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Make Home Performance Work For You

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So you heard about Home Performance in all the magazines, at tradeshows, and from other contractors; and you heard it was the right thing to do for your customers and could increase your average ticket and even PROFIT!  So you decided to go ahead and get you or your staff trained on the technical side and you surely learned a lot of new and different concepts.  And if you were you like me you may have had a few “AH-HA!” moments about how you should be doing things different technically.  And after spending several days in training, thinking about new technical concepts, studying for certification tests, doing practice audits on friends and neighbors homes, figuring out how to apply your new technical concepts in real world applications, updating staff on the new ideas, all while trying to remember which hose from the manometer goes where when, you may have had another “AH-HA!” moment.  That one being that they didn’t mention how to market, sell, or implement this administratively in the technical training you just went to.

Your Customer’s Don’t Know What Home Performance Is, So Don’t Try to Market It to Them!

The term Home Performance (HP) is a word contractors use with each other, not a term consumers are aware of.  It has been around a long time, and it has never really caught on, the concepts are great, and the work that us HP guys do greatly benefits our customers comfort, energy conservation, and safety, so they like Home Performance, but they don’t know what it is.  Admit it, the first time you heard someone talking about HP, you didn’t know what it was, so why would we expect our customers to?

I’m in one of the more active HP markets being in South Jersey, with a state HP Program with incentives and the program that does some advertising of “Home Performance,” and when the program first started so did the contractors.  The original contractor base was mixed between HVAC contractors and insulation contractors and while some contractors offered free energy audits, some others offered discounted “Comprehensive Energy Assessments,” and others offered percentages off “Home Performance Upgrades,” or others (me) only talked about energy savings due to Home Performance.  And while all of the HP contractors were doing well, it started to become clear that the HVAC guys who were the relative newcomers to the HP arena, were doing the majority of the work in the program.  And us HVAC to HP converts started to realize that the leads were not coming in from our “Home Performance” marketing, but from our conventional advertising, word of mouth, and service contract customers.  Despite all of the marketing of HP, over 90% of the leads coming in were for heating and/or AC, not home performance or energy audits.

As HVAC contractors we had the reason for people to call us to serve their HVAC needs, and then we explain the comfort, efficiency, and safety benefits of HP to the customer at the kitchen table, and that is how to market Home Performance as an HVAC contractor.  In my experience, those things are very hard to convey in an advertisement, or with the words Home Performance.

Implementing and Administering HP seems more difficult than HVAC, How do I do it? And Why Would I?

Implementing and Administering HP is more difficult than traditional HVAC only (which was never easy to begin with) but it’s supposed to be, and that’s a good thing!  As the saying goes, “if it was easy anybody could do it!”  The good news is that because it is harder and everyone won’t do it, you will elevate your company and will be facing more “good completion.”  Most likely you will initially have a slow transition into HP, so as long as you have a champion behind it you shouldn’t need additional staff at first to carry the extra administrative burden.  When it does take off, your average tickets should be up considerably, and hopefully profits, so the extra staffer shouldn’t be an issue.

I want to mention that there are different ways to successfully deliver HP, my company is in the minority in our market in that when we started in HP we started our own insulation and air sealing division and eventually acquired a plumbing contractor, so we sell and deliver most services ourselves,  and we (along with many others across the nation) are successful with that model.  Others in my market and around the country are very successful selling the full suite of HP services, but only delivering the HVAC, and subcontracting the other services.  Do what makes the most sense for your situation.  Either way be sure to structure it so that both the company and the sales staff profit equally off the new services as the HVAC services, or it won’t work.  There will be instances where there will be customer choices between mechanical and insulation upgrades and you want to have your staff incentivized to give the right advice, and make sure it doesn’t hurt the company’s bottom line.

On the administrative side, my advice would be the same, there are different approaches that can work and some that probably won’t.  In our company we have used 2 different approaches on the auditing/administrative side, both of which have been successful for us.  When we initially got involved in HP I was the champion and did all of the auditing, the energy saving modeling and recommendations, and would perform the quality control checks on the projects.  This worked very well as I was aware of every project and nothing got “lost in translation,” and we had a very smooth launch into HP.  However, as I have other responsibilities in the company (like finding out why that HP marketing wasn’t working) this model eventually proved unsustainable and we brought on a full time energy auditor, and divided up some other responsibilities amongst other staff.  This model also works very well, as at our size we have one auditor that also processes all of the audits in the modeling software and works with the sales staff.  I want to stress that what we don’t do is have an auditor or a salesman give the information to a secretary to enter into the modeling software, just because it is in a computer.  Nothing against my or anyone else’s secretary or CSR’s, but it is an unfair thing to ask them to do if they have none of the technical knowledge, and modeling a house you have never seen from paper is not easy to begin with.  I tried it for 2 weeks and it was a nightmare and I know several others that wondered why they had so many issues with modeling and paperwork and that always seemed to be the common denominator.  If you are a very large company and you have a dedicated staff person that does only software modeling and HP paperwork it could work, I know of a friendly competitor that is very successful with that approach, but you need that scale, and a technically trained person in the office that is dedicated to that task to make it work.

On the quality control side you could use your auditor or one or two senior techs or staffer to check a sampling of jobs after everyone (including subcontractors) are out, and it’s important no one checks their own work.  Our insulation crew is always the last one on site so we have that crew QA every job for audit info, health and safety, mechanical and plumbing, and we spot check the insulation work on a random basis. This is important, as it helps keep customers happy, help keeps your company from getting involved in litigation, and if you are involved in any 3rd party Quality Assurance Program, it is better to catch your own mistakes than have them catch them!

More Complicated Work, More Complicated Regulations, Get Involved!

This is not a shameless plug for ACCA, but is actually how I became involved in ACCA and Efficiency First.  There are a lot of regulations in HVAC at the Federal, State, Local, & Utility levels, and when you add Home Performance into the mix it gets even more complicated.  Especially if you are involved in a state or Utility HP Program, talk to your fellow contractors and see what common ground you have as far as what is working for the program (and your business) and what is not.  Believe it or not, I was surprised to find out that most program administrators, government offices, and politicians are desperate for consensus contractor input, so get involved and while HP is a little harder, you can try to make it as easy as possible.  I have found my time invested in trade associations to be time well spent and sound investments.

Brian Bovio
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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