Twelve things I learned this year
Here’s an even dozen things I learned this year by just being quiet, paying close attention, and thinking as hard as my old brain would allow:
1. Rising prices upset Americans. When the price of heating fuel and gasoline is going up, we all want to talk about it, and we all think we should do something about it, but what?
Some of us get out the old bicycles and ride to the store instead of driving to the store, as long as the store is close by, that is. Most of us stopped riding after a few trips because we realized that the chances of being mowed down by someone in a Hummer are still very good in
Truth is we talk a lot about making changes when the price of fuel is rising, but then as soon as the price reaches a peak, and either stays there or goes back down a bit, we quickly accept this as normal and go back to business as usual. That’s the American way. Hey, gasoline is $3.60. That’s cheap!
2. High fuel prices make us look at other fuels. I think that anyone burning fuel oil during 2008 looked longingly at natural gas, propane, wood, the energy stored within the earth, solar, wind, old newspapers, and even Sterno®. Anything looked better than fuel oil this year.
But when Americans realized that switching fuels also involved switching equipment, and that they would have to (oh, my!) actually pay for that new equipment, most stopped in place and began marking time. We’d better do some more research before taking the plunge because that equipment, when properly sized and installed, doesn’t comes cheap, And, uh, what’s the payback?
3. Payback should come fast! As the year wore on, I kept reading these reports of surveys, and not just here in the
Look out your window. See all of them shopping? What’s the payback?
4. Wood is good. It’s the ultimate American fuel. Even the Founding Fathers used it. It’s plentiful, renewable, green, and laying all over the ground. John Deere makes these cool machines that will crawl through the woods like John Rambo, pick up all the fallen branches, bundle them, cut them into neat burnable packets and load them onto manly trucks. The payback period for this equipment is more than three years, however, so we’ll see how that goes. Probably not well.
5. Wood is heavy! Next year, many Americans are going to learn that wood, while good, is not an automatic fuel. Unless they get one of those new pellet-burning boilers, that is, and even if they do, they’re going to have to make room for the pellet bins and the new equipment. Hey, what’s the payback period on all of this? And does anyone have any BenGay®? And which way is it to the Emergency Room?
6. Selling is tough. And it’s especially tough when you’re trying to sell high-efficiency equipment that doesn’t pay back in three years or less. First, you have to figure out what “high-efficiency” means to you, and then what it means to your customer. It could mean two different things.
And while you’re at it, see if you can figure out what “green” means.
7. New Technology vs. Old Attitudes. Last year, I learned (yet again) that if you build it, they might not come because there are two basic types of contractors: There are the Boutique contractors, who will try just about anything new, and as soon as possible. Boutiques have their own language, which only other Boutiques can understand. They talk to customers using this special language, and the customers have no idea what’s going on, but they generally nod, and then tell the Boutique that his price is too high. And what’s the payback?
The other type of contractor is the Grandpa. A Grandpa won’t try anything new while it’s still new. Grandpas think that high-efficiency equipment is scary and untried and they’d much rather stick with what’s comfortable for them.
Neither Boutiques nor Grandpas will guarantee a payback of three years on new or old technology, so if you’re a manufacturer of new technology, you should be patient. This is going to take a while.
8. Solar is here to stay.
There’s a Hilton Hotel going up in Asheville, North Carolina that’s will be using solar to heat 2,000 gallons of water each day for their 165 rooms. They’ll save $10,000 each year on fuel. And in
Payback and new laws say that solar thermal for domestic hot water is here to stay.
9. Geothermal is also here to stay. And I think this is going to change the traditional hydronics business. Companies that make hydronic accessories will be looking at the ground-source heat pump as a new source of heat, and one that’s going to challenge boilers. OEM relationships could change as this evolves, and that’s going to be interesting to watch.
Now is a good time to get to know a well driller.
10. When the economy slows down contractors stop advertising. They figure they can save money by not letting anyone know that they’re out there. To save even more money, really smart contractors will sell most of their tools on eBay. They may even cancel the insurance on the truck and put it up on blocks. That saves gasoline.
The contractor that does this is now fully prepared for any word-of-mouth business that might to come his way, but the job has to be within walking distance, and it can’t require many tools. Or insurance.
Isn’t this a brilliant way to do business? It’s like going into a field with a stool and a bucket and waiting for a cow to show up. Brilliant!
11. Green is trendy. It’s hard to get away from green this year. It’s everywhere, and lots of people are switching their light bulbs to the compact fluorescents, changing to cold-water detergent, recycling and bathing with friends. Some are even updating their heating equipment (as long as they can save a guaranteed 33% a year on fuel). Green is nice.
But when so many manufacturers all go green at the same time, things get watered down. It’s like putting too much ice in your whisky. After a while, you just lose the buzz.
This year, it seems like everyone is going green. The problem with green, though, is that you first have to figure out what the heck it means – to you and to them. I’ve learned that most consumers care more about saving money than they do about saving the environment.
What’s in it for them?
12. Politics plays a part in the heating business. This is the funniest thing I learned this year. If you get a bunch of people in a room and mention the idea of global warming, two groups will immediately form, and those groups are called Democrats and Republicans. Someone will bring up Al Gore and his movie, and that will get the ball rolling. Someone else will talk about how the weather’s been changing like this for all of history, and that anyone believing in global warming is a wacko. And then someone will mention Rush Limbaugh, and that will really get the ball rolling.
And what’s so funny is that this political (or if you’d prefer scientific) argument, has actually been spilling over into the sales calls that so many contractors are making this year. Isn’t that amazing? That a contractor would talk politics (science?) with a potential customer?
And if that potential customer doesn’t happen to share that chatty contractor’s political/scientific/whatever point of view on GLOBAL WARMING, the sale just doesn’t get made.
What a year!