The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have challenged the residential market. From personal protective equipment to customer anxiety, contractors are navigating an unprecedented landscape.
Mendel Plumbing & Heating, Inc, in Saint Charles, Illinois, began rolling out safety measures before the state shutdown. They explained their protocols on their website and via e-mail marketing to clients. “Knowing that our clients still have a need for our services, our goal has been to position ourselves as somebody who can deliver quality service safely,” said President Tom Mascari. “We went on the offense, communicating on a regular basis what we were doing to stay in touch and on top of what the CDC and the state were telling us needed to happen.”
Mendel also began offering a troubleshooting service for people who have been exposed to COVID-19. “If a client calls in and they have some kind of exposure, we’ll put them through to one of our technical gurus, and they’ll FaceTime with people.” We’ll see what we can do to help them work through their issue. We don’t just say ‘No, we can’t come.’ We say, ‘Okay, let’s go to phase two.’”
Mascari emphasizes that client needs are “still out there, and we as contractors need to position ourselves to fit within their circle of trust they have for whoever they want to come into their home or business.”
Welsch Heating & Cooling, in St. Louis has found that, after an initial slowdown in the pandemic’s early days, some customers are becoming pragmatic. “With people being at home, if the air conditioner is not working, it becomes a major event because now they’re not escaping to their office,” says company Vice President Paul Heimann. “We’re finding customers are very open to making those service calls, and also sales calls, because they do want to get some of these things taken care of while they’re at home.”
The St. Louis area partnered with their SMART labor force to offer a $100 rebate on service calls for front line workers, which has been well received.
Heimann says Welsch remains focused on the customer. “People do need heat and they do need cooling. There wasn’t a magic bullet for customers, so we had to create solutions as we went. The only thing you can do as a business is be as prepared as you can be for any situation that’s thrown your way.”
At Skyline Heating A/C & Sheet Metal Inc., in Denver, it’s mostly been business as usual regarding this spring cooling season. President Denise Ruscetta estimates that 80% of their residential calls come from repeat customers, which she thinks has been key. “Our customers have service needs and are getting back to feeling comfortable having someone in their home,” Ruscetta said. “With our proper protective protocol, I believe they are at ease with a familiar company attending to their needs.”
Atlas Heating & Air Conditioning in Oakland, California, has felt the effects of the state’s shelter-in-place order. Many retrofit jobs have been delayed. Their protocols have evolved to include masks, gloves, booties, hand sanitizer, truck-washing stations and disinfectant wipes. Safety and COVID meetings are held in their back parking lot to ensure social distancing, and they take the temperatures of all field workers upon arrival at the shop each day.
Company President Robert Tuck notes that the changes have been difficult, but they have a positive attitude about the future. “We remind our crew that Atlas made it through the pandemic of 1918, and we will make it through this one with the same spirit and teamwork.”
This article was initially published in the May/June 2020 issue of SMACNews, a publication from the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA).