I'M a heating guy. I know how it's all supposed to work. I shouldn't have to know how the contractor is supposed to go to market, right?
Well, I'm also a heating guy who's been around a while — and has seen a lot. I know that what sells here in southern Ohio may not sell in other parts of the United States. But the common denominator, wherever your business is located, is that as a hydronics contractor, you use water to move around heat.
It's that simple. Water does a great job of moving around heat, because you can pack tons of Btu into relatively small pipes.
Contractors can make that water do wonderful things in commercial buildings. You can heat, cool, humidify or dehumidify the air to make these buildings more comfortable than they've ever been. It's a great time to be indoors — or outdoors on a plaza in Vail, Colo., that has a hot water snow-melt system.
Through all my years as a heating guy, I've observed what successful contractors do to win those top commercial hydronics jobs. I've noticed that, in order to get the "good" work — the kind that can make them money, job after job — the successful contractor will use a simple, three-step approach: prepare, partner and prove.
Prepare to sell. Research what type of hydronic equipment, or design, is working well in your area. A local industry group such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America is a good resource for this information. Go to the meetings and talk to the members. They'll love to describe in detail what they used on their last "good" job.
The power of a satisfied customer's own words is amazing.
Also, check out the Internet. Contractors exchange information on many Websites about how well, or poorly, their systems are working. You can get a lot of information by reading about what other contractors from across the United States are talking about. If you post a question of your own, you'll learn even more.
Be sure to document all your past successes with photos — a digital camera is a bargain these days. Make up a binder, or PowerPoint presentation, with the photos. You'll want this later to help sell jobs.
Don't forget to collect testimonials. The power of a satisfied customer's own words is amazing.
Use the equipment and/or the design you're recommending in your own home or shop. Become an enthusiast. Be able to explain the advantages in plain, but passionate, English. Potential customers will take notice. Be ready to give the customer the tour, literally or figuratively.
Partner with good design/build general contractors in your area. They're constantly working on new commercial buildings. Review with them some of their past and future jobs. Find out what is important about each building's function. Present hydronic systems to them that are better than what they're currently using.
Ask general contractors if you can sit in on the meetings they have with new owner-occupants. Listen to the owner-occupants' expectations for the indoor comfort systems. Prompt them with questions. Do they want zoning? Do they want a green building? Are there large exposures of glass? Adapt your design to meet their needs.
Remember, this is about the customers' desires, not yours. As the customers answer your questions, they're telling you which options to include in your quote. Let customers decide what's needed. They'll be willing to include your equipment, if they actually picked it out.
Prove the benefits of your hydronic system design. Have data or documentation to show efficiency, indoor air quality, comfort, initial cost, control advantages or whatever it is that's important to the owner-occupant of that new building.
You can collect that information from current installations. You can work up a spreadsheet to show projected results. You can collect trade magazine articles or manufacturer's case studies that are similar to your application. Just have it on paper or computer. People are more willing to believe the written result than just a spoken promise.
Lately there seems to be a shift going on in the United States. Customers are not making up their own minds anymore. They're letting others do it for them. I think it started with Consumer Reports, but now is driven by eBay.
Buyers are checking what other customers are saying first before making a purchase. People are buying products, or using companies, that are getting good reviews.
This is where your collection of testimonials that you prepared comes in. Wait to show it at the close. It's excellent proof that someone else believes your system is as good as you've been saying it is.
You've shown your enthusiasm for the technology by using it yourself. You've adapted the hydronic design to the building's function. You've included the items that the owner-occupant has decided are necessary. You've proven your equipment's performance. Now bring out your reviews, and let the customer finalize the sale.
Patrick Linhardt is the hydronic heating division manager at Habegger Corp. — Carrier Division in Cincinnati. To order his book, "Linhardt's Field Guide to Steam Heating," visit www.steamupairoutwaterback.com, or call 513/703-5347.