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selling steam

GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
looking for some general tips on how to differentiate one's self when selling steam- some of these installs i here see clearly take more time/money that what the average Joe is doing/selling.

Are you just 'talking' and hoping/expecting the customer actually understands (will actually pass that along to their significant other when they have all the quotes on the kitchen table),

or, do you type out some schpeal?

It would be super cool if someone came up with some video or animation, I would gladly pay for such a thing.

Thanks for any comments.

Gary Wilson
Wilson Services, Inc
Northampton, MA
www.wilsonph.com
[email protected]
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Comments

  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693
    Homeowner opinion: I would print out a few select threads from here showing problem installs (where you can point out the likely similarities to their existing system) and then show the new or fixed installs and point out the similarities to photos of your good work.

    Those consistent horror story examples (often of people going with cheaper installs) should be able to educate those who can be.

    Without beating them up too much, try to explain that a little extra care and $ up front will give them years of quiet consistent comfort.

    One of the challenges I imagine is that people don’t stay in homes for decades as much anymore and don’t want to pay for the next guy’s comfort.
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 435
    edited January 7
    @ethicalpaul that is a great idea.’I hadn’t thought of it. Thank you!

    This is something I have been struggling with in the commercial steam system world. Apartment buildings and the such. It works the same way. They want the cheapest they can find and they’re left with completely hacked up systems. I’ve never found a good way persuade them that what I am saying will fix their problems.
    Never stop learning.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693
    edited January 7
    My absolute pleasure :smile:

    Maybe it's only 10-20% of all customers who will really hear what you are saying, but that might be enough? I'm ignorant of most of the cold hard realities of running a small contracting business but I wish you all the best! I do have an MBA but we all know what value that has in the trenches :lol:

    Mercedes has ~6% of the car market I think. They don't even bother trying to convince the Kia crowd (and Kia performs way way better than the bad HVAC installs do). In my opinion every contractor I've seen here is Mercedes or BMW.

    @GW I would think with your level of quality and concern you should have enough word of mouth that you don't have to go hunting for bids too much. Am I mistaken? Or maybe steam is a new and growing part of your business and word on that isn't out yet.
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks all

    Paul, steam is a rather small part of our business. I’m guessing less than 10%. When to comes to hot water heating, HVAC, Ductless, I’m pretty dialed in.

    Has there ever been such a thing as an animation or general video on how to steam works? Consumer driven piece?

    I’d be happy to contribute towards the production of such a thing.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Member Posts: 435
    edited January 7
    Had a little bit of a success story today.

    I walked in to the boiler room. Two large cast iron sectionals. #2 tripping the low water. Turned out the check valve on the feedwater line was bad. Fixed that. Customer as happy. Wrapping up I said, “man, you must have astronomical gas bills here.” He said it’s higher this year than normal. I said, “I bet you have a lot of banging noises in the building too!” He says yeah, how did you know? I explained two pipe steam to him. I explained why operating his boilers at 10 psi is bad, and why for some reason operating the entire building off of a single actuated steam valve was even worse. 24 Apartments in this building. Average gas bill in the winter: $8,000 per month.

    Going back next week to walk the entire building and check steam traps. And he wants a full write up on how to improve the boiler system.

    Imagine what they could save when I find out they only need to be running one of those boilers at a time, at 2psi or less, and all the traps get fixed. I hope they go through with it. I’d love to see the before and after gas bills.
    Never stop learning.
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Ok I really fear I’m about to ask a stupid question but that’s literally how I climbed the ladder.

    Is there no good and general video that explains the ins and outs of steam to the general consumer?

    My wheels are starting to turn a bit. I have the resources to put money behind such a production but don’t want to putter my money aimlessly.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,311

    @ethicalpaul that is a great idea.’I hadn’t thought of it. Thank you!



    This is something I have been struggling with in the commercial steam system world. Apartment buildings and the such. It works the same way. They want the cheapest they can find and they’re left with completely hacked up systems. I’ve never found a good way persuade them that what I am saying will fix their problems.

