Fear of the Unknown

Published: October 10, 2018 - by Erin Holohan Haskell

Categories: The Business of Heating

scary furnace1

A homeowner, let’s call her Linda, sent me a message through Heating Help’s contact form last winter and it still has me thinking. She said, “I filled my glass gauge too long and water is to the top. I am scared. I have never even seen a boiler before. Contractor showed me how to fill. WHAT DO I DO??????”

I wrote back and said, “You should have your contractor come back to drain the excess water.”

Linda replied, “Thank you so much. I took a bucket and turned on faucet...it worked. I am not a fan of anything with gas besides my car!!”

This reminded me of that scene in Home Alone where Kevin goes down to the basement and the furnace develops a demonic glow and starts growling at him. Kevin scurries up the stairs. I imagine Linda feels the same way about her boiler.

People are often afraid of things they don’t understand, especially when those things are mechanical. But why isn’t Linda terrified of her car? I suppose it’s because she spends more time in her car than in her mechanical room. And she doesn’t think about her heating system unless it stops working. It’s the unsung hero of the home.

So how do you sell a product that terrifies some people and is not as sexy as a new car? You can begin by talking about the benefits of heating systems. Remember that features tell, but benefits sell. Check out some old advertisements from the 1950s and you’ll see what I mean. They were masters at this back then.

I have a vintage ad from Ideal Boilers and American Radiators from 1924 that makes me smile. The copy reads, “Breakfast: The Zero Hour. A very intelligent observer of modern life says that many domestic tragedies start at the breakfast table. All conversation should be forbidden, he says, until after ten o’clock. But people who are comfortable are courteous; they grow heated only when they are cold. There will be no misunderstandings in this breakfast room. The American Radiator under the window is connected with a boiler in the cellar, whose name - like its service - is Ideal.”

Isn’t that delightful? Customers may not be familiar with their heating systems, but most of us are familiar with a grouchy spouse. So now the boiler and radiators are no longer terrifying. They are akin to a marriage counselor (and probably less expensive). No longer the villain, that unsung hero in the basement will save you from (gasp!) domestic tragedy. And a grouchy spouse is even scarier than the furnace in Home Alone. Just ask my husband.

Once customers realize how amazing their heating system is, they may want to know more about it. As a heating contractor, it’s in your best interest to have an educated customer. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, if they educate themselves, then we’ll have a do-it-yourselfer on our hands. They may start thinking they don’t need us.”

On the other side, you could be getting several panicked calls from Linda in the middle of the night. So where’s the middle ground?

I’ve met a lot of homeowners on Heating Help throughout the years and most of them have developed an even greater respect for the professionals as they learn more.

So how do you educate your customers?

If your customer is open to it, you can walk them through their system and explain the basics. You don’t have to open your own personal tech school, but at least at the end of it they won’t call their boiler a furnace.

One of the most successful contractors I know gives his potential customers copies of Dan Holohan’s book We Got Steam Heat. If they know their systems, then they’ll be more likely to take his advice. This book also has a section called How to Find a Good Heating Contractor. And oftentimes the contractor they choose is the one who gave them the book because he is the real deal. Others have called him to clean up the mess from the knucklehead they did hire based on price alone.

We’ve had many contractors send their customers to HeatingHelp.com. Sometimes a homeowner will want to do more research on their own. Younger generations do a lot of online research before making purchases. A contractor will say to a hesitant customer, “Your pipes are making that banging noise because the system is not set up properly. Here’s an article on Heating Help that shows you why piping is especially important in steam-heating systems.” We’ve outlined it all for you in easily digestible and often entertaining articles. Share them with your customers. They’ll not only love you for it, but they'll also have less fear of their mechanical rooms and a greater respect for the work you do.