ALBUQUERQUE, NM - "If it's cold, we'll be busy. And if we have a hot summer, we'll be doing great." Sound familiar? David Holt, Ultimate Service Systems, has heard this statement from many residential hvac contractors.

You don't wait for your truck to break down before you go shopping for a new one, do you? So why do you let the weather dictate how much business you'll do today, or whether you'll have a good first quarter, or even a good year?

Holt told ACCA contractors at last year's national convention that letting weather drive your business is a way of thinking that is clearly outmoded and doesn't translate profitably into today's marketplace. Holt also spoke on this subject at last month's SMACNA convention in Hawaii, at the Residential Contractors Forum. He focused his talk on websites, the Internet, and "Technology 2000 for the Residential Contractor."

"Typically, hvac sales cycles are driven by extremes in the weather," said Holt.

As Holt pointed out, this can make too many contractors weather-dependent. But when mild weather sets in, it's tough to keep everyone busy, maybe even tough to pay your bills.

Does this sound like you?

Holt said this goes back to the days when most air conditioning contractors didn't need marketing, often selling their wares to builders over the hood of their pickup trucks, right on the jobsite.

Today, in commercial work air conditioning is a given, and many homeowners are into their second or third generations of equipment.

"We're more sophisticated marketers because most of our sales are made face-to-face with the end-users of our comfort systems," he said.

Good' service isn't enough

Nor is it enough to provide good, basic service, Holt said. In the future, the most successful hvac contractors will install custom-manufactured modules to create highly automated, "ultimate" indoor comfort systems.

"Our entire business will revolve around providing customers with the ultimate service experience," Holt said. Ultimate, as in none better.

Why? you might ask. Isn't it enough to provide adequate service without going that extra mile? Consider the fact that satisfied, happy customers pay their bills - usually in full and on time! Cash flow in our business is like blood flow in our body, according to Holt. If we don't have good blood flow, we'll have real bad health and probably die prematurely. Merely providing adequate service leaves little incentive for the customer to pay promptly, or even on time. They tend to let these type bills languish in their usual stack of "things to do" when they get around to it.

Happy customers also will refer you more work, which in turn helps grow a strong business for many years to come! Which is better, a yellow page lead or a referral from a super-satisfied customer?

"Our industry started out as manufacturers and installers of components that we combined in the field to create a basic, functional system," he continued. "We considered 'service' to be a cost center, not a profit center, because it was primarily set up to handle warranty calls. There was very little competition."

That has completely changed. Service provides the highest profits, and this being the case, competition is intense. Since that's so, contractors need to identify their target market - the consumers they most want to work with.

Defining the customer

Target your customers, he said, by knowing your customers. Not every buyer is the same. Consider the age of the homeowners, their income level, number of children, education levels, etc.

Consider the state of their home; are there hot spots or cold spots? What type of hvac system is already there?

How long do they plan to stay in their present home? Does anyone suffer from allergies? Does dust reappear quickly after cleaning the house?

Don't go into a potential sales situation believing that add-ons, such as humidifiers, electronic air cleaners, and energy recovery ventilators, are too expensive or unnecessary. If you do, the customer quickly picks up on this attitude and you've already talked yourself out of additional profit opportunities.

Different questions should be asked when making commercial service calls: Is the company locally owned and operated? Does it have multiple locations? Does it own its buildings or are they leasing? Does it use purchase orders?

Once you have answers to these questions, it will help you tailor your sales approach and better serve their particular needs, rather than attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all approach that often fails.

Home and garden shows and home improvement shows work for many contractors as a means of getting homeowners to think about replacing their systems before they fail.

Use your company newsletter to present your company's best face, and to let customers know about some of your employees.

Consider contacting a local newspaper, TV station, or radio show to discuss indoor air quality.

And don't forget the Internet - not just your own website, but links from other sites that can be valuable in drawing in today's savvy, net-surfing consumers.

With all of this in place, and with the use of service-maintenance contracts, you can even out your seasonal workload and keep your profits flowing year-round.