Cooling season is near. Have you worked on your 2019 air conditioning marketing plan? If you haven’t, you’d better start today (or perhaps, “yesterday”), with a review of your marketing goals and your plan to attain them.
Marketing is one in a long line of business practices to be “disrupted” by the digital world of smart phones, texting and social media, and it's vital to the success of your company that you know how to market effectively by using these tools.
For this feature we spoke with representatives of some of the leading HVAC brands, and with contractors who install those products, and have taken advantage of brand marketing support.
A concerted review of an HVAC marketing strategy begins with the brand (OEM) taking an interest in the success of each and every contractor who wishes to install and service those products. The brand’s involvement varies, depending on the contractor support role played by distributors, and the marketing accumen of the contractor.
Barb Cox, senior director of marketing for Nortek Global HVAC, told us that once a new contractor is established with Nortek, the territory manager at the local independent distributor will work with the contractor to develop business plans, and help them uncover any gaps in their marketing approach. But what’s more, a Nortek field sales team also assists product distributors, as needed.
“We provide training, to help our distributor territory managers understand the homeowner buying process, and to provide them with the questions to ask their contractors, so that they can help those contractors find those gaps and fill them,” Cox said.
If a Nortek manager does in fact determine that a contractor is skipping some important marketing steps, or certain marketing angles, the team provides programs to lend support.
“We support the contractor in those marketing efforts, so that they can focus on what they’re best at, which is selling, installing and servicing systems,” Cox said.
Nortek Global HVAC’s contractor field training program includes visits to contracting businesses by marketing and sales teams. These are hands-on sessions that include setting up websites and equipping dealers with an iPad sales tool program. The overarching support is the “Business Builder,” which includes a “Brochure Buillder,” to assist the contractor with designing personalized brochures, and a “Website Builder.”
“We then help them understand how to identify gaps in what the contractor is doing, so that they can guide the contractor to use the resources and marketing programs that are available to contractors,” Cox shared.
One of the marketing disruptions that’s invaded HVAC is in the lightning-fast ability of a customer to provide positive or negative feedback about a contractor’s services, which can be disseminated through a service area in the blink of an eye. The speed and quality of contractor response is critical.
Cox said contractors tend to overlook the importance of monitoring and responding to reviews. It’s important to practice due diligence here, she said, because every business will get a bad review, eventually.
“If you ask contractors how they obtain new homeowner customers, they’ll tell you it’s by word-of-mouth. But word- of-mouth has transitioned from ‘over the fence’ to online. And homeowners are willing to trust not just their neighbors to give a recommendation, but perfect strangers.
“In fact, a lot of review research says that if a homeowner gets a recommendation, they’ll actually go online and validate it against what perfect strangers say, because we’re trusting the masses,” she said.
According to Cox, some contractors will often refuse to solicit reviews, over fear of getting a bad one, not realizing there are ways to diffuse a negative review.
“But the reality is, if they’ve been in business for awhile, it’s because they have happy customers. And so, they need to do things to help facilitate having those positive comments be put online,” she said.
Cox said research has found that if the contractor handles the negative review in a positive manner, the customer will delete the negative review.
“Oftentimes, reviews are just a way of being heard. A particular customer might feel that they’ve not been heard. And in the world we live in, with the mechanisms we have to post something online, that’s just a vehicle people use to be heard. And so a lot of times homeowners will retract it, if you address it,” she said.
“And addressing a bad review doesn’t mean taking or accepting fault; it just means communicating with that homeowner to resolve the issue,” she added.
Cox said contractors also need to improve their overall professional appearance, with company hats and shirts, truck signage, logo and website. But she agrees that not all contractors can put forth all of the necessary dollars required to shine up their company image. But the website is a good place to start.
“It doesn’t have to be a huge website, but having five pages and a professional logo stands out. Homeowners judge that contractor before he or she even walks in the door.”
