These days, it’s not enough for a contractor to just list its HVAC services – a firm can catch more business if it can explain how it can make a home “perform” better, so that it’s not only more efficient, but also more comfortable, healthier, and safer.
But if everyone is purporting to have this expertise, how does a contractor stand out among its competitors?
Several contractors who have been successful in this niche say they don’t necessarily even have to utter the words, “home performance,” on customer service calls – though it’s helpful to mention the term on a firm’s website in case people are specifically searching for that.
Zero In On The Why
The most important message to convey to would-be customers is to zero in on why it’s so important that their families live in the healthiest, safest, most comfortable environment as they can – and most people will see that the contractor is committed to going beyond just installing equipment.
Rob Minnick, president of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, MD, believes his firm demonstrates that commitment in all its messaging, particularly with the tagline, “Healthy Homes, Healthy Living.”
“Most homeowners are unaware their homes are making them and their family sick, so they are not searching for contractors to fix this issue,” Minnick says. “This is why we need to educate homeowners and give them proof as they will think it is just another sales pitch.”
The company’s website describes “The Scientific Method of Whole-Home Comfort,” explaining why the HVAC unit “isn’t always the culprit.” The contractor then details the various analyses that its technicians can perform on service calls to develop a “wholehome action plan.”
“While our skilled, trained, and friendly HVAC technicians are able to fix common heating and cooling issues, we really shine when it comes to getting you more comfortable in your entire home,” the website reads. “Is there a room or a floor of your home that doesn’t feel right? Does your house smell musty? Even the most energy efficient equipment won’t work optimally if your whole home heating and cooling system is not addressed.”
“It’s important to look at your entire home as a heating and cooling system,” the website continues. “A healthy home means healthy living.”
Minnick’s also posts articles on its blog about health issues within homes, with such titles as “How To Control Asthma The Right Way: 10 Step Plan,” and “How To Control Mold Problems In Your Home.” On service calls, the firm’s technicians ask questions pertaining to health, such as inquiring whether anyone in the home has asthma or allergies – which then leads to discussions about how the firm can help reduce problems.
Minnick believes the laser focus on health helps the firm stand out among its competitors.
“I have not seen any HVAC home performance contractors marketing Healthy Homes, Healthy Living — though more may start as it is growing in the home performance market,” he says. “They focus on energy efficient systems, which to me is focusing on the wrong ball. I believe the correct ball to focus is on health, comfort and safety, and then energy efficiency will happen. It will not happen in reverse.”
Incentives Can Help
Hal Smith, chief executive officer of HALCO in Phelps, NY believes his firm stands out among competitors in the home performance space by being able to turn nearly every call into a no-cost energy audit. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority pays contractors $250 to perform each audit, from monies collected from surcharges on utility bills.
“We tell them, as long as they’re already paying for it, it makes sense to get it done,” Smith says.
During the audits, HALCO technicians use blower doors and conduct leakage tests to determine how airtight the home is and whether the insulation is appropriate. “A lot of time we can then turn a $5,000 furnace sale into a $15,000 sale that includes new insulation, duct cleaning and duct sealing,” Smith says.
The firm cross-markets the audits between its departments, including plumbing. On all service calls, HALCO technicians provide a survey for customers asking them, “Do you have any idea how much insulation you have? Would you like a no-cost audit?”
On the home page of HALCO’s website, the firm makes clear that Energy Star rates it as a top-rated home performance contractor explaining the significance: “Whether you have a problem with your heating system, or you’re looking for ways to make your home more comfortable or lower your energy bills, we’re your expert!”
Underneath is an invitation to “Learn More,” in which HALCO displays the interiors of a home with scroll-over messages about all of the home performance services the contractor provides.
HALCO’s website also posts customer testimonials, in which people can search by zip code. The firm’s staff take their laptops on calls, and show prospects testimonials from their neighbors.
“We do a lot of referral-based business, and we really work on keeping a customer for life,” Smith says.
HALCO also discusses its home performance expertise at events throughout its 17-county market, setting up exhibit booths at bridal shows and even horse shows. Emphasizing the no-cost audits makes the difference, he says.
“This is what distinguishes our firm: I don’t think most competitors that do home performance work set up audits unless people ask for them specifically,” Smith says.
Comfort Is King
Steve Saunders, CEO of Tempo Mechanical and Tempo Service in Irving, TX, says the firm adopted home performance in the mid-2000s, with the value proposition of enabling customers to have lower utility bills, as utility costs were rapidly rising in the area.
“But then the natural gas fracking boom hit, and all of a sudden energy costs were dirt cheap, and no one really cared that much about the need for energy efficiency,” Saunders says. “So our value proposition for home performance changed to being able to make the home comfortable. And, frankly, while not as ‘urgent’ as rapidly rising prices, it is the more durable long-term value proposition.”
For example, Tempo had a client who had bought very expensive 20 SEER HVAC equipment from another company and expected significant reductions on his utility bills and improvements in his comfort as “advertised” and as “sold” by the installing contractor. To his disappointment, there was no impact on his utility bill or comfort.
Sometime later he was referred to Tempo, and on the service call, the firm’s sales leader performed a whole-home audit and quoted a duct replacement. A year later, the customer wrote Tempo a satisfaction letter, “when he was sitting in his home office working and he was decidedly chilly.”
“As he went to increase the temperature on his thermostat, he discovered that the thermostat was already set at 78 degrees,” Saunders says. “It was then that he realized that we really had solved his comfort and utility bill problem.”
The expensive HVAC units were now operating properly and removing humidity, the ducts were properly sized and sealed and no longer adding heat from the attic — and the entire system was operating like he wanted and he was finally getting his money’s worth.
In addition to testimonials, Tempo also explains on its website how an employee-owned company can make a difference in the quality of home performance work:
“Employee owners care more about your home, your comfort and your continued satisfaction. Our employees understand your home as a unified system. If your comfort problem is not a result of your air conditioning and heating system they will tell you so.”
Tempo has received an average satisfaction rating of 4.7 out of 5 on customer surveys conducted after service calls, and an average rating of 4.9 on online surveys.
“A huge part of the deal is to be credible,” Saunders says. “We work hard to maintain a reputation for quality and client responsiveness.”