by Steve Howard
For years, smart HVAC contractors have been using variable speed indoor equipment to provide their customers with better comfort. Besides being the right thing to do, this strategy has also helped them differentiate their companies from those selling on price alone. Unfortunately, as 13 SEER becomes standard, the minimum-solution crowd will look at tying a 12 SEER unit to variable speed to reach the magic 13. Consumers will see ads for "variable speed comfort at bargain basement prices." To move out of this soon-to-be-crowded arena, I suggest you strongly consider adding zoning to your bag of consumer offerings. The benefits for both you and your customers can be huge.
When all things appear equal, most consumers choose to buy from the contractor who has the lowest price. To keep your company away from this downward spiral, understand two key elements consumers consider when hiring contractors today:
How well does the contractor understand my needs?
How qualified are they to do my job?
Here's where zoning comes in. If you identify problems others missed, and propose solutions they didn't offer, you're perceived as "the expert." Even if the buyer doesn't invest in zoning, there's a much better chance they'll still choose you, the expert.
A Pipeline of Future Business
Zoning provides a level of comfort few people ever expect. The more you exceed customers' expectations, the more premium quality referralsyou'll get. Over the years, delighted customers who enjoy the daily benefits of zoning could refer dozens of their comfort starved friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to you. Could Sam Walton have been talking about zoning when he said, "High expectations are the key to everything"?
Extra Profits for Extra Benefits
Rising gas prices, insurance premiums, and wages could put a stranglehold on profits if what you're selling appears similar to what competitors sell for considerably less.
With zoning, you're can charge more money for the extra benefits you offer. In some cases the profits you make on a zoning system could be twice what you'd make on an equipment-only job. Zoning also provides two of the most powerful benefits consumers want today: better comfort and lower energy bills.
Zoning makes sense in almost every home. The bigger the home, the greater the opportunities for zoning. What percentage of the homes in your area have one or more of the following situations that can be corrected with zoning?
High internal heat loads from a hot tub, multi-burner range, home office equipment
Huge windows with direct solar load
A basement, attic, garage, or porch that's been converted to living space
Multiple stories or rambling ranch style home
One or more rooms primarily used for special occasions.
In the final analysis, zoning isn't for the home, it's for the people in it.
How much energy would you waste if every light in your home was controlled by just one switch? Think about how much energy the average home wastes because each room's heating and air conditioning is controlled by one switch, the thermostat?
Consumers can save up to 25% or their heating and cooling bills with a properly designed and installed zoning system (See Chart 1).
Three things must be in place before people will buy zoning from you.
They must want your solution to their problems
Value must exceed price
They must be able to afford it
The easiest way to find problems that zoning can solve is to ask the homeowners. Here are some typical questions:
If you could design the ultimate comfort system, what would it be able to do?
Would you ever like to sleep in a cooler bedroom while the family watches TV in the den?
How important is reducing your energy bills by shutting off the heating and cooling to unoccupied rooms?
The next step is to look for zoning opportunities during the home survey.
Which rooms appear to be infrequently occupied?
What areas could be over heated by direct sunlight?
Is there a home office or any special use rooms?
Value Must Exceed Price
During your presentation, detail all the problems zoning can solve. The better you tie your solutions to their problems, the more zoning you'll sell! Remember, 80% of the knowledge we gain comes through our eyes. Use full color pictures and diagrams to show how zoning will provide better comfort for years to come.
More benefits means more value --the higher the value, the less important the price.
Is Zoning Affordable?
From our research on the buying habits of affluent Americans, affordability isn't just initial cost, savings over time, or monthly investment -- for many the most important factor of affordability is "getting exactly what I want the first time." It's hard to go wrong when you provide customers the most comfortable home possible.
The right zoning system usually provides energy savings, which helps make it affordable. The longer people live in their home, the more affordable zoning becomes.
Give Them the Opportunity to Buy It
In the late 1920s, Henry Ford bought one of the largest life insurance policies in history. It was so large it was the subject of a front page story in the Detroit newspaper. A close friend, who was a life insurance salesman, called Ford and asked, "Henry, why didn't you buy that new policy from me?" Without hesitation Ford replied, "You never asked." The biggest reason more zoning isn't sold is that the customer wasn't asked to buy it. It was never offered.
Zoning may be the most overlooked opportunity in the HVAC industry today. It does require an investment of new technical skills and advanced sales training on your part, but this investment can pay monster dividends for years to come.
Steve Howard is president of The ACT Group, Inc., a firm that has provided nopressure sales training for the HVAC industry since 1986. He is also a member of the Contracting Business magazine Editorial Advisory Board and is an active speaker at various industry events across the U.S., including HVAC Comfortech. He can be reached at 800/515-0034 or [email protected].