When prospective customers ask HVAC salespeople, “How do your prices compare with those of your competition?” the salespeople often answer, “We’re not the cheapest, but we’re the best.”
Don’t say that. You’re practically saying, “Actually, we’re kind of high priced. Why don’t you shop around. I’m sure you can get it a lot cheaper elsewhere.”
When prospects ask me that question, I state, “For what we do, we’re the cheapest in town.”
In many cases, prospects will get a little agitated and say, “I’ve got three other bids on the exact same equipment you’re quoting me on, and you’re $1,400 higher than everyone else. So, how can you say that?”
Differentiate Price and Cost
I respond with “Is it the price or the cost you’re concerned about?”
What We Do
They’ll usually ask, in so many words, “Aren’t they the same things?”
I then go on to explain, “The price is your initial investment; what you pay for the installation. That’s what most people focus on.
“The cost is your overall cost of ownership. That includes such things as the ongoing maintenance, your utility bills to operate it, repairs, and its eventual replacement.
“Over the lifetime of the equipment, your cost of ownership will far outweigh the initial price you paid for it.
“I do everything in my power to keep your overall cost of ownership to a minimum. Would you like to know what I do, why I do it, and how it saves you money?”
What We Do
Replace the pad. The pad your outdoor unit sits on is fine for the time being. The problem is, the useful life of your new system, according to the American Association of Appliance Manufacturers, is 16 years, and I know your pad won’t last that long.
I could ignore that fact and save you about $200 on your installation. That sounds attractive at first glance, but I know that, at some point over the next 16 years or so, I’ll be out to uninstall your outdoor unit, lay the pad down properly, then re-install your unit – all for a significantly larger amount of money than $200.
The pad itself doesn’t cost $200. I take all the steps that are necessary and vital to ensure the pad stays in place and remains level. First I dig a few inches into the ground. Then, I pour some fine sand into the hole. I follow that with a layer of pea gravel. After I tamp that down, I add more fine sand and tamp it down firmly. All of that takes time and is well worth the effort.
Lifetime level warranty. As long as you have me come out and inspect the unit once per year (and the lowest cost way to do that is with one of our service plans) I will guarantee your outdoor unit will remain level.
Aside from the unsightly appearance of an unleveled outdoor unit, an unleveled unit will also cause compressor failure.
There’s a bearing and a shaft inside the compressor that the manufacturer specifically states must be absolutely level for the compressor to last. When they are not level, stress points arise that neither the shaft nor the bearing are designed to withstand.
The compressor’s lubrication system is simply a pool of oil resting in its base. When the compressor is tilted, its internal components go without proper lubrication and burn out.
The ‘Nail Down’
For as long as you maintain your maintenance agreement, with me coming out once per year to check the outdoor unit, I can fix any little problems with the leveling on-the-spot, at no charge to you. If I don’t hear from you for 10 years, and you call to tell me the ground has shifted and the unit has a 15-degree tilt, I’ll have to start all over again, and that will get expensive.
Follow-up service. Air conditioners and furnaces are high vibration equipment, which means that screws and wire terminals tend to loosen over time.
Furnaces and air conditioners generate heat and cool themselves by drawing air through them. That means they act as vacuum cleaners for anything that’s in the air. The manufacturers design them with the intention that they be absolutely spotless, otherwise they’ll overheat, which causes component failure and shortens their lifespan.
With this in mind, I come back out in six months to check it over, tighten anything that’s loosened, perform routine cleaning, and make certain it’s still operating per the manufacturer’s specs. If anything is wrong, I fix it, at no charge to you.
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I do the same thing six months later. That way we both know that at the end of 12 months it’s working properly and is still almost in like-new condition.
I could skip this step and just wait for things to break. It would actually lower your initial invest by $200 to do that. But why would either one of us want to do that when you’re spending this kind of money?
After the first year, I even give you a discount the keep having me come out to inspect and maintain your equipment.
Outside disconnect. There’s nothing wrong with your existing outside disconnect switch and wiring to the unit at this time. I could re-use what’s already there is you want me to lower your initial investment by $60. However, I know your existing outside disconnect switch and wiring to the unit won’t last 16 years. That means I also know I’ll be back at some point to replace it, at great inconvenience to you, and for a significantly higher cost. By replacing it now, I’m saving you hundreds of dollars.
Thermostat. Like your outside disconnect, there is nothing wrong with your existing thermostat. I could re-use it and knock $40 off the cost of your installation. However, I know it won’t last 16 years. That means I also know I’ll be back at some point to replace it, at great inconvenience to you, and for a significantly higher cost. By replacing it now, I’m saving you hundreds of dollars.
Elevate the equipment. I don’t set the outdoor unit directly on the pad, nor do I set the indoor unit directly on the concrete floor of your basement.
Rust is one of the most common reasons people replace equipment that is still running, but is falling apart on them.
The outdoor unit accumulates water and absolutely must drain properly to prevent rust. The manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure proper drainage, then the installers set them directly on the pad. The drains get clogged with debris on the first rain and the unit retains water and begins to rust.
To prevent this, I either set it on vibration isolation pads or install legs on it to keep it off the pad and drain properly, thereby preventing rust and helping the unit to last and look good as long as possible. (Note: You can often get the same weather legs that you use on heat pumps as a separate item and install them air conditioners as well. They look sharp, customers love them and you’ll be the only contractor in town that does this for them.)
