Distribution channels have been impacted by the power of the Internet - namely the power of eBay. A while back I wrote about the sale of R-22 on eBay.

It piqued my curiosity.

I decided to seek out the buyers of HVAC equipment - your potential customers - and ask them why they would rather buy a product such as a 2.5-ton condensing unit, sight unseen, from an Internet Web site rather than from a traditional "brick-and-mortar" business.

The Buyers Speak

I tried to get in touch with some of the buyers by e-mailing them at the eBay Web site. Three of them responded and agreed to share their reasons for buying a condensing unit online.

The first buyer I corresponded with cited a bad experience with a company as a reason for buying from the Internet.

The buyer acknowledged the element of risk in buying the unit online, but stated that he had experienced several problems with his current condensing unit, a brand-name unit installed by a licensed representative of a major manufacturer. He stated that the unit only worked properly "a total of two months" over a period of several years.

"Considering the situation, eBay is almost a safer bet," he said. "I didn't buy it from a local contractor because it was a scratch and dent sale, and I was able to get it for less than half of what it would have cost me to buy it locally, even with shipping costs. It still had a complete factory warranty."

Another buyer had contacted some contractors but was discouraged by what they didn't say.

"I had about four contractors come to my house and give me quotes," he said. "The prices ranged from $2,500 to $3,500 installed, without the electrical work.

"None of the contractors told me what model evaporator coil they were going to use. None of them gave me the impression that they were going to ‘up' the line-set size to give me full condenser efficiency (as the run is almost 50 feet). None of the contractors therefore could tell me what the overall system SEER rating would be. And none of the contractors wanted to break down the pricing between parts and labor."

A third buyer gave the following reason: "I bought it sight unseen because I have installed many of these central A/C systems - and I am a contractor. The price was cheaper than I could get from my supplier, by about $400 per unit that I bought."

The buyer, who was retiring from his own business, noted, "I will charge gas plus $25 per hour work time, not travel time. I can do that because I would be paid under the table - and I love to travel."

A Word From The Seller

I also asked the seller about his motivations for selling condensing units at eBay.

"As this economy slides, homeowners take this route out of necessity," he said.

"Think if you're a consumer trying to purchase an HVAC system for your house, and you can't afford the prices, you now have another option that wasn't previously available.

"Five years ago, when we first started selling dent and scratch equipment, most contractors and homeowners turned their noses up at it. Now we ship at least one tractor trailer load a day."

He continued, "A lot of contractors make a lot of money off of us by the special pricing they get. We have contractors as far away as Texas, California, Canada.

"If you're not gouging your customers, I don't see any reason to take offense. If you are a struggling contractor, it would be better to be part of our program that gives you ready customers. And purchasing from us under our special contractor plans can make you more competitive and profitable."

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

Publication date: 11/24/2003