Comfort Air Distributing: The HVAC Dream Team

Oct. 1, 2014
Comfort Air team members live the company mission statement daily – “A customer focused distributor, dedicated to the success of our HVAC partners and committed to being a leader in our changing industry.” Comfort Air has four locations to serve Colorado’s Front Range. The business grew from its Denver location to branches in Colorado Springs and Centennial and a sales office in Fort Collins. Because the branches have a pulse on their customers, they have the appropriate product mix to service their needs on a day-to-day basis.

The Denver/Corporate office team.

When you’re a customer of Comfort Air Distributing, you’re more than just a “customer.” You’re part of a team. The Denver-based distributor developed the concept of the Rheem Team – a fully integrated marketing concept that provides its customers with a broad array of marketing, training, technical and business resources anchored by the Rheem brand and its products. It’s a team that knows how to win.

Being part of the Rheem Team gives its contractor customers a great deal of exposure among consumers. They see and hear Rheem Team advertising on television and radio, in print and online directing them to local contractors. It has also greatly increased the Rheem brand among consumers, who now associate Rheem with HVAC and are knowledgeable enough to ask for it by name.

After the previous Rheem distributor went out of business, Jerry O’Mara, a former Rheem employee, and Jim O’Mara went to Rheem with a plan about how they would grow the business. Rheem then offered them the Rheem line.

At the time, Rheem did not enjoy a strong presence in the Denver market. But the O’Maras believed in Rheem and knew that they could take Rheem to the top of the market by developing relationships with the building community, contractors and reaching out to consumers through advertising. In the early 1990s, Dave Schrock, a former Rheem employee, joined the business as a partner.

Schrock, the executive vice president of Comfort Air Distributing, notes their mission statement puts the focus on the customer. The mission statement says, in part, that the business is a “customer- focused distributor, dedicated to the success of our HVAC partners and committed to being a leader in our changing industry.”

Schrock says the Comfort Air team members live the mission daily. By focusing on making all of their partners – the contractor customers, the consumers, the vendors, and the Comfort Air Team – successful, “then Comfort Air will be successful,” he says.

Comfort Air has since expanded to four locations to serve Colorado’s Front Range, the areas to the east of the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming. The business grew from its Denver location to branches in Colorado Springs and Centennial and a sales office in Fort Collins. O’Mara notes the growth has been the result of Comfort Air’s reach beyond the greater Denver metropolitan area.

Because the branches have a pulse on their customers, they have the appropriate product mix to service their needs on a day to day basis. Comfort Air’s main warehouse at the Denver location, which is the largest of its locations, stocks the majority of product and transfer trucks are run among the branches weekly to resupply and rebalance the inventory. Store managers also stay in touch with one another to handle emergency situations and territory managers have 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks at the ready.

When Comfort Air came into being, they wanted to grow their replacement market business. Growing the Comfort Air business in the replacement market would have to start by building up the business of its contractor customers and Rheem’s brand recognition. “The more they would grow, the more we would grow,” O’Mara says.

Comfort Air started with a television campaign featuring local athletes that would tap into the popularity of Colorado’s professional sports teams as a hook to draw in consumers who may otherwise tune out anything related to HVAC. The goal: get consumers comfortable with the Rheem name. This type of advertising campaign was not a new concept, O’Mara notes, but it was very successful.

The counter team at the Denver office.

The Colorado Springs team.

“It takes a while to build; that’s not any different from the Cokes and Pepsis,” O’Mara says of the importance of repetitive and consistent advertising.

The campaign started with Mark Jackson, a star wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, and later included sports figures from every major Denver sports team: Scott Haskings, former NBA player and current sports radio announcer, Joe Girardi, then the Colorado Rockies catcher (now manager of the New York Yankees), Colorado Avalanche hockey star Shjon Podein, and former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, to name a few. These sports figures became Rheem Team “captains” and became the faces of Rheem in the Denver area. Comfort Air also took an active role in the community, sponsoring charity events and industry events that gave its name prominence among the HVAC contractors and the general population.

Comfort Air was one of the first HVAC distributors to put a contractor group together in Colorado and form a joint advertising team, so that would associate a contractor with a particular sports figure in television, radio and print advertising, giving them great visibility within the community. These commercials were known for their humor and greatly increased their recognition. Now after 20 years of advertising and marketing, the Rheem brand is a household name in Colorado.

This type of continuity has been good for the business of Comfort Air customers. That’s why they keep coming back to the Rheem Team year in and year out.

“The majority of the Rheem Team members have been with the program since its inception,” says Debbie DeGrace, Comfort Air’s marketing manager.

Jaylan Phillips, Comfort Air’s vice president of Sales and Business Development, notes the Rheem Team is also a lead generation program from a sales perspective. “Here, you’re visible through the Rheem Team,” he says. “It definitely helped our sales team from a brand perspective. It opens doors and starts a conversation.”

The sales counter at the Centennial branch.

For contractors that may typically rely on their trucks or limited web or local newspaper advertising, the recognition that is delivered through the Rheem Team is a major upgrade.

