A much-ballyhooed subject, the impact of 13 SEER energy efficiency standards may have some of you asking, ‘So what?'

You've seen a lot of ink given to the subject, and you're going to see a lot more on the pages of this and other publications. From The News to the Wall Street Journal, and some local newspapers in between, 13 SEER is catching on as the new subject of "coffee table" talk. Well, maybe you won't hear Oprah chatting it up, but it's still become big stuff in HVAC circles.

So much so, that it was the highlighted discussion of a recent Bryant distributor and dealer meeting held in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500 during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

In his opening address, titled "The 13 SEER World Starts Today," Halsey Cook, Bryant president North America Residential, said, "In 2004, we really helped to end the debate on efficiency by coming firmly down on the side of 13 SEER, rather than 12 SEER. By the end of the first quarter of 2006, the old products will have worked their way through our system and we will be exclusively selling only the new products.

"We are investing in a new platform for the efficiency movement ahead. You see most manufacturers with new products have not really made adjustments to their platform. This means they haven't really optimized the design. We have."

Of course, there are several manufacturers of unitary products that might argue that last point with Mr. Cook. However, worth noting is the concept of a platform of products. From my days working with a team of design engineers, I recall that "platform" referred to a group of products that share some basic commonalities but differ greatly in the feature sets.

It's good, better, best time again.

Sales Strategy

I for one, and Steve Howard, one of our regular contributors, for another, have suggested that good, better, best selling may soon be out the window. Payback and return on investment (ROI) selling won't hold up under the pressure of an industry that has as its baseline 13-SEER products. There's just not enough difference between a 13-SEER unit and a 16-SEER unit, or even 13- SEER and 18-SEER products, for that matter. Or, is there?

The people at Bryant take a very different view. And, evidently, so do a large number of Bryant customers who were seen waving on their favorite race car at the Brickyard race course and applauding Halsey Cook as he laid out the company's pending strategy.

They believe that the three-tiered selling strategy employed by so many in our industry is still quite viable. Cook told the crowd that in order to be successful in the new world order contractors must have something stronger than products that are differentiated by SEER ratings alone.

However, the race is on for the manufacturer that has bragging rights to the most efficient unit. Bryant's Evolution system will range from 15 to 20 SEER. Lennox has already hit 20.5 SEER with its XC21 unit. Who will be next?

The point is, it may not matter much who has the highest-rated product. What will matter the most is which contractors are best prepared to adopt the selling techniques that will best translate features into language that consumers understand.

Lennox dealers began meeting in early spring 2005 to review new products and new selling strategies. The ICP Victory Tour has been to a city near you, discussing the nuances of the 13 SEER marketplace.

According to Bryant's Rick Roetken, director of product marketing, the efficiency difference between 20 and 13 SEER is still about 35 percent, and the installed base of product still averages below 10 SEER. Therefore, the jump to 13 SEER still provides a nice payback story for those customers.

So, where will the good, better, best show up? Perhaps efficiency still has some legs in this business. However, keep your eye on some of the features you see during the third and fourth quarter of this year as major manufacturers such as Bryant launch new products. You just might be seeing some interesting changes - 30 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller, according to the racing boys in Indy.

Mike Murphy is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), or mikemurphy@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 06/06/2005