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Modine is Hot

Oct. 1, 2009
At Modine, the heat is always on and the men and women of Modine work hard to keep it that way. Whether at its headquarters in Racine, WI, where engineers

At Modine, the heat is always on — and the men and women of Modine work hard to keep it that way. Whether at its headquarters in Racine, WI, where engineers develop new products, at its two manufacturing facilities in Virginia and Rhode Island, where they build heating units, or at distributors' counters where Modine salespeople work closely with distributors and end users, Modine is committed to heating.

“Modine is focused on the heat transfer market. We're very focused on taking heat from one place and putting it in another,” says Matt McBurney, Modine's director of commercial products for North America. “We've never deviated from that. That's the core of Modine, and we don't have too many ancillary products that are not involved in the core business of heat transfer.”

Modine prides itself on innovation — developing new products that can meet the needs of customers and improving on its existing products. The company, founded in 1916, traces this spirit of innovation to its founder, Arthur B. Modine, who patented the Spirex radiator for tractors, a revolutionary design that used copper spiral fins to create a whirling action of incoming air against the side of the tubes, creating greater heat transfer. Although the company began as a manufacturer of automotive radiators, Arthur Modine's innovation led him to indoor heating: He arrived at his Racine radiator factory one cold winter morning to find that the pipe coils had frozen. So he connected a radiator to one of the plant's hot water pipes, put a fan behind the radiator and circulated the heated air around the plant. The unit heater was born, and Modine's storied history in heating systems began. From that one patent for the unit heater have come more than 2,000 additional patents, a testament to Modine's leadership in the industry.

Modine expanded into air conditioning products with its 2005 purchase of Airedale, which is based in the United Kingdom and marketed directly to specifiers. By contrast, Modine-branded products go through the wholesale distribution channel, and they gear specifically to the commercial market, including factories, warehouses and big-box/retail, as well as garages and workshops. Modine's engineered HVACR systems for buildings is known as its Commercial Products Group (CPG), and it is one of the divisions that makes up this worldwide company that recorded $1.4 billion in revenues in fiscal 2009. Other markets include light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, off-highway and industrial equipment, refrigeration systems and fuel cells.

With more than 90 years in the industry, Modine is a well-known brand in the HVACR industry. “It's a strong name with very good products made in the U.S.A. that we support through top-shelf distribution,” says Richard Boothman, Modine's North American sales director for commercial products. Certainly providing quality products helps to keep that brand recognition strong, but Modine has also increased its market share over the past year by making it easier for its distributors and their customers to get the products that they want when they want them.

“Modine has some of the best lead times in the industry,” McBurney explains. “We stock nearly 200 SKUs at all times from our warehouse in Virginia, and it takes us only a day or two to ship these products to our distributors' warehouses. We also tend to have lower stocking requirements for them. Realizing that inventory is money, we try to share that burden with our stocking distributors.” Its manufacturing facility in Virginia produces its gas-fired products, while the Rhode Island facility produces its other products. Development, design and testing are performed at its Racine headquarters.

Modine is also very active in new product development, Boothman says, adding new products and capacities to its existing lines in recent years. Greater breadth and depth of products give its customers more of what they need, but they also help distributors to get what they need from just one manufacturer — and that helps them control costs.

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Boothman says he and his five regional managers actively work with customers and end users to understand their needs as well as how Modine may be able to improve how they work and live. He points to Modine's new high-efficiency condensing unit heater, the Effinity93, which they introduced last month, as a prime example of listening to customers. The Effinity93 breaks new ground by achieving 93 percent energy efficiency — a large jump from current high-efficiency units that achieve 80 percent efficiency.

With energy costs considered one of the top expenses for businesses, the Effinity93 will help reduce those costs significantly. “It's a no-brainer,” Boothman says of the Effinity93, “especially when you consider the payback. We're very excited about the development of this product.” End users can get an idea of how much they can save by using the Effinity93 Heat Savings Calculator (, which calculates the annual savings based on one Effinity93 unit heater — select your state, nearest city and the size of the heater and see the savings total. Modine is promoting the Effinity93 nationally and targeting greenhouses, commercial businesses and the engineering and specifying communities to increase the awareness of the product line.

Staying in front of customers — mainly commercial contractors — and end users requires Modine to be involved with professional associations and have a pulse on who uses their products. As an example, Modine has developed close ties with greenhouse operators and growers associations, attending their events and showcasing products there. “We're very proactive in identifying and focusing on the markets that we serve, both commercial and agricultural,” Boothman says.

Modine's Hot Dawg unit heater is another case in point. Designed for workshops and garages, the Hot Dawg has long been popular among folks who spend a lot of time in these spaces, particularly hobbyists and outdoorsmen, so Modine promotes the heater through magazines and direct mail that cater to them. Because of this, many contractors and consumers today consider the Hot Dawg the unit heater to have for those spaces.

Creating awareness helps Modine further its goal, says Boothman, of not selling directly to end users, but pulling business through its distributors with successful marketing, advertising and other promotional activities. Modine employs multiple approaches to get end users and contractors to consider a Modine heating unit. For a greenhouse operator or building owner, it may include promoting the savings that he or she can achieve with a high-efficiency Modine heater. For the hobbyist who is tired of working in his unheated garage, it may be the dream of doing what he enjoys in a comfortable, heated space year-round. “We want whoever is driving the decision — whether that's the building owner, the contractor, or consumer — to generate demand for Modine products,” McBurney says. Modine also has a marketing co-op program so distributors can market themselves and Modine in ways that they think will best appeal to their local markets.