Finally, Cox stressed the need for contracting businesses to provide financing. She told of a friend who dropped a service company after 10 years because they didn’t offer
“She could have gone to the bank and secured her own financing, but homeowners want you to make it easy, and we live in a world where you can finance everything.”
Beacon Services: Shining a Light of Caring and Great Service
Dan and Cindy Dickinson have owned Beacon Services & Appliances, and Beacon Air & Heat, Beverly Hills, Fla., for 15 years. Prior to the founding, Dan had about 18 years of experience with another HVAC company. They install and maintain Nortek’s Maytag comfort products, one of Nortek’s leading brands. Chris Cohen is general manager.
This five-technician firm may be small, but they have a large repository of dedication and ambition. Their services include installation, maintenance, Indoor Air Quality and kitchen appliance sales.
Starting out, Dan and Cindy did not have a marketing program to speak of.
“The company I had come from wasn’t of the highest ethics, so when I started on my own, I really wanted to do everything different, because it didn’t seem right to me. So I went off on my own, and went strictly by word-of-mouth for the first couple of years. We did pretty well, because I had a good reputation in the area already,” Dan explained.
They added some marketing based on the good ol’ telephone book, “which, back in the day, had some effect,” he said. “Other than that, it was really just a concerted word-of-mouth effort, and trying to find ways to encourage people to recommend us to others.”
Their efforts included lots of “little things,” that left big impressions.
“We’d sponsor some local sports teams, or our kids’ school band or chorus. Then, we had a 'Dinner on Us' card, which was a $25 dinner gift card for referrals to whoever
became a new, paying customer.”
Company ads appear in local restaurant menus, and Beacon’s been involved with local charities, such as “Toys for Tots” during the 2018 Christmas season.
As the digital age loomed, Dan and Cindy moved the company into social media activity, through Chris Cohen’s leadership and guidance. Cohen started a company Facebook page and built up a following and activity.
“I then take what’s posted on Facebook and post it across all the other social media outlets we use,” Cohen says. “I recognized that every post has the ability to link back to our website, or create some form of recognition for the company, and also establish a Google ranking.”
Cohen posts installation photos on Beacon’s Pinterest page, with an attention-getting comment. Responses or “likes” are linked back to Facebook or the company website.
“Weaving in and out of social media has helped us to gain quite a following. We’ve become known as more of a fun, family-oriented company,” Cohen said.
Customers are asked to visit reviewbeaconservices.com— a single page that includes a Thank You message for customer review postings.
“A very large number of our customers tell us that they gave us a try because of the wonderful reviews that they read,” Cohen shared.
Any negative reviews are addressed ASAP, in an effort to make things right.
“I take negative reviews very personally,” he said. “After we make it right, many of our customers have gone back and changed the review to a 5-star positive, based on our response with them.There have been times where we have refunded entire air conditioning systems, because we couldn’t figure out how to make them happy,” Dan revealed. “By going ‘above and beyond’ we’ve gained customers for life, in how we handle things when we do make mistakes, or when they do have a perspective that we’ve wronged somebody.”
The Beacon appliance business helps the company do what Dan Dickinson describes as, “cross-pollinating,” which is to convert an appliance customer over to becoming an eventual air conditioning customer, and vice-versa.
“Hopefully we’ve done our job well enough that an appliance customer becomes an air conditioning customer, or a comfort customer will become an appliance customer,” he said.
To sustain the company’s family atmosphere, the Beacon team restricts its activity to one county.
“Our customers really become part of our family,” Dan said. “They become part of our story. And we really work with them to create that relationship. But if we try to stretch out beyond our boundaries, we find we start losing that. We did start to stretch out into the next county at one point, and now we’ve kind of retracted back a little bit, because I really felt we lost some of our excellence and our personalness with our customers. So we stay within our county.”
Trained, Goal-oriented Employees
One of Beacon’s unique value propositions is that it employs highly-trained technicians, whose entire HVAC careers have been with Beacon. Training is held every morning, with occasional modifications based on the previous day’s events.
“We hire people with long-term goals, kind of assuming that they’re never going to leave us. They’ll always be a part of Beacon, and they’re going to retire from Beacon someday.
“We search for career-minded people, not people who are just looking for a job.”
They also highight the fact that Beacon is a drug-free and tobacco-free workplace.
“Because of the caliber of employees, it allows us to kind of put that 100% guarantee on everything that we do. Our employees take a lot of pride in what they do. They take a lot of pride in the Maytag name, who we stand for and what we are in the community. And they always go above and beyond,” Dan said.
Bob Woodall: Even Local Legends Must be Smart Marketers
In the late 1960s, as “central air conditioning” started to become popular, a man named Bob Woodall, Sr. saw an opportunity in this new innovation, and founded his own Dothan, Ala.-based HVAC sales and service company — Ted & Bob’s, in partnership with his friend, Ted King.
About a year after the founding of Ted & Bob’s, the men amicably parted ways, and in 1967 Bob founded Woodall’s Sales & Service, and became a Lennox dealer. He ran the company well, and eventually his three sons began to help out. His son, Bob Jr., began working with the family business after school and on summer breaks, learning both the technical aspects of the business and witnessing firsthand the importance of providing outstanding customer service and treating employees well.
Two of the Woodall brothers gradually left to pursue their own ventures: Donnell started Woodall Heating & Cooling of Enterprise, and Luverne started Woodall Total Comfort Systems of Marianna. Bob Jr. stayed on to work with dad.
When Bob Sr. retired in 1989, Leon and Bob Jr. purchased the elder Woodall’s interest, and Bob Jr. became company president. Then around 2000, Bob Jr. bought out Leon’s share and became sole owner.
Upon becoming the sole owner, Bob Jr. wanted to find a way to differntiate his HVAC business from those of his brothers, who were also Lennox dealers. First, he changed its name to Bob Woodall Air Care Systems, and added the simple tagline, “Call Bob.” The Internet lent itself nicely to a “callbob.com” web address. He has also started a Bob Woodall Commercial division.
Bob’s marketing activity has kept up with the possibilities now afforded by a wider TV landscape, and the Internet’s social media magic. One recent opportunity provided a perfect regional tie-in. A local chef, Kelsey Barnard, was a contestant on the national Bravo channel program, “Top Chef,” so Bob advertised on those episodes to reach local prospects. The spots were crafted to focus on long-time company employees, most of whom have been with Bob Woodall Air Care Systems from up to 30 years.
“The commercial we’ve just cut is talking about employee Pam Jackson, who has been here 30 years. People don’t always get to see Pam, but they talk to her on the phone, so that’s something different that we really haven’t done before,” Bob said. “We’re going to do TV, some billboards, and radio, and of course social media, but it’s going to be spotlighting our employees. We want to get the word out that it’s not all about me. It’s about the brand.
“When you “Call Bob,” you get Pam Jackson, who’s been here for 30 years. You get Chad, who’s been here for 28 years. You get Kyle Turner, my partner, who’s been here for 15 years. You get Austin Martin. You get all these different people,” Woodall explained. And, he has local experts to guide him in the proper mix of radio, TV and billboard ads.
Bob Woodall Air Care Systems is active in various types of community service, such as sponsoring children’s sports teams, fishing tournaments and anything else that fits. A new, easy-to-navigate website design for both companies will include project news, employee profiles and more.
“Hopefully people will see us and hear about us. They’ll see us on TV, in the newspaper, and social media, and hear about us on the radio. Through that, we hope that we gain new leads and opportunities for service, maintenance and replacements,” Woodall said.
The Woodall company’s business profile and marketing success have been greatly enhanced by working with Strategic America, an integrated marketing firm specializing in field marketing, brand building and customer engagement, based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Since 1980, Strategic America has established marketing programs for more than 1700 Lennox dealers across America. Through Strategic America, dealers get on board The Lennox Consumer Advertising and Promotions Program (CAP) which provides channel marketing expertise and participation in the Lennox co-op program.
