Bradford White Corp.
Bradford White Brute FT wall-hung boiler (right) and combination boiler/water heater.

Distribution: Heating Up Your Hydronics Business

Oct. 25, 2021
Product inventory and training are keys.

Distributorships seeking to improve their sales of hydronics products need to do three things:

 1. Maintain a good inventory of products.
 2. Convince the HVAC and plumbing contractors in his region that he can service their businesses.
 3. Provide training, education updates, and occasional access to manufacturer representatives.

“It’s a pretty simple equation, in my opinion,” said Jim French, senior director of sales, specialty products for Bradford White Water Heaters.

“It’s important that a distributorship has someone on staff that understands the products. Training and education is what the installing contractors are looking for today, especially the younger technicians, because there is not a lot of youth coming in to our industry. “Younger installing contractors will buy from the distributorships who provide knowledge,” French said.

Regarding inventory, the problem right now is supply shortages, which is happening in all HVACR and plumbing product sectors. The luckiest will be those who were well-stocked prior to the COVID-based supply disruptions, which will not disappear anytime soon.

Additionally, in a normal market, French said, the key to success in hydronics distribution is to stock the entire array of components necessary to back up a boiler inventory.

“From an inventory standpoint, if an HVAC distributor is going to be selling boiler hydronics, to do it right they need to invest in baseboard, or radiant PEX tubing, circulators, and have an account with Honeywell or Keico?  And have the right air elimination devices. If they have all of those components, then they can be successful, and then it’s a matter of marketing and promotions in the field.”

French stressed that there is most definitely a strong demand for residential boilers. Most of the activity is from replacement of dated boiler systems that are failing and inefficient, and homeowners crave a 95% efficient boiler. One example is Bradford White's Brute FT wall-hung boiler and combination boiler/water heater. The units' modulating technology automatically adjusts fuel usage to match heat demand, saving up to 20% on heating utility bills compared to standard “on-off” boilers. The Brute FT® is ENERGY STAR® certified for ultra-high efficiency of up to 95% AFUE.

“Also, gas companies are providing rebates for contractors to upgrade to higher efficiency systems. So right now, the condensing boiler market continues to grow.
The replacement market is holding its own.”

But like many things, demand is exceeding supply.

“Everyone’s struggling to get inventory to wholesalers because of steel costs and component shortages,” French shared. “Bradford/White owns Laars, based in Rochester, NH, so we sell boilers under two brands: the Laars brand, to non-Bradford/White distributors, and the Bradford/White brand to Bradford/White distributors. Our inventory, like everyone else’s, has been struggling to keep up. We’re still in a growth mode and have only aggressively been selling boilers for five years in the residential market. Historically, we’re one of the three big water heater companies. But since I came over to Bradford White from Bosch Buderus, we’ve put a stronger emphasis on boilers, because the Bradford White brand is very strong at the heating and plumbing contractor level. We decided to expand our portfolio outside of water heaters and into hydronics and take advantage of that replacement market.”

To enhance the profile of its wholesale distributor partners, Bradford White provides educational training vehicles for training in the early morning or at lunch events. 

Continuing on-site training at the distributors discretion is also a plus. “The most successful distributors have training rooms inside their facilities, and have asked their manufacturers to work with them in training installing contractors,” French said.

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.