When anything is set directly on concrete, it begins to draw water upward toward it. Additionally, when basements flood, or there is a drain stoppage, the furnace can be permanently damaged. By keeping it a couple of inches off the floor, I am able to prevent this.
It takes a little extra time and a small investment in materials to take this step. It probably adds about $100 to the job, but this small step has the potential to save you thousands of dollars.
Mastic seal. I mastic-seal every joint I touch. (Note: I recommend you invest in diagnostic equipment to locate all duct leakage and make sealing ducts a standard part of every installation. Many people who have been willing to pay my significantly higher price to install the exact same equipment as my lower-priced competitor have told me that the duct sealing was the reason they chose me.)
Even well-made and well-sealed duct systems leak to some degree. Most duct systems lose a good 30% of their efficiency through duct leakage.
I could pretend like I don’t know your ducts leak and that I honestly believe that high quality silver tape is more than adequate, and you could spend $200 less on this installation. (That price is for properly sealing only those joints that are a part of the installation. Complete duct sealing can run ten times that amount, and be well worth the investment.) But it wouldn’t be true and it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Why invest this much money in high-efficiency equipment, and leave the ducts leaking, just to save $200 on the initial installation?
One-piece lineset. Your refrigerant lineset is approximately 33-ft. long. How would you like it if I took a bunch of shorter lengths of copper tubing I saved from other jobs, and soldered them together to make your lineset? That’s a standard practice in this industry. If I did that, I could lower your initial investment by a good $100 or so. Of course, you’d have a higher probability of difficult-to-locate and difficult-to-repair refrigerant leaks, and running low on refrigerant will permanently damage your compressor, but you could save $100 on the installation. Why would you want to do that when you’re spending this much money?
Copper linesets come in 50-ft. rolls. That means that if I buy two brand new linesets for your installation, I’ll have two 17-ft. lengths of lineset left over at the end of your job. The only debris I leave with you at the end of the job will be those two 17-ft. lengths of copper lineset. The reason I do this for you is to ensure you that I do not solder shorter pieces together to save a few bucks up front, even though I know it could cause you serious problems down the road.
Professional installers. Your installation team will consist of one installer and a helper. My installers are professionals who specialize in residential or commercial replacement installations. They don’t do new construction work (which is an entry-level position) or run service. They are dedicated, career installers. By specializing in replacement installations, they are able to give you a tighter, neater, more efficient installation. They know how to get the old equipment out and the new equipment into your home without damaging your walls, doors, ceilings or floors.
They have clean criminal backgrounds and are drug tested prior to hiring and at random intervals, so you know your possessions are safe with my installers around.
They’re covered under my license and insurance and have had my technical training, quality control training and customer service training.
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I could lower your initial investment by a minimum of $400 if you were okay with me bringing in a couple of total strangers who were subcontractors or trainees, that may or may not be criminals, may or may not be high on drugs, and may or may not know what they’re doing, but why compromise on the installers and get an inferior installation to save $400 when you’re already spending this kind of money?
Quality control inspection.
My lead installer has a final checklist to complete that certifies that your new system is operating per the manufacturer’s specifications. He’ll sign off on it and file that checklist with your permanent file in my office.
After the installation is complete and the installers have left, I’ll send out my quality control inspector. The quality control inspector’s job is to complete a second final checklist, which we compare to my lead installer’s; and to find something wrong, or something that could be improved, on every job. This is your assurance that you are getting the highest quality installation possible.
Despite the fact that my installers are perfectionists who know their work will be inspected, everyone overlooks things from time to time, and everyone makes mistakes.
It costs about $100 for this additional person to do a final inspection. We could pretend that my installers are perfect and never make a mistake or get in a hurry, but why would we want to short change your installation when you’re already spending this kind of money?
I feel that the above-mentioned procedures should be considered part of the minimum standards for a high quality installation.
Depending on the construction in your area, and your personal preferences, there are a number of other things you could incorporate as well:
- Hanging cradle for horizontal attic installations
- Plenum dampers or zoning
- Spray foam insulation on the outside of ductwork
- Built-in surge protection.
The ‘Nail Down’
After you’ve gone over all these points, ask, “Is there anything that I’ve gone over with you on how I do my installations that seems like overkill, or unnecessary in order to ensure that you’re getting a proper installation?”
Naturally, they’ll say no, it all sounds essential.
When you add up the cost of the steps that they agreed were necessary and vital to ensure a proper installation, they begin to understand that they’re not paying you a premium price for a luxury installation, and that they’re not overpaying by buying from you. They may, in fact, be saving thousands of dollars by buying from you.
Replace the pad:
The cost of a replacement compressor ($2,000+)
Lifetime level warranty:
The cost of a replacement compressor ($2,000+)
Numerous minor and major repairs
Elevate the equipment:
The total cost of the installation (plus inflation)
Overpayment on utilities
The cost of leak searches and repairs, potential compressor
Numerous minor and major repairs, excess operating costs
Quality control inspection:
Numerous minor and major repairs, excess operating costs
Charlie Greer was named the Tom McCart HVAC Consultant of the Year by Contracting Business magazine and The Service Roundtable. He’s the creator of “Slacker’s Guide to HVAC Sales on Audio CD,” and “Tec Daddy’s Service Technician Survival School on DVD.” For more info, call 1-800-963-HVAC (4822) or go to www.hvacprofitboosters.com. E-mail Charlie at [email protected].