By Kelly Faloon
Drew Cameron, president of HVAC Sellutions and Energy Design Systems, Inc., grew up in the mechanical contracting industry, so he knows firsthand what a rewarding and lucrative career it is. We spoke with him recently about his thoughts on the HVACR industry.
1. When and why did you decide to go into your particular career field?
I've grown up in the mechanical contracting industry since the age of 12. Actually, my father started his business the year before I was born, so I guess I was born into the family business if you will.
We always worked around the business because my Dad worked out of the house — more accurately, a building next to our house. At age 12, I jumped on a truck and started riding along with an installer after swim team practice. I was a gopher on jobs during the summers. I worked in the warehouse a bit. That's kind of how things evolved over summer breaks, spring breaks, Christmas breaks, nights, weekends — we were always around the business.
While in high school, I moved from the warehouse into the office. I began working with one of our sales people to do some load calculations. I worked with a construction estimator on blueprints and load calculations, which grew into an office manager role. Once I got involved in sales and marketing management, I moved from office manager to general manager.
It may have been by default, but working in the family contracting business was something I really loved. I went to college, got my business degree from the University of Maryland — but the idea was always that I was going to be running the business at some point in my life.
Then we sold the business in 1996 to a local utility entering the HVAC consolidation business when all the other consolidation of plumbing and mechanical contractors was going on across the nation. I was still running it but didn't get to take over. My dad had never really truly retired before I took 100 percent leadership.
2. How did you develop the passion you have for the mechanical contracting industry?
Where I got my passion for what I do, which is sales and marketing, is when I got that opportunity within my organization. It's the one piece of this I love more than any of it — the sales and marketing aspect.
When we sold the business, the sales and marketing piece is what I really focused on. I was putting a lot of time and effort into studying sales, psychology and marketing outside our industry. After 14 months I left and joined Service Experts. They sent me in to fix struggling centers around the country. I'd go in for about six months at a time and everybody I talked to was always saying to me, “You're really good at what you do. You should do this professionally for yourself. Go out and be a speaker and a trainer."
So, after 18 months at Service Experts, I saw an opportunity to jump out on my own. In 1999, I got involved with teaching load calculation software as a sales tool. It gave me opportunities to get in front of contractors through distributors and manufacturers to teach the software — but teach it from a sales perspective. How to use it as a tool to educate consumers and differentiate themselves from other companies and get more sales as a result.
Then I got an opportunity through Contractors 2000, which is now known as Nexstar, to write a manual on HVAC sales management. From that and the software training, I had a company in Connecticut ask me to come in and not just teach them what to do but do it for them — build their sales staff, help them with the marketing and put the systems in place. We had tremendous success and started getting referrals to other contractors to do the same.
Instead of just the software training, I became more of a consultant in 2002 to help companies grow and solve their problems. Not only successful companies to grow and replicate what they were doing, but also struggling companies to solve their problems. Another niche was helping plumbing contractors get into the HVAC business.
3. What's the most important thing you can impart on the readers for what they can expect to hear during Contractor Leadership Live?
My presentation is all about leverage — how you use outside resources in order to get more people to do business with you. My resource happens to be payment options.
I find that contractors don’t use this leverage — either they don’t understand it or they don’t use it effectively. Most of them just don't promote payment options at all, even though they have them available. Those contractors who do offer payment options do so in a reactionary response to a customer objecting to price.
I'm going to show them how, by leveraging a third-party resource, they can educate customers as to why doing business with their company is affordable, and how customers can afford to purchase the right solution they need. By agreeing to spend a little more, but over a monthly payment, they’re going to get the right scope of work that will save more energy, which is going to offset that investment, the equipment is going to do what it's supposed to do for a lot longer, and they'll be a lot more comfortable.The result is a better value return on investment for the customer.
4. Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I’m the proud parent of two great kids and have a wonderful girlfriend, and I enjoy spending time outdoors with them. I'm also a 32nd Degree Mason (Scottish Rite) and Shriner, a member of the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia (a long-standing charitable organization), as well as a Phi Sigma Kappa 4th Degree Advisor.
5. What's the most exciting part of your job right now?
Trying to figure out how to become the person that homeowners trust to be in their homes has always intrigued me. But I'm not the guy doing the work in the home anymore. In my consulting business, I have a business partner and an assistant, but what has never changed is the fact that we can make an impact in people's lives — the contractors, sales people, sales coordinators and technicians we work with.
Our job is to get other people to make that connection with the homeowner. When salespeople and technicians become that trusted person in the home, we get to see them become successful, to provide a higher quality of living for themselves and their families. They buy a new house, buy a new car, put a pool in their backyard, or go on vacation. We've left our fingerprints on the industry by touching others. That’s what really drives us, what our passion is.
