by Mike Murphy, editor-in-chief Throughout the years, contractors have tried to differentiate themselves from their local competition. When all that can be said is said, about the various products available in the market, true differentiation comes from the SERVICE you provide. Contractors’ search for that Holy Grail, the perfect service company, has spawned a section of this month’s issue focusing exclusively on the service business. Beyond this page, you’ll discover two contractors’ approaches to service differentiation in The Perfect Service Call and How to Create the Ideal Full Service Company. Aside from the obvious contrast of styles associated with this month’s cover photo, consider this: In the future there will be two types of HVAC contractors — labor brokers and comfort contractors. As much as HVAC industry veterans would prefer not to think this way, this is a commodity industry. You will either become a provider of labor or you will become a highly differentiated comfort contractor. This is the contractor divergence of tomorrow and here’s why it’s on the way: In the 1950s comfort was all this industry was really about. Contractors didn’t know anything else. Customers only knew that an HVAC contractor could make them comfortable in their home or building. There wasn’t any talk about efficiency or saving money. It was all about comfort. Then the 1970s and an energy crisis rolled in. Soon, high-efficiency equipment came on the scene. Return on Investment (ROI) and payback became commonly used terms on sales calls. Little by little, our industry began trading comfort for efficiency. The very thing that only HVAC contractors could provide — comfort— began to diminish in importance. During the 1980s and ‘90s you may have heard yourself saying things like, “Sure, it’s a little cooler but you’ll get used to it. And look at the money you’ll be saving!” Top contractors differentiated themselves by selling high-efficiency equipment and all the financing and payback information that allowed them to rise above the pricing wars. There was certainly nothing wrong with enterprising contractors, distributors, and manufacturers discovering ways to get paid what this industry is actually worth. However, consider that many equipment efficiency gains were often made at the sacrifice of sensible or latent comfort. We lost touch with what had previously been our core promise to the consuming public — to provide comfort. Where Are You Today? Is any HVAC contractor that you know of, not selling high efficiency? There has to be a divergence in this industry. Everyone is doing the same thing, and it has turned HVAC into a commodity. It’s not easy being different. Everybody wants a magic pill to make their lives simpler. But, how easy is it to prove that you’re really offering anything different than the guy down the street? Industry leaders espouse the mantra, “Quit selling boxes and start selling comfort and service.” The box is just one component of the system; a system that, incidentally, only contractors can bring to operation. Increased consumer awareness of indoor air quality issues, the propogation of mold, and increases in respiratory illnesses are all cause for HVAC contractors to evaluate their service businesses. The first question to ask may be, “What business are we in?” The ideal service company is likely one providing solutions to customers’ needs, while at the same time creating a profitable work environment for its employees. There are progressive contractors, distributors, and manufacturers who believe that selling comfort and service will be the major thrust of the 21st Century. It may be the new differentiation in a market that’s gone stale.