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    Canvassing involves human contact. While some parts of the country may not be ready, many are primed for it.

    Is it Time To Revive The Lost Art of Canvassing?

    March 17, 2022
    Based on predictions of a steep sales decline, and the human need to speak to other people, this year and the next might be the years canvassing makes a comeback in HVAC.

    A long, long time ago, the best of the best in HVAC sales were able to self-generate most to all of their leads. They did it by canvassing door-to-door.  It worked then. It works now. Unfortunately, no one does it.

    If we do encounter an HVAC shipment cliff, reflecting the 40 percent contraction in the industry from 2005 to 2009, contractors will need to consider different approaches. One of these is old fashioned canvassing. 

    I learned about canvasing from Contracting Business Hall of Fame Member, Tom McCart. Working for Ron Smith at Modern Air in Florida, Tom became the first residential retail salesperson to break the $1 million sales threshold.  He did it when systems cost less than 30% of today’s pricing.  While the company provided Tom with lots of leads as the top salesperson, Tom also generated a lot of his own leads.

    Tom worked for me when I ran a contractor franchise organization. Whenever a franchisee was in trouble, I would put Tom on a plane to visit the struggling contractor. Tom would arrive around noon. After lunch, he would ask the contractor to take him to a tract neighborhood near his shop that was built 10 or more years ago.

    Once he arrived, Tom would take the contractor and proceed to the first door. He would knock, back up three steps, and wait. If no one answered, he would move to the next door, then the one after that.  Eventually, someone would answer.

    Tom would smile, greet the homeowner and declare that he was the neighborhood air conditioning contractor and going through the neighborhood to let people know about some special financing available for homeowners like you. The next part would be key. Tom said it was important to shut up and wait for the homeowner to respond.

    Of course, some homeowners would be uninterested. Some might even be rude. But some would say something along the lines of, “You know I’ve been meaning to get someone to take a look at my air conditioner. Come on back.”

    Tom was extremely good at canvassing. He had made his living doing it. Inevitably, in a day and a half spent teaching a contractor how to canvas, Tom would sell around $30,000 of equipment.

    Pat McCormick

    Pat McCormick might have been better than Tom. Pat got his start in Los Angeles where the contractor who hired him would only let him sell the highest efficiency, top-of-the-line products the contractor offered. Pat didn’t get any leads. Everything he sold was from going door to door. It takes skill to sell high efficiency in a market with relatively low humidity and cooling load hours.

    It took more than skill. It took persistence. Pat had it. He calculated how many doors he had to knock on before he would make a sale. He divided the number into his average commission told himself he would earn that much every time he knocked on a door.  When someone slammed the door in his face or told him off, Pat wasn’t bothered. He told himself he just made his average commission per door knock.  Pat also sold $1 million of residential, one system at a time, one door at a time.

    You might be thinking, that was then, this is now.  Okay, so what was the average life of an air conditioner in the 1980s?  It was around 15 years.  What is it today?  Same.

    If air conditioners last an average of 15 years, how many homes out of 15 are likely to replace?  Well, one.  So, for every 15 homes, one is likely to replace.  But, which one?  You can’t know.  That’s why it’s necessary to knock on doors.

    You can increase the odds by finding an older neighborhood.  Look for one with one or two new condensing units visible from the street while the rest are older.  These are neighborhoods about to tip into replacement mode on a wide scale.  Get established and you will be able to eat off of this neighborhood for several years.

    Joe Holly started canvassing door-to-door when he started an air conditioning company in Sacramento. By canvassing, he sold $1 million of replacements his first year. He advises that, “Of course you want to start in your own neighborhood and include the market where you shop, your dry cleaners, etc.  Working out in concentric circles you find that the referrals really start coming as the six degrees of separation kick in.”

    While canvassing may not have disappeared entirely, this year and the next might be the years it makes a comeback in HVAC.

    We currently live in a world where people distrust institutions and are hungering for human connections. Do you trust government messaging?  How about the media?  Social media?  Advertising? Distrust of institutional messaging is endemic. No one knows what to believe, so people reject all of it.

    We are also emerging from more than two years of lockdowns, distancing, and isolation. Human beings are social by nature.  We are
    tribal. Humans emerged at the top of the food chain because we worked together in groups. 

     Canvassing involves human contact. While some parts of the country may not be ready, many are primed for it. We crave it. Human contact involves establishing and building relationships. When institutions are losing trust, relationships become more important than ever.

     Not everyone can canvass. Those who are best at it are highly competitive and unaware that it "cannot be done". Business owners rarely canvass unless they are starting out or are desperate. Because it is difficult, contractors are better suited to hiring salespeople to canvass and holding them accountable for their activity.

    While canvassing may not have disappeared entirely, this year and the next might be the years it makes a comeback in HVAC.

     For all of the resource a residential HVAC service and company needs, visit the Service Roundtable.  You need it?  The Service Roundtable’s got it.  Come get it.  Visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com or call 877.262.3341.