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Time to Show Off

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With six locations in southern Ohio, Accurate Mechanical signs up for 15 to 20 home shows annually. “We’re in multiple rural markets, and we try to be present in the majority of our communities,” explains Michael Linton, co-owner of the company with its headquarters in Chillicothe. “Home shows are pretty popular for us.  They have been a good source of business.”

He adds that chamber fairs and home and garden shows are also a way to support the local community. “We’re community people,” he explains. “We support schools. Neither my partner nor I are in this for the money. We do it because we love the business and serving people.

Linton usually reserves a 10 X 20 booth, rather than a 10 X 10, in order to display more products.  “Home and garden shows are usually in the spring so we do heat pumps, air conditioners, furnaces, and plumbing components, such as sump pumps,” he says.  “If given the opportunity, we do demonstrations.”

Sometimes the company sets up a heat pump blowing cold air.  “When it starts to get hot, people like to come and stand in front of it, and we get to talk to them,” he says.  “We have also had an operating geothermal system that we can switch back and forth between heating and cooling.  That always amazes people.  One time they walk by, it’s hot.  The next time they walk by, it’s cool.”

To generate excitement and booth traffic, the company provides giveaways that range from heating and cooling equipment to a weekend at Linton’s personal cabin in a nearby resort area.  Bryant, a major supplier, also provides 500 balloons.  “It’s old school but the balloons really differentiate us,” he says.  “They really grab the kids’ attention and allow us to generate a conversation with the folks. Plus, they float above everybody else.”

While he thinks some contractors may hesitate to take the plunge because of the cost, Linton believes buying show space has paid off for his company. “The first year may be a breakeven proposition, but it has clearly been worth our investment of time and money to participate. We consistently generate 10 to 20 quality leads from a two-day show, and 75 percent of those lead to a sale.”

Linton admits that quite a bit of planning is required to pull off a successful entry into a show.  “We have four regions in our company, and the regional managers are responsible for the shows.  They make sure all of the collateral, equipment, backdrops, and signs are there.  Initially, that can be a big effort.”  He explains that a checklist helps organize the process so nothing is forgotten.

Accurate Mechanical, dba as Accurate Heating and Cooling, has 120 employees and an annual revenue of about $20 million.  In its 41st year, the company does 55 percent commercial and 45 residential and 70 percent HVAC and 30 percent plumbing.

A Low-Key Approach

Butch Welsch, president, Welsch Heating and Cooling Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, takes a low-key approach to home shows.  “We are a high quality organization and not high-pressure sales,” he explains.  “We don’t stand in the aisles and trip people as they go by to get them to buy a furnace or air conditioner.  We have an attractive booth and encourage people to come in but we don’t have people write their names down and bug them afterward.”

The primary reason his company has participated in shows for at least five decades is to keep the company’s name in front of the public. “We’ve been doing this so long that if we don’t do it people might think we’re out of business,” he says.  “There have been times when we participated more as a defensive move than an offensive move.”

The company, which has 90 employees, does mostly residential, with 60 percent service and replacement, 30 percent new construction, and 10 percent architectural sheet metal, such as copper roofing, gutters, and downspouts.  Last year, the company set a record with over $17 million in sales.  Welsch expects similar results in 2018.

Each year, Welsch tries to display something different at the shows.  For example, this year, a 1948 red company truck became a prominent feature in the company’s booth. “Furnaces and air conditioners, as nice as they have been for my family for 123 years, are not very glamorous,” he says.

Two or three knowledgeable salespeople usually staff the booth.  “We work in shifts that are usually about three hours,” he says.  “Saturday afternoons and evenings are always the busiest times so we typically have three people there then.”

The company normally buys a 10 X 20 booth because the furnaces and air conditioners require more space than a 10 X 10 can provide. He points out that “the cost of operating the booth, setting it up, and having people there typically exceeds the booth cost.”

According to Welsch, planning is critical.  “Anybody who is going to be in a show needs to plan ahead,” he emphasizes.  “We reserve the space early because the saying, ‘Location, location, location’ is true in a home show.  Most shows give existing customers time to renew their previous space.  We typically take advantage of that.  We start planning six months out.”

His salespeople give out bright red bags—with the company named featured prominently—for attendees to put literature in. “You see them throughout the show because we are near the entry and people take one and use them,” he says.  “They’re a pretty nice bag so people don’t throw them away; they keep them and use them for groceries or other purposes.”

Enriching the Experience

To keep the public aware of his company and the products it handles, Robert Strang generally participates in three home shows each year.  The CEO of Air Conditioning Engineers in Shelby Township, Michigan, started his own HVAC business in 1969 after working in the industry for 11 years.

With decades of experience, he offers a variety of tips for improving your show experience:

Sign up early to get a good location.  Like most, he prefers a booth close to the entrance.

Keep your booth clean.  Nobody wants to enter a booth that is littered with trash.

Smile and remain standing.  “If you sit down, it will seem like you aren’t interested,” Strang says.  “Stand up and greet people as they go by, maybe handing out company brochures.”

Don’t overdo it with manufacturer brochures, although he suggests asking suppliers for help with interesting product displays.

Offer a promotion.  “One I’ve used successfully:  If prospects put their names down, they get 5 percent off their equipment if it is purchased in 30 days,” he says.

Don’t badmouth the competition.  It gives the industry a bad name.

Provide pricing guidelines.  People want a general idea of price.  According to Strang, you might say something like, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I see your house is 1,500 square feet so the furnace, parts, and labor would be in a range of $2,500 to $5,000.”

Take equipment panels off.  “Don’t just have a furnace sitting there without someone being able to look inside,” he says.

Qualify your customer right away.  If you’re in a big city and the show is crowded, you should find out quickly where potential customers live.  He explains that many of the people who attend shows in Detroit are from way up north. “If they don’t live in the area, they really aren’t prime prospects.”

Display a variety of products.  For example, he suggests including a boiler, humidifier, and mini split—operating if possible.

Invest in good signage.  Strange believes your company name should be printed in large letters so potential customers can see your sign across a crowded hall.

Pay attention to the time of year the show is being held.  “You can’t sell swimsuits in the middle of winter,” he emphasizes.  “The season is very important.”

Margo Vanover Porter
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Posted In: Sales & Marketing

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