Who Is In Control of the IAQ Market?

BY MARK D. SWEPSTON

Indoor air quality (IAQ) has come a long way. From wood-and coal-burning fires, to central air conditioning, to HEPA filter systems and UV lights. However, who is currently driving the IAQ market? Carpet cleaners. Vacuum cleaner sales-people. Sharper Image. 3M.Duct cleaning special-ists. Big box retailers.

We even have a basement water proofing specialist in Columbus, OH who advertises basement dehumidifiers and air filters on TV. Oh, were HVAC contractors mentioned yet?

While you are sitting there reading this article, people from industries that most of us don't think of as competitors are making major strides into supplying IAQ products and services that were once the domain of the HVAC industry.

Why? Because all those businesses recognize the potential of the IAQ market, and they know how to go after new business.

Unfortunately, many people in the HVAC industry either wait for new buildings and homes to be built or wait for the temperature to change to make the phone ring. Outside of those periods, we make a weak attempt at advertising to fill in the slow seasons.

Duct cleaning companies fight for business every day. Temperatures above 90F or below 20F don't make their phone ring.

In addition, HVAC contractors tend to complain about not having enough technicians — which is really only a problem 10 to 12 weeks per year — and they struggle to keep them busy during the balance of the year.

What does this all mean? Our main competitors are much better marketers, so we need to get better or get off the bus!

What it Takes
To drive IAQ sales, it takes a real focus. Do you believe that your primary business is to sell IAQ products and services, and that heating and cooling the air just happen to be two of the services you provide?

Customers want clean, healthy air in their homes. They want to be comfortable, and they don't want any hassle. Furthermore, they're more conscious of a clean, healthy, and safe environment for their home than they are of energy efficiency and base heating and cooling. However, that isn't the focus of most HVAC contractors.

Start now to build your business as the IAQ specialist in your area. To win, you must make it your top priority and go after the business. For most of us, this means refocusing and restructuring our businesses.

First, decide which products and services you plan to provide. Next, provide the proper training in design, sales, installation, and service. At the same time, set up a budget with realistic goals for sales, profit, and advertising.

When choosing the products and services you want to provide, don't just look at the equipment and what it can do. Also look at the services provided by the supplier and the manufacturer.

This includes ongoing technical and sales training, product availability, plus any other help they can provide to market the product and your company. Find out if they will give you exclusive rights in your territory, or possibly, private label the product for you.

Finally, take a look at their budget for research and development. New products are being developed every day. You want to be sure the manufacturer that you align your company with will be there to support you in the future.

Get Started
A good way to jump start your business is for your service technicans to educate your service customers about the IAQ services you provide.

Technicans have the trust of customers, who appreciate learning how to keep their homes cleaner and healthier.

Techs can easily demonstrate to customers the need for cleaning their duct work and acquiring air purification products and services.

For example, use a video inspector or get a sample of debris from the duct work and put it in a zip lock bag to show your customers. Both methods go a long way in helping clients realize the IAQ issues facing them.

At the same time, many HVAC contractors negotiate great deals with duct cleaning specialty companies so they can subcontract out the work at a good profit. (At our company, however, we don't seek out those partnerships because we fear losing opportunities reach the customer with other sales opportunities.)

Another part of the IAQ sales equation is proper air flow. This includes properly sealed and insulated ductwork. There are good training programs, such as those offered by the National Comfort Institute, that teach you how to properly address these opportunities.

As you grow your IAQ program from the leads generated by service technicians, consider adding a salesperson dedicated to pursuing those potential sales. As with your technicians, sales representatives are a great resource for educating customers about their IAQ needs.

This salesperson should follow up on every lead by offering services such as duct cleaning and products such as UV lighting and ERVs. As a result, your sales should jump to the next level.

A Well-crafted Proposal
What does your standard HVAC proposal look like? Does it show the IAQ options you provide, or do you have to write them in as an afterthought?

The key is to find out what level of air quality people want in their home. Then, design a package of IAQ products and services to meet their needs.

Many times, customers want the entire $7,000 package when they see the advantages for their home and their family.

Others will break the package apart to fit their budget. They'll purchase some of the equipment now and plan for the balance of it in the future.

Famed contractor and trainer Jackie Rainwater teaches to put every option down and have customers initial the proposal if they don't want the savings the package provides. I personally have added thousands of dollars in sales over the years using this method.

Both of these processes work wonders. How many times have you been able to raise the price of your proposal? You should always start at the top and offer all the products you can, based on what the customer has told you. Solve their problems, and they will be grateful to you for life.

After setting your goals and preparing your staff on how to provide the products and services, educate customers about the options for their homes and buildings. The time to start is now.

Think about it: The "Orecks" and "Sharper Images" are out-advertising us now. Who will be next?

Mark D. Swepston is president and CEO of Atlas Butler Heating & Cooling, Columbus, OH. He can be reached at 614/294-1624.

This article is based on the presentation, SellingIAQ Services is The Future of the Market, which Mark Swepston gave at HVAC Comfortech 2005, which will be held in Nashville, TN, Sept. 14-17, 2005.

For more information about HVAC Comfortech, call 216/931-9550.

Learn from the leaders: In 2005, HVAC Comfortech presented more than 30 speakers providing educational seminars. All the sessions were recorded, and are available for purchase. For pricing and ordering information, visit the show website: www.hvaccomfortech.com

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