Home automation is anything but “hot air” to long-time HVAC contractor Air & Energy in Bradenton, Fla. Indeed, it’s pretty darn “cool.”
But to Stewart Moon, it’s not about being cool, it’s about staying relevant.
“If you are an HVAC contractor and you want to stay relevant, you’d better start learning about home automation. You do not have a choice; it is the way the world is going. If you want to be an active member of the HVAC industry five to 10 years from now, you have to be knowledgeable about connected controls and the connected home. Even the communicating systems within just the HVAC world are changing. Air handlers and condensers are communicating via Ethernet cable… so it is already happening. If you are resisting it, your company is not going to be in a good spot in the future. Plus, customers love it! So why would you not want to get into home automation?”
The 34-year-old company only started in home automation five years ago, but it now sells 100 percent of its clients a Nexia Home control system and smart thermostat for HVAC. That controller is the company’s foot in the door with homeowners to home automation, enabling the staff to sell multiple smart home devices on top of that device, led by door locks (by far), lighting control, video surveillance cameras and motion sensors.
Air & Energy is a family-owned HVAC business with nearly 50 employees that focuses on air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, security and home automation. The company, which does 90 percent of its business in the residential space, installs about 2,000 systems per year.
Moon recognized the developing trend for connected controls five years ago. After investigating various control systems, Moon started using Nexia (back then it was called Schlage Link) when the system was just a thermostat. It helped that both Schlage and Trane are owned by the same parent company, Ingersoll Rand. Trane is Air & Energy’s HVAC system of choice.
“Our primary business is as an HVAC contractor, so we got into it because I recognized that was the evolution of the industry,” says Moon. “People need to be connected to their home and to their appliances, so I wanted to make sure we were on the forefront of that trend. Today, we are into home automation knee-deep and running with it.”
Every one of those 2,000 systems this year will have a Nexia Home controller and thermostat, and many of them will also be paired with a door lock.
Sales Process Transition
“The easier sale is during a system change out,” remarks Moon. “The customer is looking for new equipment and you have a captive audience during that sales process. But we also sell a lot of home automation to homeowners who want to upgrade. Those are typically customers who want the rest of their devices connected, such as lighting, door locks, video cameras and motion sensors.
Moon says one transition for his team that had to take place was helping the customer understand why they “needed” a home automation system.
“Most homeowners do not innately understand why this will help them,” he says. “It is a totally different sales process than selling an HVAC system. So we have approached the sales process from that angle… explaining why they need it. The needs are different for every homeowner. Some could care less about saving more energy, they just want the convenience; others are just the opposite. Some customers want the security features; others want something because it is a vacation home and they just want to keep in touch with their property. So it requires you to do a lot of listening in the sales process.”
The a la carte nature of the Nexia Home system is well suited to their sales process. The system enables Air & Energy staff to go back to the home at any point and simply add devices. From an inventory standpoint, it also allows the company to only carry one deep-and-wide product line that all its technicians and sales team can learn.
The company has not had many issues with inadequate home networks unable to support the Nexia Home devices.
Transitioning its air conditioning technicians to think about home automation has been an ongoing process.
“Their mindset is not like a networking or computer guy,” admits Moon. “So you have to change their mindset and get them to start speaking that language. The best way to do that, we found, is to put the device in their homes. So extensively encourage all employees to have the systems in their own homes. That way they can experience it and then talk about it knowledgeably to customers.”
Nexia Home system carries $9.99 month monitoring fee for homeowners. Air & Energy has a special VIP service program it offers to its HVAC customers for regular system maintenance, but Moon says he has not yet carried that program over to the home automation business.