One way of guaranteeing that you won't get a slice of the pie from the next generation of HVAC equipment buyers is to avoid the Internet. More specifically - avoid maintaining and promoting your business Web site.

Don't have a Web site? Forget it, you're too late. Don't bother reading the rest of my column. I understand the other columnist on this page - Butch Welsch - has a good bit on empowerment. Best to check out his column and don't waste your time here. If you don't know the value of having an active Web site and promoting it as part of your marketing and advertising, then I am just wasting your time.

Do I sound a little condescending? Sure, that's my intention. I think it is one thing to talk about mom and pop HVAC businesses in a cutesy, the-way-it-used-to-be tone. It's another thing to hide behind that facade when making excuses for technology passing you up.

Listen To Logic

Still with me? Good - I think the veins have receded in my neck and I can present a logical argument now.

At the recent Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Conference and Indoor Air Expo in Austin, Texas, one of the guest speakers was Terrell Jones, founder of, the hugely successful Web site designed for online travel bookings. Jones had the audience of mostly HVAC contractors riveted to his presentation.

Why? Because he spoke about a whole new way of looking at the future of global retailing: e-commerce. While some people think of the dot-com bust from the early 2000s as a flashpoint for how not to sell via the Internet, the real truth is the next generation of buyers will depend mainly on the Internet for researching products and services.

Jones said that 72 percent of shoppers now research and shop online before making a major purchase. Excuse me, mom and pop, did you hear that last statistic? As little as 10 years ago very few shopped online. They bought from the little brick-and-mortar store.

Jones said that 64 percent of shoppers prefer shopping online rather than using the Yellow Pages. How many of you are still throwing thousands of dollars into Yellow Pages advertising?

Time To Catch Up

It is one thing to have a listing on an online business directory - everybody has one of those. It is another thing to use the Internet to promote products, services, and employment opportunities. According to Jones, "Online searches should produce not only your name but also your Web site."

When I want to find a contractor in a specific region of the country, I do a search under "heating and air conditioning contractors" for that particular community. The list of businesses contains the usual phone number and street address. (And some contractors probably think that's enough.) There is no mention of a Web address.

I don't have time to call every listing to get background on the company or its products and services. (Your customers don't, either.) So I look for the listing that has a Web address and familiarize myself with the company first. If I'm short on time and don't want to bother the owner, I'll find a contact e-mail address at the Web site and send off a message.

Jones said that 63 percent of us are inclined to check our e-mail once a week and that people prefer to communicate via e-mail.

If you want a good example of how to design a Web site, visit the finalists of ACCA's "Best Contractors on the Web." Info is at

So, is it time to catch up to your competitors, who are only 1/8th of a second away from a customer searching the Internet? Yes. They already have a big lead on you if you don't have and/or promote your Web site.

Then again, you won't know this if you stopped reading.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 04/04/2005