“A core competency of most contractors is not marketing,” Phillips says. “Having marketing intelligence and bringing that to your contractor definitely opens doors in terms of loyalty.”

“Having a permanent marketing person familiar with the industry is huge to these guys,” O’Mara says of his marketing staff that assists customers with logos, flyers and other advertising materials.

“Customers tell us the reason they do business with us is that they will be more successful,” adds Schrock.

The loyalty goes both ways. Comfort Air’s contractors let their territory managers know what they’re hearing from their customers. What’s driving their buying behaviors when it comes to HVAC? What are they most concerned about? “We listen to our contractors,” O’Mara says. “They usually know what consumers are looking for.”

By staying close to the contractors and being members of local and national trade associations like ACCA, HARDI, EEBC, ASHRAE, RSES, NAHB, and local HBAs, they’ve been proactive in having the type of products that consumers and builders are seeking for replacement and new building projects.

“Our goal is to be a leader in a changing industry,” says Schrock. “We try not to be on the bleeding edge, but we do for the most part stay ahead of the competition.”

For example, as the indoor air quality industry changed and came to the forefront for consumers, Comfort Air partnered with vendors such as Aprilaire, Honeywell, Panasonic and Aeroseal to add whole house solutions to their product mix.

Comfort Air also opened its Home Comfort Showroom at its Centennial location as a way to showcase its range of products for both contractors and homeowners.

“Our contractors and their homeowner customers have utilized the showroom and it works very well for upgrade and add-on selling,” DeGrace says. Their builder partners have also used the Home Comfort Showroom for their customers. The showroom is mainly used to educate both the Comfort Air team members and their customers. A recently-installed Samsung Free Joint multi-zone ductless system in the showroom lets homeowners and contractors get their questions answered and allows them to see and hear how an installed system works.

As the products to support the demands of consumers have become more sophisticated so, too, has the level of training required by contractors. Comfort College is Comfort Air’s way of bringing product training to its contractors with training facilities at three of its locations.

“When we first started Comfort College, we were trying to train the industry,” O’Mara says. “We had a full-time service tech from Rheem. But we realized it’s not our job to train the industry. We had a lot of success. We were well known. Now our focus is on the products we sell.”

Comfort Air Distributing relies heavily on its territory managers and inside sales team, who receive special training. “That way, when a customer calls, they can get an answer from us rather than having to be referred to the manufacturer,” says O’Mara. “We have four guys who are ex-technicians so when a contractor has a problem we can solve it.”

Partnering with customers and taking care of the customer at the sales counter and over the phone has been good for Comfort Air and good for their customers. That’s why Comfort Air forecasts double digit growth every year. They align themselves with customers and vendors that share their customer-centric and growth-oriented philosophy. There’s always room to get better, they say, and they’ll continue to work on ways to become more efficient in all phases of their operations. That’s what successful teams are all about.

Best Practice

Definition and Example: Creating Contractor Marketing Programs for our Key Contractors. The Rheem Team was introduced as an advertising group program in 1992. It began primarily as a branding campaign for both Comfort Air (Rheem), our elite contractor base. It has evolved into a turnkey marketing and advertising program to help our contractors become more successful business organizations.

Significance: We want to help our contractors grow, which in turn helps Comfort Air Distributing grow.

Benefits: When we help our contractors become successful businesses, it creates a strong partnership.

Procedure: The planning process begins in late summer/early fall. Decisions are made about advertising campaigns and additional programs necessary to create a successful program, such as call tracking, profit and business coaching, and new technology designed to help make running a business easier than ever.

People Involved: Territory managers are key because they are the voice of our customers. We want to make sure we are creating a program that benefits the contractor the most. The president, executive vice president, business development manager and marketing manager are also involved in implementing the program and using the right resources to create the turnkey programs.

Timing: We roll out the program in late January with a large meeting that consists of a keynote speaker and some of our program partners. Last year’s keynote speaker was Ray Isaac. After the meeting, our territory managers visit with the contractors to register for their customized program. Registrations can occur at any time during the year when a contractor partner is interested and fits the criteria.

Cost: Charges depend on the programs the contractor enrolls in, many of which are free of charge.

Contact: Jim O’Mara, [email protected].

Mission Statement: “A customer-focused distributor, dedicated to the success of our HVAC partners and committed to being a leader in our changing industry.”

Local Rheem Team website:

Comfort Air Distributing at a Glance President: Jim O’Mara Executive Vice President: Dave Schrock

Other Key Personnel:


Jeff Patton, Vice President of Operations Jaylan Phillips, Business Development Manager Debbie DeGrace, Marketing Manager Dave Roberts, Purchasing Manager Ginger Ivy, Accounting Manager Headquarters: 5757 E. 42nd Ave., Denver, CO 80216 Employees: 35 in 4 locations Major Product Lines: Rheem HVAC and Water Heaters, Aprilaire, Honeywell, Quietside/Samsung, ClimateMaster Website: Year Founded: 1987

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