The votes are in and it’s a hung jury. Why is it that I am not surprised?

Recently on our Web site we asked readers if they thought an HVAC contracting brand name would ever catch on and become successful on a national level.

It appears you are on one side of the fence or the other regarding the issue. It’s either Seabiscuit or War Admiral.

Like most who answered “yes” and supplied a number, Paul Baca of Albuquerque, N.M., estimated it would take 5 years for an HVAC contracting brand name to catch on nationally.

“If the person in question was to succeed at a national scale, he would be the Bill Gates of HVAC,” wrote Baca. “He would have to diversify his company name, by being appealing to all the ethnic groups. Do I think someone could do it? Yes, and that someone could be a business person not having a clue on how HVAC systems work, but knowing how business works.”

Regarding the same topic, Thomas McDonald of Tempe, Ariz., could see a contractor succeeding, but it depends upon two items: the amount of money thrown into advertising and the quality of service that is provided.

“It could all go down the drain in a hurry if some type of ‘60 Minutes’ sting operation is set up and a few of the national operations are found to be guilty of unfair practices,” he said. “If that happens, anyone under the national banner will suffer.”

Back And Forth

There was no hesitation from Mike Heim of Pine Hill, N.J.

“Sure, branding exists in every sector of our economy,” he wrote. “Why not ours? Properly done and executed by serious people, it will be the next McDonald’s. Ever hear of Roto-Rooter? Anything is possible when you believe in what you are trying to do!”

Chuck Blouse of York, Pa., was even more optimistic regarding the HVAC contracting brand name catching on. Instead of 5 years, he thought it would be a national reality in 1 to 2 years.

Skip Schembari of Pasadena, Calif., disagrees with that assessment. He doubts the possibility of a successful national franchise in this industry because he believes the consumer is focused more so on price rather than good, fast service.

“There is very little loyalty,” he said. “It’s more like ‘What have you done for me lately?’

“Most consumers couldn’t tell you what contractor they wrote a $10,000 check to last month. The days of Ford and Chevy lovers are all but gone. The HVAC industry does not have the money to even come close to the marketing it would take. It’s the brutal truth.”

“If you look at franchises like McDonald’s, they start from the ground up and sell it to franchisees (private investors),” commented Tim Bruce of San Antonio. “Compare that to HVAC, where a franchise will try and re-label or repackage an existing operation as a franchisee. The risk to start multilocation operations from the ground up without much proven national success would be a risky sell to the McDonald’s-type of investor looking to own a franchise. There are too many other franchise opportunities out there with less risk and a better track record that do not require the high level of training involved in HVAC.”

Robert Wilkos of Panama City, Fla., wonders if it is possible for an HVAC contractor to succeed with a brand image on a national level, but when push comes to shove, he thinks the task is insurmountable. “You would need to provide one-stop shopping in all regions and in all markets. That’s too much to achieve,” he wrote. “In addition, you would definitely need to be consistently marketed through various mediums. Someone would have to have deep pockets.”

John Murray of Washington, Mo., was more optimistic. “Anything is possible,” he commented, “as long as (1) they can compete, (2) they have good people on a national scale, (3) they take good care of their employees, and (4) they provide a valuable service to the consumer.”

Time will tell. Time will tell.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 08/18/2003