“Strategic America knows the pitfalls of the HVAC industry, what works, and what doesn’t work. It’s particular to each region, but Strategic America has a feel for what will work in our industry,” said John Wells, Lennox Residential Territory Manager.
“There are three levels of participation in Strategic America’s Lennox CAP program. The advantage to using it is, if you get involved in our CAP package, you pay a discounted full-service premium of $1600 per month, interest-free, over 10 months,” Wells explained.
Strategic America meets with Lennox dealers to decide how advertising dollars are to be allocated, in which format, and time of year.
“Direct mail is sometimes a little bit old school, but there’s a tremendous digital advertising package offered in the CAP Program through Strategic America. You’re talking pay-per-click, multi-site banner ads, Pandora, preload videos, even The Weather Channel,” Wells said.
Enrolling with Strategic America also gives dealers entry into the Dealer Locator on Lennox.com.
“That’s a tremendous resource. People who are on the locator are identified as certified, and it displays awards they’ve won from Lennox,” he added.
Wells said that in 2017, more than 500,000 leads were generated through the Lennox.comDealer Locator. Numbers of leads from 2018 are not yet available.
Wells added that once established as a Lennox dealer, a business can visit Lennoxpros.com, which is its main dealer website resource for dealers.
“There, they will find all kinds of training, including sales training. Examples are, ‘How to Build a Salesperson’ and ‘How to Build a Technician.’ We’re not just about selling the equipment,” Wells said. “We’re about building the dealers’ businesses, training them, and helping them operate their businesses better.”
Marketing HVAC Careers
At the time of this interview, Bob Woodall was awaiting approval from the state for an apprenticeship/scholarship program. While not a "marketing program" per sé, it will establish the company as a career destination.
“We’re going to call it the ‘Bob Woodall Apprenticeship Scholarship.’ We’re going to offer five high school seniors a $10,000 scholarship to go to a two-week trade school, and then take job training with us, and we’ll hire them. We and other companies are having a hard time finding new employees. Young people coming out of high school don’t have the desire to go to college, and they need a trade,” Woodall said.
To help gain acceptance among regional schools for the scholarship program and apprenticeships, Woodall and his colleagues on the Chamber of Commerce will invite high school counselors in a 10-county area to come to the Woodall facility to talk it out.
“We will market not only our employees, but also the fact that we’re out front, and I’m personally going out speaking to 8th graders and high school students, letting people see who this ‘Call Bob’ guy is, and that we make an honest living, by doing a great job taking care of customers, and that it’s an incredible career to get into. I think what’s unique, rather than just advertising a $69 tune-up, or the Dave Lennox signature collection or whatever, is that we’re more about this community, about helping young people, and our employees.”
The program will be partly funded with state funds, and will include outreach to lower income families who can also qualify for special funding.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to be a friend to counselors and high schools,” Woodall says.
Carrier takes a two-pronged approach when providing marketing tools to contractors, said Catie Sheppick, Carrier’s channel marketing manager for residential HVAC.
“We have marketing programs through the channel, with the support of our regional sales managers. but those programs are further supported in each local segment by our network of Carrier distributors. A good example is Mingledorffs, a Carrier distributor in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. They support dealers in this area. When we onboard collectively a new Carrier contractor, our internal and distributor teams work together with that contractor to determine what solutions might work best for their company, based on size, current marketing plan, and business goals. Understanding where the contractor’s at is definitely a part of that at the beginning," Sheppick said.
Sheppick shared that Carrier’s distributors help support contractors in leveraging and maximizing the value of the programs that Carrier brings to the market.
“So again, that dual-pronged approach comes into play. So for contractors who are newer to the brand, we start by focusing on how to leverage the value of Carrier’s national advertising investments and the brand recognition that Carrier has. These could include tools such as the Carrier dealer locator, where contractors can customize their profile, and allow home owners to quickly find the contractor that meets their needs. We also have a Carrier Ad Kit, where we provide high quality advertising materials. And that can be anything from TV and radio, to print and imagery.”
