NEWNAN, GA. — Tim Uzar has been in the heating and AC business since 1995, but didn’t decide to start his own company, EcoMech Geothermal & Mechanical, until last December.
“I got tired of making everyone else money,” Uzar said.
While some contractors might be wary of starting a new business while the hangover from the recession is lingering, Uzar points out that a lot of great companies were started in the darkest days of the Great Depression.
Uzar and his six-man shop serves the Metro Atlanta area and surrounding municipalities in mainly the Metro Columbus area, the Metro LaGrange area and the Metro Macon area.
Uzar got into the green side of the business in 2007 when he began building custom green homes. He treated that phase of his career as a learning opportunity.
“I surrounded myself with the best and the brightest,” Uzar said. “I learned from some very good people. I’ve taken many continuing education classes; I’ve got about 13 certifications including state licenses. All that has been very expensive and time-consuming, but it’s worth it.”
The range of services EcoMech provides to its clients includes radiant floor heating systems, ductless split systems, air purification systems, humidification and dehumidification, fresh air ventilation systems, exhaust systems, chilled water, duct cleaning, solar water heaters, solar panels, spray foam insulation and rainwater collection systems. In addition, he offers his service as a consultant performing energy audits and design services for LEED and Earth Craft House projects.
Uzar wanted his company to offer a wide array of different types of services. Over the course of his career he had seen too many companies that kept plugging away, only taking the same kind of work, the same types of jobs over and over, all the while watching their client base dwindle away as the market got tougher.
“I have a saying,” Uzar said, “‘if all you do is what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve always got.’ If people want to differentiate themselves, they need to get out of their comfort zones and try something different. I don’t have 700 competitors in the city of Atlanta, the way I would if I were a plain-Jane AC company. Instead, I have maybe six – which in my opinion is more than enough.”
Understanding your clients
The key to marketing his specialized services has been an understanding of his potential clients and their motivations. People and organizations turn to green systems for a variety of reasons, some of which defy the conventional wisdom.
“There’s the granola crowd,” Uzar explained, “the people who just want to do the right thing and see going green as a part of that.”
This segment is motivated by wider concerns: air and water quality, global warming, and even how the national dependency on fossil fuels affects foreign policy.
Then there are customers motivated by dollars and cents. They are willing to spend extra now on high-efficiency systems in return for long-term savings. Most of these clients are concerned that energy prices look as if they will continue to climb for the foreseeable future. Most also have in mind tax incentives being offered by local, state or federal agencies.
Economics is the primary factor for most commercial green jobs. Monetary savings is also the selling point that can be most clearly articulated. If the contractor can perform a heat-loss calculation, then he can create a yearly savings estimate.
For another set of customers, money is not that much of an issue. For them, the thought process is similar to purchasing luxury goods.
“They want the quality, durability and longevity,” Uzar said, “and in come cases they actually want the bling. They want the solar panels and water heaters just for bragging rights. You get all types.”
A given customer, Uzar said, can have any combination of motives for going green.
To find those customers, EcoMech puts in a strong presence at all the home shows in its working area. Uzar has also done some direct mailing and maintains an optimized company website. But (as with most contractors) word-of-mouth is his strongest marketing asset.
“We’ve got a very good word-of-mouth reputation,” Uzar said. “Ninety percent of the referrals turn into jobs, whereas about 1% of cold calls turn into jobs.”
Contributing real value
The key to that strong reputation has been offering his customers real value. That value is always a function of the customer’s motivations — energy savings, environmental concerns, bragging rights, etc., — but if the contractor fails to deliver, their company will pay the price.
And those contractors that tout themselves as green but don’t deliver are chasing the short money at the expense of the long. As soon as the national media began running stories about the benefits of green systems,
“Everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon because they saw it as a marketing opportunity,” Uzar said.
Unfortunately, many of those contractors who advertised themselves as green had little or nothing to back up their claims.
“To my way of thinking, a 16-SEER heat pump is not green. A 35-SEER geothermal heat pump is,” said Uzar. “So I think it’s been played a little bit, and it’s given green a derogatory meaning because people have been abusing the name.”
In spite of the backlash, Uzar believes that the future of home heating and cooling is inevitably trending green. For one thing, the economics of the national energy supply simply demand it. For another, the technology is proven, and slowly becoming more and more available.
“If you look at what they’re doing in Europe, green is the standard over there,” Uzar said. “When you buy a home you get a solar water heater in your home — it’s not some fantastic upgrade.”
And that is what Uzar believes green will one day be here in the U.S. — the standard.
“If more contractors are able to embrace these technologies,” Uzar said, “then America will be better off for it.”