    I used to call the guys back where I did not get the job a couple of years later. Some of them even called me,first. Sadly many owners had already busted budget for hacks and now were really desperate.

    Another thing I did is provide options: cheapest; better; and best for the long run. I also tried "convert to lease" for rent control reasons.

    Industrial customers were more pleasant to deal with. Often I got no business but at least I did not end up feeling badly for the customer.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 5,715
    Most customers are all about $$$ and that's all they know.

    Usually (but not always) less expensive to fix a steam system than to rip and replace with hot water or scorched air. Sure there are job where for zoning reasons or other issues hot water is better but knowing how to fix a steam system can get you work.

    Then there are the idiots that replace steam with water and try to use the old piping.

    Except for process or replacement, steam is seldom installed anymore since the late 40s
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,311

    steam is seldom installed anymore since the late 40s

    When boiler is in basement, pressure is high for taller buildings. So steam was often used until they started to put copper tube water heaters on roof.

  • VoyagerVoyager Member Posts: 197
    Are you talking about selling steam into new construction? Or selling a quality replacement of an existing steam system? I can see why you would want to properly replace existing steam equipment, but I can think of very few cases where steam makes sense in new construction.
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    I’m talking replacement. I see hacked steam boiler installs every day, and they still work. That’s why it’s harder to sell a better steam boiler install—-because the goony system “still works”.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • VoyagerVoyager Member Posts: 197
    GW said:

    I’m talking replacement. I see hacked steam boiler installs every day, and they still work. That’s why it’s harder to sell a better steam boiler install—-because the goony system “still works”.

    Maybe you could make a few short video clips showing typical installation errors and their side effects. Water hammer, slow steam to radiators, radiators that get no steam, etc. And/or maybe a few short testimonial from some of your customers who had had their issues corrected by you. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand pictures.
  • DIY_GuyDIY_Guy Member Posts: 38
    As an building overseer let me present these observations. I oversee a 3 unit. Rinnai gas monitors in top floor, steam in second floor, and natural gas/FHW on first floor. Which floor do you think I almost exclusively get the calls for heat issues in the winter? So that might be the first thing you’re up against. Like low maintenance cars tenants want set and forget heat and landlords crave low maintenance. Just my opinion, most people don’t think about heat the way we do, they just want it ready on demand. The average joe tenant thinks little of a bit of water hammering, or whistling vents, short cycling and even much less about forking out money to stop it. They do think about fuel use though when they are paying for it and I will get calls when they are spending more in a month than they’d like to...

    Here are some of the issues with steam/oil I see:

    In this case, heat is not included. The other floors pay for their own gas and it is piped in and to them billed. They can be as frugal as they want to be with their own fuel costs. Oil requires people, who often have no experience with it, to call and get deliveries. When they forget, I get a call. Or when it shuts off and they are not around and don’t call, frozen broken pipes can be a a concern. Piped in city gas is convenient for the owners and the renters. Also without regular maintenance, the oil systems will cause problems, the gas systems are clean burning and very low maintenance

    Hands off. Other than the thermostat, the gas systems are hands off for tenants. No “ no heat “situations to complain about, no cold radiators in one room. Perhaps its easier/ more efficient to run heat cycles at different times of day with gas too.

    Are gas or the other systems better heat? I don’t think so. But I have a feeling the owner would change over to gas FHW for convience alone except the 10k number they been presented with. Even if it’s 1k a season in parts, maintenance and upkeep , it goes a long time before you hit the 10k you’ll spend. And If the tenants pay for their own heat, there unfortunately is not a huge incentive for a landlord to make it run more efficient. The just want it to run. Everyday. Without issues.

    Not sure I’ve given you solutions but perhaps will get you thinking about what people are looking for or not, when continuing on with steam heat.

    I will say some of the NE steamworks literature about the history of steam heat really opened my eyes as to why steam heat needs to rethought and re- tweaked to stay relevant: No longer operating in a vacuum, no longer a coal fired, burning all day systems as originally designed etc.