Carrier's advertising support materials can be customized with the contractor’s information, and allows room for special promotional messaging if that applies.
Another marketing advantage comes with the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Carrier factory authorized dealers can offer this one-time guarantee on a new Carrier product for add-on replacement installations. Sheppic said the guarantee sets apart those Carrier contractors from the competition and gives them credibility and peace of mind.
Sheppick added that the Carrier Savings Network program provides contractors with savings on a variety of business support expenses, through its national buying power and established relationships and negotiated discounts with various vendors.
“That can be fleet services, sales tools, website development, business development, or even marketing services. And we can help connect Carrier dealers with those various vendors,” she said.
Carrier distributors have an option to host classroom course offerings. We have various facets of marketing training within our portfolio, so distributors can host those classroom courses locally for contractors.
Digital Marketing Tools
Appropriately for this digital age, Carrier has expanded its digital marketing support aides. One is an online scheduling program. This is a program to help dealers capture more leads by offering the opportunities for a potential customer to request an appointment online. This can be set any time of day, either through Carrier’s consumer website, or the dealer’s own website.
Another popular digital tool is the “Côr Connect” portal. Similar to automobile diagnostic codes, Côr Connect allows a dealer to monitor their customer’s home comfort equipment and then create a customized solution.
“We do that through predictive analytics and data access. It’s another valuable valuable digital tool,” Sheppick said.
A third is consumer rebates and financing.
“We provide tools to help dealers upsell at the kitchen table through promotions, especially in the shoulder seasons. Our flexible financing options also lead to some really great results.”
Troubleshooting help is availabe for the asking.
“Our distributors have business development teams, and these individuals will work with the dealer’s territory manager and the contractor to help answer any questions that they have. Say they hit some sort of roadblock with sales or trying to overcome a potential obstacle, the teams help consult on solutions. And so the benefit of working with Carrier and our network of distributors is that we really have a really great wealth of best practices, from dealers of all different sizes, all across the country,” she said.
“Carrier wants to help leverage and create suggestions for programs and provide some options on how best to implement those for that dealer to maximize their success.”
Carrier Authorized Dealers Have a NATE Advantage
One “unique value proposition” that’s part of some Carrier dealers is the distinction of being Carrier Factory Authorized Dealers (CFAD). It is currently held by only three percent of all carrier dealers.
The CFAD program — established in 2003 — is based on more than just impressive product sales and service. It is more related to consistent performance according to Carrier’s rigorous standards.
“Carrier determined that a standardized program with robust requirements would deliver a more consistent, best-in-class experience for consumersand provide greater value to dealers,” Sheppick said.
One of the requirements of the CFAD program is that at least 50% of a dealer’s technicians must be tested and certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Technicians employed by CFADs must maintain their NATE certifications to ensure that the deale remains in the program.
American Standard dealers have a direct customer relationship with American Standard distributor partners.
“We build annual plans with our distributors, which gives us the opportunity to identify any areas where we can complement their marketing and other training programs at the national level,” revealed Kathryn Wildrick, brand manager, American Standard.
Wildrick said American Standard offers a range of programs through preferred partners in order to support the growth of its dealers, from creating awareness of their personal brands with their target customers, to generating leads, and closing sales.
“It’s important to us that we help our dealers understand the changing ways that homeowners are shopping for HVAC in the digital age, and equip them with the tools that they need in order to remain competitive in this space,” she said.
Wildrick said American Standard marketing support teams take every opportunity to review the importance of brand and marketing with its dealers.
“We have specific brand tools available, such as an ‘Essence Video’ and ‘Mission Statement,’ to ensure that our dealers embody the American Standard brand,” she shared. “We also have a digital toolkit that helps dealers to diagnose their business challenges, and provides them with the appropriate marketing strategies and solutions to address these issues.