Typically, we work in one-on-one relationships, working with contractors directly. And we’ll continue to do so. This opportunity through the Electric & Gas Industries Association really intrigues us because we can now take our message to a large audience more quickly.
6. What is the biggest issue we need to face in the HVACR contracting space?
The way I see it, contractors are focusing on the wrong thing. They're all commodity-oriented. They need to stop thinking like contractors. They need to stop worrying about other contractors. They need to stop worrying about these big-box retailers — Lowe's, Home Depot, Sears, Costco, etc. — all these players that are out there doing their thing. Or these online Internet-based retailers such as Thumbtack, Home Advisors and Angie's List. Obviously, Google and Amazon are coming down the line.
Contractors need to realize their own level of significance. They need to become the most trusted authority within their market in order to become the trusted advisor.
The biggest relationship most of these HVAC contractors have is their relationship with their manufacturer and their manufacturer is, of course, all about the money and the boxes and their brand. They're all about promoting the box and they're not about solving people's problems in the home and truly connecting with people. They're about promoting a product and not promoting a connection to people. That is the nature of manufacturers selling products wholesale to manufacturers, not direct to consumers.
Contractors must realize that we are a service industry and we are people serving people. The way we sell more boxes is to stop trying to sell boxes. If we can get contractors to realize it's not about the box, it's about a connection with a homeowner and a true desire to solve their problems, then we'd realize what other service industries have realized. People, not product, drive profit.
We've got to make those connections but we're not about those connections at all. All you have to do is look at any website. Look at any Yellow Pages ad. Look at any marketing piece. It's all about promoting what it is we do, not the impact that we have.
Homeowners try and comparison-shop HVAC services, and contractors let them, but you can't comparison-shop this. It’s not like buying a car, an appliance, groceries or clothing. The design, installation and maintenance determines whether customers get the ratings the manufacturers talk about, and the comfort, performance, health, safety, energy savings, reliability, longevity and value they desire.
A salesperson's or technician's job is to educate the customer on how to make a good decision, which goes beyond what anybody else will do. You ask a lot of questions. You measure the house. You verify duct airflow capabilities. You go into the attic and look at the lack of insulation, at the duct leakage and the air leakage of the home. You do a load calculation where no one else would do a load calculation. And you explain the importance of all this in a way that homeowners can relate without using industry jargon.
You tell the homeowners everything that's going on with their home and you give them options to solve those problems, improve their comfort, lower their energy bills, and improve the health and safety of the house. It's up to them to make the decisions as to what they want to do for their home, their family, and their bank account.
If you're the only person who does that and you support it with third-party documentation verifying what you say, you'll be the village genius versus the village idiot. We teach salespeople and technicians to educate the homeowner as to how to make good decisions. Don't sell anything. Take the focus off the selling and let them buy. They'll make a good decision if you give them good information.
7. What technology is coming up in the near future that you believe will alter the mechanical contracting course forever?
Anything that will allow a contractor to enhance the customer experience. I'm speaking about state-of-the-art tools you can use in the home. I'm not a fan of software-based sales presentations since most still emphasize the equipment, which is a commodity. However, some software and testing tools are available to use as part of your conversation in the home to educate consumers. Technology is out there that allows techs to make heat loss/gain and air flow calculations, diagnose air flow performance and then show the customer how the home's duct system is under-performing, is not allowing the current system to achieve optimal performance, and will never allow new equipment to operate at its potential.
Technology that allows a customer to text you and schedule a service call, then they receive a confirmation via their phone and they can see where their technician, much like the Uber app — it’s there, but not being embraced in this industry.
I believe web marketing is going to be critical. Software for running your business is already of utmost importance but it's now getting to a point where it's more accessible and easier to use. Good software for seeing the key performance indicators and the metrics within your business, how your business is performing. It gives you the information to manage your business more efficiently, more effectively and, I hope, more profitably.
About Contractor Leadership Live
You can hear Drew’s presentation, “An Insider's Secret to Sales Success: You Don't Need More Leads to Increase Your Sales and Profits ... You Need LEVERAGE!” at Contractor Leadership Live, Sept. 12-14 at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland. Visit www.contractorleadershiplive.com for details and to register for the event.
Contractor Leadership LIVE is a new, multi-day event that brings together the resources you need to transform your business. You will see the latest technologies and learn about proven strategies from a powerful line up of today's HVAC industry experts. There's no better opportunity to level up your business while building a solid foundation for the future.
Slated for Sept. 12-14 at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland, this national event will feature conference sessions by top educators to inspire you to transform your business while delivering insight on the latest industry trends that are impacting contracting business owners and service professionals. The expo hall will give you an opportunity to learn more about the latest products that help drive business and boost profitability while connecting you with the manufacturers that are responsible for developing those tools and solutions that are critical to your success in this ever changing business environment.