Like any profession, continuing education and training in the HVACR industry is a must. Many contractors see certifications as a way of doing just this.
Laurel, Maryland-based Minnick’s Inc. is one of them. The company’s technicians have numerous certifications, including Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI), North American Technician Excellence (NATE) Gas Furnace, NATE Heat Pump, Maryland Apprentice, Maryland Journeyman’s, Lead Renovator, and 10-Hour Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
“Certifications are important because they show that technicians have done their due diligence in learning the trade to pass the exams,” said Rob Minnick, president and CEO of Minnick’s.
While the state of Maryland requires some specific certifications, Minnick said it’s his belief to go beyond the minimum requirements because they add value to the company.
“From an employer’s point of view, certifications give you assurance that your technicians and potential hires have the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job,” said John Jones, national technical director, BPI. “Additionally, they give assurance that the individuals that work for you are serious about the profession. From a technician’s view, it gives you a leg up in the industry for quicker advancement and possible higher wages.
“The HVAC industry is very competitive and riddled with low-balling contractors using unskilled labor,” he continued. “Being able to point to a reputable certifying agency and relevant certifications helps consumers weed out unscrupulous contractors and leads them to the real professionals of the industry.”
Valerie Briggs, director of marketing and business development, NATE, agreed that certifications provide value, adding that NATE is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017.
“Part of our messaging is, we’ve been around this long because of the value we bring to the HVACR industry,” she explained. “Obviously, some of the direct recipients of those benefits are the technicians who take our exams and the contractors who hire them. We’ve found via surveys we’ve commissioned that contractors feel there are both internal and external benefits to having certified technicians.
“We did a survey in 2014 that showed about 58 percent of contractors said they believed certifications mattered to their branding and sales efforts to their customers,” Briggs continued. “Additionally, about 38 percent believed it internally fostered an environment of continuous improvement. Another thing to consider is when you have a certified technician, that person is more confident and seen as more competent by customers. We’ve found there are also fewer callbacks and warranty returns when our certified technicians work on equipment.”
Briggs also noted a 2013 NATE survey found that homeowners were willing to pay up to 20 percent more in terms of cost in order to have a certified technician visit their homes. “There’s obviously a need out there. We’re finding that over the last 20 years, consumer knowledge and awareness of NATE certification has grown. Contractors have been telling us they’re hearing more and more of their customers ask for NATE-certified technicians. HVAC is a competitive business. Many of the contractors who work with us know to use that information as part of their branding and marketing efforts as well as in their sales closing efforts while sitting at the kitchen table with customers.”
ACCA’s QA accreditation program focuses on ANSI standards and offers professional contractors a way to demonstrate that they follow those standards. The program offers two tracks: New Homes, which positions contractors to work on newly constructed homes that are applying for the Energy Star-certified homes label, and Residential Service & Installation (RSI), which positions contractors to indicate that specific replacement jobs have been installed to the Quality Installation (QI) standard.
“The reason it’s important is essentially two-fold,” said Wes Davis, vice president, Quality Assured Programs, ACCA. “Primarily, it has to do with presenting that you’re meeting minimum requirements and that you’re willing to be subject to third-party oversight. I bundle those two together because, to me, that’s the essence of accreditation. The second part is ACCA’s accreditation affords the opportunity to participate in the Energy Star New Homes and Verified Installation programs.”
Davis said accreditation is a trust-building factor when customers are considering a contracting company. “The contractor promotes that they met certain business prerequisites, that they’re subject to third-party oversight, and if a customer has a complaint, there’s an avenue for customers to seek resolution. If contractors convey that to consumers, I think certifications are certainly arrows in the quiver that may help seal the deal. Perhaps not all customers will care about these items, but I think that message resonates with some consumers.”
A MARK OF DIFFERENTIATION
Many certifying organizations provide marketing materials for their members to help them brand their companies as true professionals in the HVAC industry.
BPI provides co-branded materials for its certified contractors, according to Jones.