“We recognize that dealers are in varying stages of the digital journey, and customize our recommendations to where they are at the moment,”Wildrick said. “We work with our distributors to co-op dealer marketing that satisfies our brand guidelines and encourages growth in the adoption of digital marketing tools. We also offer special benefits to our elite Customer Care dealers.”
Extra support is available to contractors at any time.
“Working with its distributors, American Standard brand marketers are available for group training sessions and to answer specific questions as needed. Our goal is to offer a self-service toolkit, but we also pride ourselves on maintaining open lines of communication,” Wildrick said.
Wildrick added that American Standard is very much aware that the marketing success of contracting businesses is based in growing their personal brands in concert with American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning.
“Our job is to give them the best brand marketing tools to connect them with homeowners who value their local service and our national brand,” she said.
Paul Laird served for 12 years in the U.S. military. For a short time afterward, he worked a variety of jobs. He got on track once he decided to enroll in the study of heating and air conditioning. He’s now in the third year with his company— Laird’s HVAC, based in Minot, Maine — and is a leading Samsung dealer.
Laird’s marketing outreach tools include the company website, local advertising including signage at community sports fields and an indoor winter sports arena. These are busy venues that are used for coed sports leagues and childrens teams, which helps him get the attention of homeowner parents.
Laird’s website was built and is managed by Town Square Media, experts in local and national media programs. Laird said it took awhile for him to appreciate the value of a website, but now he’s a believer. The website includes mention of a 10% veteran’s discount.
He’s also on Facebook. “I would say Facebook and word-of-mouth have generated the most business since we started,” he said.
Laird’s referral program awards $50 and sometimes more based on what the customer ultimately buys. Company vehicles state that the company is a “Samsung Preferred Dealer.”
Laird is aware of homeowners’ growing preference for instant billing, so he uses HouseCall Pro for invoicing and business management.
“It’s an excellent program. It keeps track of our entire work log. It’s very easy to use. I can do billing and submit bills right to the customer when jobs are complete,” he said.
Erin Mezle, director of marketing for Fujitsu General America, said the Fujitsu marketing team gets more involved once a contractor reaches “Elite” status, which is based on sales.
“When a contractor has earned 20 training points and 20 registration points, they have the option to be an Elite Contractor. They earn loyalty rewards, which is money they can spend on advertising, and marketing on the Fujitsu brand store website,” Mezle explained. “We don’t require a marketing plan but we do make sure they’re using those funds for the appropriate media. They are able to use that money to help grow their business for Fujitsu branded materials.”
Mezle said Fujitsu is working on building better relationships with contractors that install Fujitsu products. One way is an initiative for 2019 called “The Elite Zone Meeting Package,” which consist of meetings for Elite contractors, hosted by distributors.
Those meetings include presentations by Fujitsu product marketing, training and technical services reps. “We bring them up to speed on all we offer in those areas: the tools, programs and marketing solutions we have available for them. Getting face-to-face with contractors and bring this information to their attention has been very helpful to us and them,” Mezle said.
The LG marketing organization works diligently to provide contractors with the resources they need to effectively market and sell LG air conditioning systems, said Lorie Quillin-Bell, marketing director, LG Air Conditioning Technologies. From packaged advertising pieces that are readily available for immediate use, to in-depth and customized support on regional campaigns, the LG team supplies comprehensive marketing support to the LG contractor network.
“Contractors wishing to promote LG products within their market are encouraged to reach out to their LG representative or their local distributor, but the best way to receive marketing support as a contractor is to become an LG Excellence Contractor,” Bell advised. “Not only do LG Excellence Contractors receive priority co-op through their distributor, but they also get access additional marketing materials, lead referrals, extended warranty for qualifying product, an LG Excellence designation they can use on their site as well as onsite and online training.
According to Quillin-Bell, LG contractors also have access to the LG “PerksPlus” program, which rewards loyalty via points which can be redeemed on a number of LG products.
Additional information on the LG Excellence Contractor Program can be found online, at lghvac.com/excellence.