To grow a bigger HVAC business, start by thinking smaller
“How do I grow my HVAC business and where do I start?” is one of the questions we hear most often when we’re talking with HVAC, plumbing, and electrical business owners at conferences and other events. The owners know the process of building a successful contracting business is complex and involves so many moving parts, but they ask us that question because they’re desperate about getting past square one.
Think small to get big
HVAC, plumbing, and electrical business owners who are eager to grow into regional leaders are often surprised when my immediate answer is that they need to think smaller. More specifically, I tell them their first step is to think local. Hyperlocal, in fact.
What does that mean? Let’s say you’re currently doing business in a nine-county metropolitan area surrounding a central city. You’re located in the southeast corner of that city, close to three nice suburbs — not mansions, but mostly nice single-family homes. Your vans can reach most of them within fifteen minutes.
Ignore conventional wisdom
Most so-called experts in this industry will talk about capturing as much business as possible across the entire metro area. But experience teaches me that — at this stage of your business — it’s better to concentrate on your backyard. What you really want to do is own that backyard. You look at a five-mile radius around your business, and it includes your part of the city and most of those three suburbs.
What do you do if your immediate backyard isn’t all that nice? Perhaps you’re in a declining corner of your city where homeowners are less willing to invest in decent HVAC equipment — but you’re a short way from some growing higher-income neighborhoods. Designate them as your backyard. You don’t need anyone’s permission to target them.
Two key reasons to own your backyard
Once you’ve identified your backyard, focus your marketing efforts tightly in that area. Make sure people know you’re the truly local contractor who knows Barnstable, or Barrington, or Canoga Park. Whatever your backyard may include, it’s critically important for a business at your stage to gain ownership. There are two reasons for that.
The Beehive Effect
First, is what’s known as a Beehive Effect. Worker bees may journey miles from their hive to find flowers, and you might see a random bee or two at the end of their range. But the closer you get to their hive, the more bees you’ll see. Come within a couple feet, and you’ll probably have to swat some away. Similarly, if most of your business is concentrated a short distance from your location, your presence will be much more noticeable. Homeowners will see your vans and your yard signs (especially if they’re distinctive and well-designed) everywhere they turn. Their neighbors must think highly of you if they’re trusting you to fix that furnace or replace that heat pump.
Why is that so important? Because when today’s homeowner needs service or a replacement, one of the first places they go is Google or one of those aggregators like Angi Ads or Angi Leads (what were Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor). Their search for “AC repair near me” or “local plumber” might bring three names to the top of their screen. If yours is one of them and you have that beehive presence, you’ll be their first call. But if you’re 30 miles away and they’ve never heard of your company, why would they choose you?
When the vast majority of your business is in your backyard, you’re making better use of your time. Sure, you’d be happy to fix that AC in that town that’s 90 minutes away, but if that’s the only call there this morning, your tech will lose three hours of potentially productive time getting there and back. That might mean the difference between making two service calls a day and three … or four. You know what that translates to in revenue and sales opportunities.
Secret to success
This isn’t magic. Your marketing is an investment in keeping the seats on your “bus” — your sales and service departments — full. You want your team busy and productive. Your salespeople may be able to make two calls a day and your service team may handle an average of three, so your marketing should focus on generating leads they can turn into sales and service calls.
Now, as awareness of your company grows, you’ll begin to focus more on branding. That’s when you take that reputation you’ve grown through a hyperlocal focus into neighboring communities. If you do good work, word of mouth will begin to feed growth, but generally by only a percentage point or two annually. That’s just not fast enough to achieve your goals. I don’t care what your specific goals may be, you won’t achieve them with that kind of growth.
Branding is a must
That’s when it will be time to increase the share of your marketing dollars focused on building the most effective brand to support your goals. Why is branding so important for a business like yours? Simple. It reduces your overall cost per opportunity. When you look at next year’s budget, you’re going to be more efficient and effective than you’ve been. And yes, that’s because of that elusive creature called branding.
Everything must support and enhance your brand, from the wraps on the vans, to the techs’ uniforms and the sales team’s shirt, to the new customer welcome packet. It’s far more important than most business owners realize, and far harder to do effectively than you assume. Having a marketing partner with a deep understanding of the challenges facing HVAC, plumbing, and electrical businesses will keep you steering in the right direction.
(P.S. You do need to invest at least some portion of your budget in branding from the start … even if you won’t jump in for a few years, you need to stick your toes in to see what it feels like.)
If you’d like to know more about Cornerstone, and how we work as your outsourced marketing department to help grow your business, contact email@example.com. Or you can call (317) 804-5640 x108.