    Ok, so there’s your new sales pitch 😀, “Are you living in a vacuum?” If your steam system is, it needs to be brought up to date. You don’t need “pressure” in your everyday life or in your steam heat. Haha , I could go on..😂
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks DIY that was very thoughtful.

    I’ll start asking around and see if I can find someone that does animation. I know they exist. I think the average home owner just doesn’t want to read about steam. Of course some do because their system is driving them nuts
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks Voyager, I’m getting to the point where professional video is preferred. I hired a small one man operator last summer to do a video for my company last summer, it’s simply worth the time and money spent. Heating guys doing video- not so sure, not me anyway. Maybe short “how to” thingies but probably not a good sales tool

    Check it out
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693
    Have a look at the weil-mcclain steam training videos on youtube for some ideas, but those are tech trainers so are probably more technical than you want for customers. But some good stuff in there
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks Paul, will do
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • tp tunstalltp tunstall Member Posts: 61
    This maybe helpful...a friend of ours, retired union pipe fitter, and trains apprentice union fitters on steam etc, lives in Montgomery Mass, just a few miles from Northampton. I'd suggest a coffee with him . he loves steam . you can call our office, ask for woody (my son) and he can put u in touch with him. His name is Paul Tower .
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    cool tp, is he good at residential too? Union guys don't do res. do they?
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693
    Here are those training vids. Part 1 is MIA



    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • tp tunstalltp tunstall Member Posts: 61
    Paul knows and does it all
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693
    Paul Tower you mean, just to clarify ;)
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • tp tunstalltp tunstall Member Posts: 61
    ETHICAL PAUL....THE VIDEOS ARE TERRIFIC
  • VoyagerVoyager Member Posts: 197
    Nice video. I think DIY summed it up pretty well. I don’t think many people today are into the romance of old buildings and steam heat. Certainly a few are, but they are not the norm.

    I think your video is a great start and it looks like you run a good business. If I may offer a few suggestions, and I am not trying to be critical of your video as I think it is fantastic that an HVAC company is trying to enter the 21st century when so many seem in the fat, dumb and happy mode. Word of mouth worked great 50 years ago when people talked in the barbershop and coffee house and passed along good experiences and references. Nowadays, many communicate by cell phone and their friends aren’t from the local neighborhood, but may be scattered across the country. Word of mouth for contractors and other local services no longer works well when you are talking to people 100 miles away.

    My only real criticism of your video is that it is a little too company centric and not enough customer centric. You mention your history, your parts inventory, etc., and only at the end hit on the customer facing things like comfort and energy efficiency. I would consider a video where you consider the attributes that DIY mentioned such as heat that is simply there when needed, is comfortable and problem free, and with low energy costs. Start out the video with the attributes that matter to your customers.

    You can then weave in your company attributes and how they support those customer attributes. You can say that a properly installed steam system will provide quiet and comfortable heat on the coldest of winter days and show a picture of a cold winter day. You can say that with annual service by your company, the heat will run trouble-free through the winter, but should the occasional problem arise, your extensive part inventory and skilled technicians ensures a quick return to service of the heating system. You can emphasize that a properly maintained system is not only there when needed, but makes the most of every dollar spent on fuel. I am an engineer, not a marketing person, but I worked with enough marketing folks in my career to get an idea as to how they think. Most technical folks want to talk about their technology, fancy tools, parts inventory, etc., but as DIY pointed out well, most homeowners or tenants could care less about that stuff. They simply want their home to be warm without having to think about it or spend a lot of time or money. Make your videos and other marketing materials come at the heating system from the customer’s perspective.

