the names of the copy editors from about 15 newspapers and we wound up with stories in six newspapers. That was the initial press release, and our marketing costs wound up being nothing — free publicity. We are going to follow up with a status letter to those six editors and let them know that response has been great.

“After the contest, we will follow up with another press release announcing the winner. This gets our name and brand out into the community with little or no cost.”

Crisara said he learned how to write a press release through his membership in Service Roundtable (, a Web site designed and run by HVACR professionals. (By the way, The News also offers a similar service. There are sample press release templates that can be downloaded at our “Extra Edition” feature at our Web site, Click on to the article “Free Advertising: Promoting With Publicity,” located in our Business Management archives.)

The point of this exercise — be it with help from Service Roundtable, The News, or from our monthly marketing consultant, Adams Hudson — is to get contractors thinking like professional businesspeople. Putting out a thorough, polished press release adds a professional touch.

It certainly worked for Rosenthal.

At What Cost?

As part of the festivities, Rosenthal is sponsoring a pig roast, too. The company is charging $10 a plate. “The profit from the pig roast will basically cover the cost of the new furnace we will be installing,” Crisara said.

Rosenthal will be awarding second-place prizes to each homeowner who doesn’t win the lone first-place prize. The second-place finishers will receive a free furnace inspection and tuneup, as well as a free carbon monoxide test.

The company has already identified several systems that need replacing — and some homeowners have already agreed to some replacements, even if they don’t win.

“This is going to be very positive for us because we are swamped with calls, thanks to the contest,” said Crisara. “The whole community is talking about the contest — and they don’t view the contest as self-serving. They see it as part of the heritage celebration.”

The event will also give Rosenthal the opportunity to show off its newly remodeled showroom.

“We still have a ways to go,” said co-owner Kim Rosenthal. “We are proud to celebrate with our customers who have made our success possible.”

“We will also be giving special discounts for people who want to schedule their fall heating tuneup or a free estimate while at the event,” added co-owner Mike Rosenthal. “There will be discounts up to 50 percent off some of our products and services. We will also be giving a grand tour of our facility.”

Ties To ISH

I took an interest in Rosenthal’s contest because of its direct tie-in to an upcoming seminar I will be heading at the ISH North America show, to be held in Las Vegas Sept. 30-Oct. 3.

My seminar will be centered on stories like Rosenthal’s — stories that show how creative HVACR contractors have assembled successful marketing campaigns with the help of their local media outlets. Attendees will be among the first to learn about the results of Rosenthal’s contest. And, I can say without hesitation that his marketing program will be a success, even if “A Day in the Country” is a colossal bust (which is highly unlikely) and there aren’t enough pigs to go around for some hungry diners.

You see, through this promotion, Rosenthal Heating and Air Conditioning is getting its name out there, and that is a success all by itself.

In the end, Rosenthal should come away from the event with many more solid leads for replacement equipment sales and service agreements.

To describe the situation as a win-win doesn’t go far enough. I’d have to add at least 147 win-wins, one for each entry in the contest (and I’m sure the number of entrants will only grow).

John Hall will present “How To Promote Your Business By Using The Media” at 9 a.m. on Oct. 3 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Convention Center. Visit for details.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/22/2003