WHO BUYS SMART OR WI-FI THERMOSTATS?
Most people in today’s residential HVAC market want technology, Sammataro asserted.
“Our thermostat sales are super high on smart, very low on digital programmable,” he said. “The only people who buy non-Wi-Fi deliberately are those who are basically looking at a lower-priced, more economical option, and not really interested in features.”
In these situations, it could be for a rental home, or maybe they’re just not interested in technology.
“And, if [a digital programmable thermostat’s] covered in a 10-year warranty, most people are not going to spend extra money to replace it, even if they like the upgrade,” Sammataro said.
The other 95% of Sammataro’s thermostat sales are to customers of all ages. When it comes to technology, there’s no age barrier among his clientele, and their reasons for choosing it differ.
“We’ve had seniors who love it, all the way down to younger generations,” he said. “Some like it because the display is clear, and they can read it. Most love that you can control it from anywhere. One in particular, the husband was older and handicapped. If his wife wasn’t home and he was either hot or cold, he could pick up the iPad and adjust his thermostat himself. I had never really thought of the smart thermostat as a benefit to someone who has trouble walking, so that was pretty impressive.”
For Jones, on the other hand, age can sometimes be a sales hurdle.
“Some older folks have a barrier with technology and don’t want to deal with another smart device,” he said. “They want to keep it simple.”
Forty-something and younger is Atlas Butler’s biggest market for upselling Wi-Fi thermostats — although there’s also interest among older “snowbirds” who like the ability to check up on their homes when they head south for the winter.
Greg Crumpton works on the commercial side of HVAC as owner/founder at AirTight Mechanical Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he hasn’t heard of technology being a barrier: He sees “digital everything” as the new normal.
“Most controls are pretty darn intuitive, and most folks can operate their phone, so I tend to think of that same skill level being required for both appliances,” he said. “I think it’s just where we are as a society. I haven’t heard anybody say ‘I don’t want digital because X, Y, or Z,’ at least not in the last 25 years.”
Crumpton pegged AirTight’s thermostat sales at 45 percent smart, 45 percent Wi-Fi, and 10 percent traditional.
“We’re definitely moving toward smart [or Wi-Fi],” he said. “I think the trend is increasingly slanted toward [customers] coming to us and asking better questions. As they are seeing them in their homes more and more, it is becoming a baseline.”
AJ Smith, vice president and general manager, Global Pro Comfort, Honeywell Homes, advised contractors not to get bogged down in behind-the-scenes details when talking to customers.
“One of the things we need to do is make sure our message is much more consumer oriented versus HVAC technical oriented,” he said. “A lot who don’t purchase, it’s because they were thinking, ‘Oh geez, now there’s a whole HVAC component to this’ and didn’t know what to do next. It’s really not so much of a sales pitch; it’s more of how to get information across in a way that’s very digestible, very understandable, so they can feel like they’re making the right decision … and contractors are a big part of that.”
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