    I have one other thought for you, but will make a separate post as this one is far too long already.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 693

    ETHICAL PAUL....THE VIDEOS ARE TERRIFIC

    Thanks, I just copied the links :) Someone else even found them and referred to them on some old Wall post
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • VoyagerVoyager Member Posts: 197
    Another thought is to look at ways to use modern technology to make steam systems less troublesome to their owners or users. For example, a few years ago I convinced my church to spend $450 to replace 5 existing thermostats (ranging from the old round Honeywell to battery powered programmable) with WiFi enabled Honeywell RTH6480WFs. I did this mainly because the church is unattended most of the week and we had a pipe freeze and burst when the boiler failed one -10 night.

    We spent nearly that much on the midnight service call to get the system repaired and back in operation.

    I did this mainly to get automatic notice of a boiler failure and this has already happened once when the gas valve failed last winter and I caught it soon and was able to get the boiler repaired before the temp dropped below 45 in the church. Being able to remotely monitor a system is very nice. Imagine if your customer would allow you to monitor their thermostat (this might take some delicate sales pitch due to concerns about Big Brother) and actually call them when you detect an issue with their boiler! I set our Honeywells to send me an email whenever the temp in the church falls below 54 for more than an hour (we set back to 55 during the week hence the low limit). Even on the coldest days, this probably gives me 8-12 hours before a pipe will freeze and usually I can get a repair tech out within 12 hours.

    This may not be cost effective for you as you would have to hire someone to monitor your email during the night, but some people might be willing to pay you a few bucks a month to have this service. If you had enough customers, it might be worth it to hire someone to monitor the email looking for notices of low temp in your customer’s homes or businesses. I think HVAC contractors who take the lead in using today’s information services will have the edge over those who simply install, repair and maintain. Food for thought...

    And, if you live in an area with an electric cooperative, many of them already maintain 7x24 call centers. They might be willing to provide off-hours monitoring of an email account for you at a modest cost since they are there already.
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399

    Paul Tower you mean, just to clarify ;)

    No, Paul, you're the go-to man now! See what you did? hahha

    Thanks for posting that. It's a bit old school but it's very good
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks Voyager for the words of wisdom. I don't fully agree but I sure do appreciate your comments. I feel like home owners want to peek into the operations of a trades company, just a bit. We (trades people) don't have the most fabulous of reputations in our society. If someone comes up with a snappy and effective marketing piece on home comfort i totally dig that. But if some furry and smelly dude rolls up to your home and your wife and kids have to deal with him, that's not good (my opinion).

    That video was a general 'reputation' piece, not meant to get into different systems and comfort strategies.

    I think I'm more sheepish than I am blustery, my reputation in our area is very high. But I don't print money- I'm always trying to seek out an edge (when i'm not 100% busy).

    ----Wifi stats-- yes, we promote these and install these. As for a monitoring service: I'm not sure I can handle that at this point. Maybe someday down the road (if it even exists). I understand the homeowner can allow the tech (HVAC CO) to get alerts but i fear I'm not at a point where i can chase people down to get into their homes if they're away. Once that ship has left the dock, the heating guys has a few more irons in the fire and some added liability. I would need to be compensated well for that. maybe someday i will be forced into it, but that's not anytime soon (my opinion)

    Now, if someone approaches me and asks for this level of service, then game on, one case at a time at this point.

    I'll keep chipping at it, thank you for the comments
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • VoyagerVoyager Member Posts: 197
    Just to be clear, I was not saying to omit the “peek into your company.” I was simply saying to lead with the customer attributes and follow with the company attributes, rather than the other way around. Good luck in continuing to build your business.

    On the wifi front, just keep in mind who are more likely to own steam systems. I am guessing it is mostly older folks, not the younger folks who are more technology fluent. At least half of the congregation in my church had no idea that it was even possible to remotely monitor the heating system let alone actually get can automatic email when something was amiss. So, if you wait for folks to ask for it, you may be waiting a long time. However, if it is not a service you want to offer, the no sense in dangling a carrot either.
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    we 'do' offer the wifi, it's a simple sell. If their house turns into an ice cube my conscience is more clear

    I don't offer a monitoring service.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,311
    We read about high end homes with high end steam systems that go decades without constant attention. With modern methods even more doable today. But I agree we'll never see steam in new single homes again.