“We currently have postcards that contractors can leave behind or hand out to customers and an information sheet on what to expect from a BPI Gold Star contractor in digital and print formats,” he said. “Basically, it congratulates customers for choosing a BPI Gold Star contractor and walks them through what makes a Gold Star contractor different than typical contractors. It talks about the health of the system and what to expect from this contractor, different tests you will see, and the importance of the tests. The problem is educating customers that there may be more to the problem than what they’re seeing. A lot of customers don’t have time to listen, or they’re blown away by the information. Good contractors understand how to relay that to homeowners without overwhelming them or making them think they are trying to upsell them. We try to provide our contractors with the tools they need to be able to market themselves and show they can compete against their competitors.”
BPI is also currently updating a lot of its marketing materials for contractors, Jones added. “With the evolution of the electronic world, we need more offerings. We’re reviewing and updating what we currently have for a newer, fresher look to be able to provide exactly what our customers need.”
ACCA also offers a logo to its accredited contractors for use on their websites, social media, or business cards. Additionally, the organization has draft press releases that participants can download and send off to the local media.
“We’re always looking for ways to help contractors explain the value of QA to their customers,” Davis said. “So, we’re continuously trying to develop new materials they can use. It’s all about differentiation. If I’m not able to differentiate my company from my competition, then I don’t have as much value, or I become a commodity, and then I’m just competing on price, which can be a race to the bottom. If a homeowner is looking at two companies that look essentially the same and offer essentially the same equipment, then what is the homeowner’s key decision point? It comes down to price. We believe that QA program participation helps to differentiate the company and adds value to their selling propositions.”
In addition to logos and print and web materials, NATE sells other branding materials in its online store, including hats, shirts, and patches, which are all top sellers.
“Patches are a point of differentiation,” Briggs said. “It’s something that shows that technician voluntarily passed NATE’s exams and this contracting business believes in training, knowledge, and certification. It gives technicians a chance to talk to customers about what the patches mean and what they had to do to receive them. Certification shows that this company has put in the extra effort to make sure its staff is knowledgeable, confident, and willing to do the job right.”
NATE also connects potential customers to its certified contractors through its Consumer Contractor Connection website.
“We call it our C3 program,” Briggs said. “The website, hvacadvice.com, gets about 5,000 hits a month from homeowners looking for NATE-certified technicians. There are 4,500 contractors registered and listed on that program. And while it’s not a source of hundreds of leads a year, contractors tell us the ones they do receive are quality leads.”
David Queirolo, president and owner of Queirolo’s Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in Stockton, California, said his company receives about 70-80 leads per year from the C3 program website.
“We have a high success rate with satisfied customers because we are precise on our work, and having NATE-certified technicians shows that we care to have only the best technicians and installers working on their projects, businesses, and homes,” Queirolo said.
William Taylor of William D. Taylor HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical, Durham, North Carolina, said getting NATE certified was one of the best decisions he’s made.
“Prior to getting my NATE certifications a few years ago and being part of the Consumer Contractor Connection (C3) program, I didn’t think I needed the certifications for myself nor my business,” Taylor said. “I hold North Carolina Master Unlimited licenses in HVACR and Unlimited Plumbing and Electrical, and I’ve been in this industry for more than three decades. But, since I continuously stay abreast with the new technologies and continuing education in these fields, I thought why not get NATE certified? It was one of the best personal and business decisions I’ve made.
“From the personal standpoint, studying for the tests/exams helped me strengthen my skills,” he continued. “From the business standpoint, a couple of my residential and commercial customers found me through the HVACadvise.com listing, and it has, in turn, generated a tremendous amount of profitable business for my company. I value my NATE certifications because they help me and my company to stand out amongst the many HVAC companies and technicians who haven’t obtained such certifications. It also indicates to our existing and prospective customers that I am serious about adhering to and maintaining industry standards and best practices and that I keep up with new technologies that ultimately benefit them and their equipment.”