By Matthew Reid
Have you ever thought about incorporating hydronics into your business? If you want to get into the hydronic business, remember there is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as putting up an open for business sign and waiting for the customers to break down your door. The following steps should help you on your way to being successful in the business of hydronics.
Never forget that you are not alone in any of this. Everyone wants to see you succeed because success breeds success. The more people who get involved and see the benefits of hydronic heat the more the industry grows, the more knowledge is shared and the better we all get collectively. Go get ’em. I’m rooting for you.
Suss out the neighbourhood
Hydronics isn’t a huge part of the residential market. It is a large part of commercial but hydronics only represents about 10 per cent of the residential market. It’s unlikely to find hydronics in tract house new home construction and even if hydronics is part of a custom home build, it doesn’t mean it is the primary source of heat. Area research should be your first step in deciding whether to invest the time, money and energy into creating a hydronic side to your business.
Areas such as downtown city cores are usually prime areas for hydronics, the suburbs not so much. Rural areas and agricultural facilities do often have hydronic heating, so you need to be aware of your trading geography and whether the return on investment makes sense for you.
You should also do some leg work and see what the competition is doing in your area. Are there other hydronic contractors around where you work? What services are they selling? How much are they charging? What sort of services are being provided?
In certain areas snow and ice melt may be huge. In other areas radiant heating in the basement only may be a big thing. Outdoor wood boilers in rural areas could be popular where you are. You should be aware of what the market already looks like, so you know how to plan your leap into the world of hot water heating.
Finally, for market research you need to know basic population demographics. Hydronics is currently more a niche type of heating catering to custom homes and a more affluent population. It’s like this for a number of reasons that I push back against every day, but this article isn’t trying to revolutionize an industry. Its purpose is to educate and share knowledge with those who can see value and potential in this market segment.
Develop a strategy
Once you know your area it’s time to plan out your strategy to break into the market. Simple questions such as what your service area will be, how far you will travel, and what circumstances are you willing/licensed to work under. Hydronics is a multi-trade application needing experience in both plumbing, and gas (currently). Do you want to offer 24-hour emergency services or standard business hours? You need to know exactly what you want to do because there are a lot of different directions to go in.
The sticker price
How much is all of this going to cost? There are two ways to move forward after you have worked out the basics. Is this venture going to be an extension of your current business or do you want it to run independently of your existing business? Regardless of which direction you take there are going to be two large expenses right from the start.
Number one is going to be staffing. Either you go out there, find an experienced technician and pay top dollar for them to join your team or you find someone from the existing team with an aptitude for hydronics and send them to every training opportunity you can find. There are a ton of fantastic hydronics trainings put on by manufacturers, wholesalers, representatives, and industry specialists. There are industry magazines, and books to read and review from the pros. Read and understand CSA B214:21 Installation Code for Hydronic Heating Systems. Don’t hesitate to work with industry associations. They are there to help you.
You need to know a little bit about a lot of things. Boilers and hydronics have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. The design element is another moving piece that needs to be understood both for troubleshooting and for new installs. If you don’t know what you are looking at, how can you repair or replace it and be certain it’s going to work?
The other large expense is going to be tools. As mentioned hydronics is a good mixture of plumbing and gas. We have the water side that is going to require some tools not usually incorporated into plumbing such as refractometers, water sample test kits to determine pH, TDS (total dissolved solids), GPG hardness and molybdate content. All these factors are required to be known and tested to ensure installs are warranty compliant. On the gas side, if you are not already using combustion analyzers and manometers, you are going to start. Boilers are not simple machines. They are the Ferrari of heating and need tuning to perform at the optimal level they are designed for.
Get the word out
Finally, you are ready to start marketing. Again, hydronics isn’t a huge market segment. You will need to let people know that you are in the hydronics game. Websites and social selling are going to be key to bringing in customers. Lay out what you do, make it easy to contact you, and utilize pay per click online advertising.
Once you get them on your page it’s all about the pictures. People want to buy from people that either sell what they are looking for or from someone who has dealt with a similar situation to what they are in. Pictures speak volumes about your work. To this point, you had better be doing the absolute best work that you can for a few reasons. You want your jobs to look both beautiful and professional, and you want them to work. Rest assured if you install something incorrectly the rest of the industry is all too happy to chime in and tell you all about it. Training and experience will be key here.
Your business is set, you’re marketing to your demographic and you’re finally at the kitchen table ready to sell your first project. Selling hydronics is not done on price. It is not the cheapest. Hydronics is sold on a promise of both comfort and adaptability. There is nothing that we cannot accomplish with boilers and pipes. Want to heat that basement? Done. Want to melt that snow? Done. Want to heat your greenhouse to grow roses year-round? Done. Using your company’s design and installation skills, the hydronic system will deliver whatever it is the homeowner wants.