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Modine also features two demo trucks with equipment that they take on the road to events and directly to the distributors. These trucks not only serve a marketing function, but they are also valuable training tools. “We're doing all this in support of our distributors and reps and always driving the sale through the distributor,” says McBurney, who adds that the demo trucks are a great way to introduce new distributors to the Modine line. For both end users and distributors, there's nothing like seeing and touching the equipment. “People like to look at the products,” Boothman says. “And the trucks are great ways to draw people out to an event, and they can then recognize how it is installed and the advantages it might bring to them.”

Modine has many local, independent distributors across the country along with some that are very large with multiple locations. Although they may be different in size, the similarities can be found in what the distributors bring to their customers. “They provide very strong, value-added services to the trade.”

In return, Modine provides its distributors with added value as well as training and marketing programs. After all, if Modine is driving business to its distributors, they want to make sure that the distributors are equipped to answer a customer's questions about its products. “The distributor has to be armed with the information and the tools that they need,” McBurney says. Modine's 10 technical support representatives and four application engineers are also available for distributors who need assistance in the application, pricing or sizing of products.

Modine also promotes its Accu-Spec program to distributors. The program takes a user through a series of step-by-step questions that allows for easy configuration of Modine products and is considered to be the fastest way to generate performance data based on actual job conditions. “We've gotten great feedback from distributors, engineers and reps,” McBurney says. “It assures you that we will be able to manufacture what you need, and it will operate the way you want it to.” Modine plans to roll out a Web-based version of Accu-Spec later in the year.

McBurney sees the relationship between distributor and manufacturer as a two-way street. “We're trying to be proactive in our training and marketing, and we encourage our distributors to do the same,” he says. Counter days with Modine sales reps continue to be a popular and productive way to involve distributors and their customers with Modine products, as do the on-site training programs. Modine also conducts two weeklong training sessions at its Virginia manufacturing facility that are open to all distributors.

“With so many new and enhanced products recently introduced, there are plenty of opportunities for our sales staff to be spending time with its distributors,” says Boothman, who also spends much of his time in the field with distributors and their customers. Likewise, distributors have a number of tools at their disposal to promote Modine's gas-fired, oil-fired, steam/hot water and electric heating solutions.

An annual Modine Rep Council brings information and ideas together from reps located around the country. It also helps solidify the planning for new products as well as identify more effective ways that the company can help its distributors and their customers. Once the company makes a commitment to new initiatives, McBurney says, it takes that commitment very seriously.

Even though Modine is a well-established and well-respected name, that will only get a company so far today. What will you do for me tomorrow is what we all want to know. Modine continues to answer that question by focusing squarely on what customers want with quality products and support that meet their needs.

Michael Maynard is a business writer based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].

Best Practice

New product development

Definition and Example: Raise Your Comfort Level. It's more than a tagline for us. It's what we stand for. It's what we want to bring to anyone who comes in contact with the Modine name. One of the many ways we do this for our distributors is by continuing to bring products to market that build off of our heating and air conditioning expertise. The Effinity93 is a perfect example.

Significance: In today's business world, where end users demand cleaner, more efficient products — and the government and local municipalities require them — it is crucial that Modine presses forward developing new and improved HVAC solutions that exceed these demands.

Benefits: Our newest product, the Effinity93, is the most efficient gas-fired unit heater line in North America. This means potentially thousands of dollars in savings on energy bills. It also means decreased demand for fossil fuel and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Looking ahead, our new product development initiatives will continue to make improved efficiency a key benefit, resulting in benefits for everyone involved — lower energy costs for end users, fewer emissions released into the atmosphere, and added value for our distributors to sell Modine.

Procedure: From inception to production, we thoroughly test our HVAC solutions at our own heating laboratory in Racine, WI. We constantly evaluate areas for improvement and solicit feedback from our employees, reps and distributors.

People involved: We cannot develop new products and ideas by working in a vacuum. That's why it is critical that our entire group is always open to feedback and ideas from our distributors. After all, they are in touch with HVAC contractors on a daily basis and can speak to their experiences in the field. We trust our reps and distributors to sell and promote our brand and therefore trust their feedback. One of the selling features of the Effinity93 is our Contractor Convenience Package, which we can trace directly to feedback we received in the field.

Timing: Our dedication to new product development has yielded a number of new products over the last two years, including the Effinity93, the PTS-model gas-fired unit heater line, power-vented duct furnaces, and 100,000/125,000 BTU/hr Hot Dawg heaters to name a few.

Contact: Richard Boothman, North American Sales Director, 215/983-1923; Ray Schaffart, Marketing & Communications Manager, 262/636-1504.

Modine Commercial Products Group at a Glance

President & CEO: Tom Burke Vice President: Tom Marry, Regional V.P. Asia and Commercial Products Group Headquarters: Modine Manufacturing Co., 1500 DeKoven Ave., Racine, WI 53403; 800/828-HEAT Operations: Commercial Products Group — Buena Vista, VA; West Kingston, RI Employees: 7,000 worldwide Annual Sales: FY 2009: $1.4B Major Product Lines: Unit heaters — gas, water, oil, electric; Direct and Indirect fired rooftop heaters; Infrared heaters — high- and low-intensity; Applied hydronic heaters — cabinet unit heater, convectors, fin-tube; Ceiling cassettes Website:; Year Founded: 1916