By <I>Juergen Kneifel</I>
Preventive maintenance is money well spent when you’re taking care of a home heating system.
Similar to cars that need the routine oil changes, furnaces require periodic cleaning, filter changes and tune-ups to maximize their efficiency. This attention to maintenance will pay off in the long run by extending the useful life of the furnace.
This basic service has become the fundamental building block to Cascade Heating and Air Conditioning’s growth strategy. Matt Swetman and Jeff Alfstad are partners with Cascade Heating and Air in Lake Stevens. The duo launched their business in May 2011 with the goal to build a profitable enterprise that also fit well with their collective 25 years of expertise in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
Starting a business during challenging economic times assumes a fair amount of risk. But this team is determined to chart a course with sound marketing strategy and a commitment towards sustainability by building a solid customer base.
At the start of heating season this last October, Cascade Heating and Air advertised their furnace tune-up service on Groupon, Living Social and Amazon Local. Certificates were sold online at $59 apiece, a 50 percent savings off the typical service call, to generate leads that connect new customers with Cascade.
Since all three online sources reach geographically defined targeted audiences, Cascade was successfully reaching the market that they serve; namely all of Snohomish county and pockets of north King county.
“With the certificates, we are not really making any money. Our goal is to build a client base. We’re not out to make a buck — we’re out to make a customer,” Swetman said. “The few units that we’ve run into that have required more attention were 15 to 20 years old and had been neglected.”
Swetman went on to say that roughly 5 percent of the units they service as a result of the certificates actually require greater attention or repair. In other words, this strategy is not at all a bait-and-switch. It’s more about prospecting and getting to know customers and their needs for reliable service both now and in the future.
The certificates directed customers to register their service appointment on the company’s website, CascadeHVAC.com, for scheduling. This provided opportunity for Alfstad and Swetman to coordinate inspections and tune ups in geographic clusters for greater efficiency.
“We sold over 1,200 certificates in the past six months,” Swetman said. “Since we’re in the field with customers, our website became the platform to help with coordination and to gather vital contact information and email addresses in order to follow through with our customers.”
“When we finish the furnace tune up, we always apply a business contact sticker to the furnace. If a customer ever needs to look us up, then our information is right on the unit and easy to access,” Swetman said.
However, since many homeowners wait until a unit fails before requesting a service call, these stickers typically only serve those customers in a time of crisis. A proactive plan that includes reaching out to the customers with reminder notices before their furnace fails is a great idea, especially if it can be done efficiently and at a reasonable cost.
With the help of Constant Contact, an online marketing company that caters to small businesses, Cascade plans to do just that: provide customers with follow up email reminders when it’s time to schedule their next periodic annual tune-up.
Dana Pethia, Constant Contact’s regional director for our area said, “Most small business owners are experts in their field, not in marketing. We make the marketing piece, which they know they need to do, super easy so they can focus on their areas of expertise. Our online marketing tools help increase their productivity and marketing effectiveness.”
According to recent research from the Direct Marketing Association, every $1 spent on email advertising to an existing client base has an return on investment of $40.56. Constant Contact is using this data in their current advertising campaign that is targeted to small business owners in our region.
“We plan to utilize Constant Contact once we have our database fully functional. Being in a business relationship with a company that specializes in the communication strategy (timing, frequency and content) will free us up to focus on our strengths without dedicating an inordinate amount of time to the marketing,” Swetman said.
There’s no doubt; building a business is hard work. And finding the right mix to generate leads and engage with customers while building a market share will take strategy and sacrifice. Cascade Heating is building a strong foundation by getting into households by making a solid first impression.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.