BY SKIP SNYDER
Snyder Heating Company has been doing commercial hydronics, steam, and combustion work for more than 55 years, but we never jumped into the cooling side of the industry until about three years ago.
One of our best customers contacted us and said they were going to take our boiler work away unless we started doing their cooling work, too. That struck a chord with us. The more we thought about it, the more we saw an opportunity to grow sales, profits, and influence within our existing customer group, who already appreciate our service and professionalism.
At the same time, a cooling technician we knew was looking for a job; he was the right person at the right time. We hired him and also discovered that our highly skilled heating technicians already understood many of the skills required to service cooling systems.
Over the past three years, we found the money invested in educating employees and upgrading trucks and business equipment to provide heating services, lent itself to easily expand service, repair, and replacement in the cooling industry.
The best part is that our customers were astounded when they saw that we could deliver service within an hour or two of their call, even on the hottest days. And, now that our customers know that we also do cooling work, every summer we pick up four to five new cooling customers.
Over the years, we've spent a lot of money building our business and creating a top-notch organization. But, it wasn't until a few years ago that we realized all the opportunity we were missing out on by not offering cooling.
The same can be said for the cooling contractors. Too many walk away from the boiler room, and miss out on another avenue for additional business.
When you think about it, you've already been doing the rooftop and the chillers; it's not that big of a leap to go after the boilers, combustion systems, and temperature control systems.
Lack of Professionalism
When I started doing cooling work, I was most surprised by the total disregard that some contractors had for performing service work on a professional level. We serviced a 10-ton rooftop with a bad compressor, and when we opened it up we found two other compressors pushed to the back, because the last contractor didn't want to take them off the roof.
A lot of the customers we did boiler work for also had cooling contractors that were doing substandard work. So, they wanted us to look at their chillers. Of course, a lot of our customers also had good cooling contractors, and we'll never hear from them about their cooling problems.
Find Unhappy Boiler Customers
As cooling contractors, you probably have some customers that have a substandard contractor working on their boiler system. They're not happy with the work their boiler contractor is doing, but they're happy with the work you're doing on their chiller. Why not help them out in both areas? You already have an inside track at picking up that business.
Getting started is as simple as building a relationship with your customers. You also should have a basic understanding of the type of maintenance that should be done on boilers. Early on, make connections with boiler reps and manufacturers, the state boiler inspector, and the utilities.
All the information you need is out there for the asking. Contractors who are doing cooling work may be missing an opportunity to go on to the hydronics, steam, and combustion side of the industry.
The commercial boiler/ burner industry is an unusual market place; it has factory representatives, wholesalers, plumbers, handymen and "who knows what else" offering varying levels of service. From almost 40 years of service in the Philly, area I've seen it all. While there are some excellent contractors — true professionals who do the job "right" each time — the majority of contractors I've run across cut corners, live in a world of ignorance, and put property owners and building tenants at risk, while compromising insurance costs and damaging the industry's reputation.
Just think, as the summer winds down, you'll start preparing heating systems for the winter. The service and emergency repairs from those systems, will keep your organization running and providing year-round employment.
Your cost is not hiring new employees, just keeping current employees busy through cross-training and utilizing existing equipment. You may already offer hot-air furnace service, but boilers, pumps, piping, and heating system controls offer additional opportunities to expand your company's service offerings with minimal investment.
Based upon my experiences, I've learned that there's always room for improvement. Learn how your company can be more profitable by being on the leading edge.
Skip Snyder is owner of Snyder Company, Inc., Upper Darby, PA, a commercial heating and cooling company. To reach him, e-mail [email protected]