Making Your Name In Home Performance
To stand out in home performance, contractors have adopted a variety of strategies—from online and radius marketing to customer education and referrals. Here’s a sampling of successful strategies from four experts.
Comfort Becomes the Motivator
An early adopter in the home performance market, Steve Saunders, CEO of Tempo, Inc., in Irving, TX, has changed his marketing strategy with the times.
“In the late 2000s, the real opportunity in the home performance market was price driven,” he says. “Utility prices were going up on a frequent basis. It was all we could do to keep up with demand and the fear of rising prices. When the price of natural gas collapsed, price wasn’t a good motivator. We had to reformulate our strategy not around dollar savings, but on comfort.”
In his opinion, comfort is hard to sell in a magazine or newspaper advertisement. “That’s a referral business,” he claims. “A lot of what we do are referrals. We focus on client satisfaction, which is the key to attracting and retaining business.”
He estimates his company has more than 1,300 positive online comments on the Tempo website, which show up in a Google search. “That’s what a lot of America does today to check if a potential provider is acceptable,” he says. “They want to know what other people say.”
The company, which has 172 employees and total sales in 2015 reaching $34 million, markets home performance as part of a set of comprehensive services, not as a stand-alone business. “It’s conducted as a request,” he explains. “If people have problems or concerns, it often leads to an HVAC install. A comprehensive audit is where we pull out the big guns and do a whole home analysis.”
Occasionally, his company is called in after another company has completed an HVAC install and problems persist. “People might put in very efficient air conditioning systems, and the high utility bills continue or the hot and cool spots continue. What we find is sometimes it’s the equipment and sometimes it’s the thermal bypasses. Often, it’s a little of all sorts of things.”
Pay Per Click Pays Off
A-1 Certified Service in Knoxville, TN, saw a big upswing in home performance in February, thanks largely to online marketing, reports Michele Thomas, owner. “Ninety percent of our retail leads come in through pay per click,” she says. “We’re not doing any radio or television advertising.”
When people within a 50-mile radius of the company Zip Code type in “attic insulation” or “duct sealing”, the A-1 name pops up on their computers, she says.
“You want to tighten up that envelope and reduce the loss of energy going through that home,” she explains. “We are hearing on our retail side that many of these customers have called other companies and didn’t get a response or got a quote but no information to educate the homeowner. We’re finding we are a niche.”
The company, which employs 14, has $2 million in total sales, about 25 percent of which is related to home performance. Thomas indicates a sizeable chunk of that business can be attributed to the company’s participation as a contractor in local, state, and federal programs designed to save energy.
For example, the company is an approved contractor for the eScore tm, a program developed in conjunction with the local power company and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), as well as TVA’s Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM), which provides $15 million to upgrade for 1,200 Section 8 homes in Knoxville to reduce energy consumption and increase in-home comfort.
“These are people who don’t have the income to repair their houses. They can’t afford the energy upgrades to reduce their utility bills. The goal is to reduce the customer’s energy consumption by 25 percent,” Thomas says, which may require attic insulation, air sealing, a new duct system, and/or a new heat pump.
They Go Together
For Rob Minnick, every sale is a home performance sale. “I will not just replace the HVAC equipment,” says the CEO/president of Minnick’s, Inc., in Laurel, MD. “All of our system replacements come with a performance audit. I would not be serving the customer well by replacing the unit without an audit.”
At this 62-year-old family business with $2 million in sales and 12 employees, home performance is not an add-on service. It’s the model.
“I’ve been in this trade for 35 years,” Minnick explains. “When I was introduced to home performance 10 years ago, I realized what the HVAC industry had been missing. My outlook: Home performance and HVAC go together. They are not two different industries. If we have no idea how the home is performing, how can we condition it correctly?”
To market the business, Minnick relies on two trusted sources: referrals from satisfied customers and his own professional technicians. “As everyone knows, HVAC technicians are in a homeowner’s home more than any contractor,” he says. “We’re there doing maintenance twice a year. Our technicians are the trusted advisors to homeowners. As trusted advisors, homeowners listen to them.”
In 2016, he is planning a direct mail campaign that concentrates on air quality and health concerns, particularly as it relates to asthma. He attributes his focus to the results of a study in Australia indicting that home performance has a direct impact on emergency room visits, prescriptions, time off work, and doctor visits. “We are getting ready to do a case study on 24 homes that have asthma children living in them.”
Connect With the Homeowner
Before you can become a superstar in home performance, you have to understand exactly what it is, insists Jeremy Begley, home performance consultant, HVAC 2 Home Performance, Cincinnati, OH.
“Home performance really means the whole house system,” he says. “Instead of trying to go into a home and replace equipment or modify ductwork, you have to look at everything and solve the problems that are there. You have to understand what the person actually needs in the home.”
Once you have that down, the next step is to connect with homeowners by finding out their needs: “Is it comfort or high bills or air quality?” he asks.
“If you’re doing the home performance right, you’re going to make that house more comfortable than it ever has been before. You’re going to solve issues.”
He has seen situations in which several different contractors attempted to fix a problem but only after a contractor evaluated the situation from a home performance standpoint was the problem fixed correctly.
“People remember that and think, ‘Wow, this guy was different.’ That a-ha moment is what we want to capture,” he says. “Once you’ve fixed the problem, get that in writing on one of the review sites. It will go a long way to standing out in the industry.” In additional to your own website, he recommends Google, Angie’s List, and Yelp.
Begley is also partial to what he calls “basic guerrilla tactics” which he defines as radius marketing. “If you’re in the neighborhood, put up a yard sign that says what you’re doing,” he says. “Knock on six of the doors and pass out material saying, “We were in the neighborhood and your neighbor had this comfort problem. This is what we are doing about it. Radius marketing works very well.”
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