    But for bigger buildings we'll see. In Toronto area big indoor shopping malls built in seventies had steam heat. Later owners installed gas lines for rooftop appliances. Of course eventually issues arose so maybe they had wished that they had stuck with steam?

    XXIst century combustion equipment is complicated for emission and efficiency regulations. So a central facility now can be more economic than a bunch of rooftops all over. Then the question is hot water versus steam. I believe steam is simpler to balance and control.
  • tp tunstalltp tunstall Member Posts: 61
    getting back to your original question of what suggestions would one use to suggest and convince a homeowner to install a residential steam system? offer them this:
    "each steam radiator installed functions and is as comfortable as having a wood stove in every room without the hassle of cutting, splitting, stacking and lugging wood to the stove. every bit as comfortable as wood heat without the wood. just a thermostat."
    clean and simple .let us know
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    sorry i didn't mean install a 'new steam system', I'm just talking the ins and outs of a lame boiler install vs a well built install.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 5,715
    Have known Paul Tower for probably 40 yrs. Good guy. Worked a few jobs with him in the old days. Still teaches steam at the union hall for the fitters to get their pipefitters license
  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399

    Most customers are all about $$$ and that's all they know.

    Ed yes, but not all. Just Like Paul stated the Mercedes Benz market share-----I don't think MB is too worried about the the other 90% of the consumers out there. Many years ago i thought if i lost one lead i was failing. Now i just march on with a smile. That took quite a paradigm shift for me; a fair amount of psychology. My wife is a shrink (PhD) yet i don't think she takes much credit for my growth over the years LOL
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 5,715
    edited January 9
    I probably didn't explain what I was thinking very well, I have that issue with my brain going faster than I type.

    Most contractors and plumbers see a steam system as an opportunity to rip and replace because they don't know how it works or how to fix it.

    Knowing steam like you do provides you an opportunity to fix those jobs for less $$ than a rip and replace.

    Your video is excellent BTW

  • GWGW Member Posts: 3,399
    Thanks Ed 😄
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
  • mikeg2015mikeg2015 Member Posts: 785
    I just joined the HVAC trade. And the problem I see is that both homeowners and contractors somewhat fear it. For contractor there’s the fear of unknown, which means call-backs and ignorant customers blaming the contractor for issues beyond their control.

    If there’s a lightning torn and you mini split is fried, nobody blames the contractor. But if your 100 year old piping springs a leak, or the header sags and starts to hammer, the customer may blame the new boiler as the issue.

    Add to that the benefit of adding central air to ductwork and it’s each to just abandon the old pipes and radiators.

    The selling point, is just convincing the customer ot save it, and convincing the owner of the shop to work on steam and not sell a furnace install that he KNOWS he can make a good margin on.

    Our installer does good work, but all hydronics make him nervous because they are new to him.

    It’s a uphill battle, but there’s an opportunity to differentiate our smaller shop with higher quality installs, better customer service and taking on more challenging hydronics and steam systems.
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Member Posts: 1,167
    ...come on men. We’re professionals. How many times are we going to refer to hydronics and steam as if they’re 2 different things? Steam is hydronics! :wink:
  • gerry gillgerry gill Member Posts: 2,917
    GW said:

    looking for some general tips on how to differentiate one's self when selling steam- some of these installs i here see clearly take more time/money that what the average Joe is doing/selling.

    Are you just 'talking' and hoping/expecting the customer actually understands (will actually pass that along to their significant other when they have all the quotes on the kitchen table),

    or, do you type out some schpeal?

    It would be super cool if someone came up with some video or animation, I would gladly pay for such a thing.

    Thanks for any comments.

    it comes down to having a great reputation on a given subject in a given locality. People pay more for the expert! and they demand better from the expert. So we have to deliver better and be constantly vigilant on our reputation. As they say in the Navy- one aw-s**t wipes out a hundred at-a-boys.

    gwgillplumbingandheating.com

    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

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