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Priceless Lessons from Orville Redenbacher

March 6, 2023
Orville Redenbacher’s experience when building his popcorn brand can teach you about distinguishing your company and unique HVAC products.

Many of us have fond memories of enjoying popcorn with family and friends while watching a movie. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever chomped down on a kernel of corn that didn’t pop, you know that moment quickly changed from fun to irritation. You see, not all popcorn is created equal. A young man from Indiana named Orville Redenbacher knew this and wanted to improve the popcorn experience.

As Orville set out to produce better popcorn, he ran into challenges that he eventually overcame. These challenges are similar to those many quality HVAC businesses face. That’s because HVAC systems are like popcorn and aren’t created equal. Let’s look at some priceless lessons Orville Redenbacher’s experience can teach you about distinguishing your company and unique HVAC products.

Orville Had a Problem

When Orville was younger, he earned various ribbons for different popcorn types. Later, he devoted much of his life to discovering even better kinds of popcorn and improving them. Rumors have it that he developed over 30,000 popcorn hybrids seeking one that was lighter, fluffier, and better tasting than any other.

How often are you compared to other contractors who look identical but aren’t? The public mistakenly considers contractors and HVAC systems the same, but you know better.

However, Orville faced an uphill battle. His popcorn was more expensive but looked the same as everyone else’s. Farmers declined to buy Orville’s premium corn because it yielded less crop per acre. They turned Redenbacher down because they believed popcorn was popcorn. These farmers asked, “Who will pay more for the same thing?” They didn’t understand why Orville’s premium corn was better.

If you look on the shelf of your local grocery store, you’ll notice an entire aisle of popcorn to choose from, and they all look alike. Some are premium, while others are not. Does this sound like the HVAC industry? How often are you compared to other contractors who look identical but aren’t? The public mistakenly considers contractors and HVAC systems the same, but you know better.

Orville Refined and Delivered a Premium Product

Orville Redenbacher knew he had a better product for which people would delight and pay more. The problem was that his approach was all wrong.

Orville stuck to his beliefs even though others didn’t see the value in his product. The thought of compromising his values and mass-producing an inferior popcorn had no appeal to him. Instead of conforming, he worked tirelessly to refine his unique corn hybrids until they exceeded his high standards.

Once Orville refined his product, he needed to figure out how to get it more widespread recognition by the public. He changed his approach with some creative marketing campaigns, such as taste testing, where he proved his popcorn was better. He let people decide if his claims were valid and showed them the difference. The results proved Orville’s claims and created an increasing demand for his product without compromising his standards.

There may be days when you feel like giving up and lowering your standards to compete with the lowballers in your area. Do not give in to this temptation! Instead, continue refining your systems to exceed even your already high standards. There is a market out there for your extraordinary services and products. The challenge is getting in front of those willing to pay for your premium services.

Action Step One: Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Then find somewhere you can sit and think without any distractions. Create a list of creative ways to prove to potential customers that you are different. Write down the obvious things you do that make you the best choice. How can you let customers “taste test” their HVAC system and spread awareness?

Orville Became the Brand

Orville had a premium product that people loved, but it took him becoming the brand to make his popcorn a household name. He kept working and selling his product until he eventually consulted a marketing professional.

Create a list of creative ways to prove to potential customers that you are different. 

This specialist looked at Orville’s situation from another perspective. He saw the obvious solution that Orville couldn’t see. He advised Orville to put his name and picture on the jars of popcorn. Orville thought the idea was ridiculous but followed the advice anyway. Soon, Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn became world famous.

The product was the same. Nothing changed. It just took Orville’s name and likeness to become the brand that set him apart from the others that looked so similar. It’s funny how HVAC companies are the same way.

If you take one thing from this article, remember that you’re more than an equipment “dealer,” just like Orville was more than a popcorn provider. He brought his personality, expertise, and years of experimentation and refinement to the forefront with help from his marketing friends.

In the daily grind of the HVAC industry, you are the brand. Like Orville, you also have to figure out how to get that message to the public. 

In the daily grind, Orville forgot how special what he did was. It took an outsider to help him see it. In the daily grind of the HVAC industry, you are the brand. Like Orville, you also have to figure out how to get that message to the public. They need to know why your products and services are better. They need to understand the specific advantages you deliver to them that others cannot.

Action Step Two: Get another piece of paper and a pencil. Go back to the same distraction-free place and write down what sets you apart from every other HVAC company in your area. Make a bulleted list of everything that makes you unique from a customer’s viewpoint. What do you do that serves a customer well? Capture all your ideas and soon begin to see what makes your company the brand.

Make Your Brand Pop

Whether you realize it or not, safety, health, and comfort are the primary products you provide your customers. It’s not a metal box with wiring, controls, and refrigerant. While important, these are the components you assemble to deliver the results your customers expect. It takes your knowledge and skill to assemble these components correctly under various challenging circumstances. You either bring the equipment to life or you prematurely kill it.

How well do you show customers how to get what they want instead of simply telling them?

How well do you show customers how to get what they want instead of simply telling them? You can follow Orville’s lead and use diagnostic testing and measurements to help customers see your difference and prove the results. It won’t always be easy, so you must believe in your product and work tirelessly to master your craft.

Many customers want a premium product, but you may fall short of communicating the difference like Orville. How easy do you make it for them to understand your differences? Do you look the same, hand out equipment literature, and regurgitate the same canned sales pitches as other HVAC companies? If you answered yes, maybe it’s time to follow Orville Redenbacher’s lead and become the brand.

David Richardson serves the HVAC industry as Director of Training for the National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI). NCI specializes in training focusing on improving, measuring, and verifying HVAC and Building Performance.

If you’re an HVAC contractor or technician interested in learning more about how to prove your HVAC systems are the best, contact David at ncilink.com/ContactMe or call 800-633-7058. NCI’s website, www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com, contains free technical articles and downloads to help you improve your professionalism and strengthen your company.

About the Author

David Richardson | Director, technical curriculum

David Richardson serves the HVAC industry as director of technical curriculum at National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI), Avon, Ohio. NCI specializes in training that focuses on improving, measuring, and verifying HVAC and Building Performance.