Volume 13, Issue 1 - January/February 2012


Comfort and Joy
What Factors Should You be Using to Sell Energy Efficiency?

by Tara Taffera

The game has definitely changed when it comes to selling energy-efficient doors and windows.

Consider these pre-tax credit, pre-housing crash, pre-recession scenario way of selling fenestration products.

“Three to four years ago people called for an estimate and they were pretty likely to buy from someone,” says Steve Rennekamp, president of Energy Swing Windows in Murrysville, Pa.

And if they were going to buy they knew that the window replacement would do wonders for the resale value of their home.

“Before it was easy to get homeowners to understand updates are needed to increase resale value but in this market that is much harder,” says Nigel D’hondt, CEO, Clear NRG in Seattle Wash.

Fast forward three or four years and now window retailers may be competing with other wants and needs of the homeowner.

“Now if someone calls you out to their home it doesn’t mean they are going to buy, affirms Rennekamp. “They are weighing this against other purchases. If the roof is leaking that is a different issue. The homeowner may know they need new windows and know it will save them energy but due to the economy or job concerns they wait.”

So what does the window retailer do? They have to sell the idea of new windows.

All these concerns weren’t a problem in 2010 when the $1,500 window tax credit was in play. But when that was taken out of the game on December 31, 2010, and the lesser $200 tax credit took its place, strategy changed again.

1. Manufacturers Step Up
California Energy Consultant Services in Rancho Cordova, Calif., sells Simonton Windows, and Phil Issacs, owner, says at least one of his suppliers stepped up with tax credits of its own to help lessen the blow.

“[When speaking to customers] we said, ‘hey the tax credit was great, but we have great news—for a limited time we have a manufacturers’ rebate.’”

But eventually the manufacturers’ incentives ended and companies were left with a $200 tax credit that many retailers say wasn’t enough of an incentive for homeowners to buy; so they didn’t even bother promoting it.

D’hondt says his sales reps are trained to answer questions about the credit but “they do downplay it as part of the sales process.”

2. It’s Not the Price, it’s the Terms
When the tax credits ended, some companies began to rely more heavily on publicizing various financing options.

“If the manufacturer is not offering something to add a sense of urgency we will do it ourselves,” says Issacs.

And it’s not always standard fare: sometimes companies get creative. At California Energy Consultant Services, the company creates incentives based on holiday shopping, for instance.

“We offer things like, buy X now and get X toward your Christmas shopping. We always give them a reason to buy,” says Issacs.

He adds that in the last six months financing has improved.

“Just this last month, we started participating in a second look program that GE re-introduced. Some of our lower FICA store customers were able to get a loan as well,” Isaacs says. “The points have gotten more reasonable. For a long time the fees were making it tough to get the salespeople to buy into financing options.”

The company also offers high-volume discount pricing, which Issacs says is another incentive to make a purchase.

Energy Swing Windows also relies on financing opportunities to offer incentives. The company has a variety of programs including six months deferment.

“We can sell the windows today, put them in and they don’t pay for six months,” says Rennekamp. “You are trying to evaluate what the real needs are of the homeowner and how you fit into that.”

"We sell the window on the comfort, and that it will make your house more comfortable. We let them do their own math and we never make any promises. We let them know the windows will be as tight as the refrigerator."
—Phil Issacs,
Energy Consultant Services

3. Selling Comfort and Joy

While many would agree that the tax credits made an impact, and that financing is important, beyond that the reasons vary in how window retailers promote their differences.

For some, it doesn’t always come down to energy bills or promises of specific savings.

“We never overpromise,” says Issacs. “We sell the window on the fact that it will make your house more comfortable. We let them do their own math and we never make any promises. We let them know the windows will be as tight as the refrigerator … People connect the dots well.”

At Clear NRG, however, D’hondt says quite a few homeowners want an actual percent of what their savings will be.

“Sales reps are well-trained in not offering specific numbers,” he says. “That is a big no-no.”

Instead, they focus on analyzing glass space and how much heat is being transmitted.

“We arm every sales rep with a laser heat gun to show that the temperature of the frame is lower,” D’hondt adds.

Although the company may not promise specific savings homeowners do come back and report that their energy bills have gone down.

“We do get those testimonials and we have seen more than 50 percent in energy savings, especially for those who spend on oil,” he says.

The comfort quotient may be a broad one and hard to quantify, but at least in California’s Sacramento Valley where the heat is a real factor, it also plays a large role.

“We get testimonials from people saying, ‘Now I am warm and comfortable.’ Some had rooms in their house they didn’t go near in the summer and now with our windows [which incorporate Cardinal’s loE3 glass] it makes a tremendous difference,” he says.

He adds that homeowners often say that before the new windows the house in general was impossible to get comfortable.

“The comfort is more important than the actual savings,” says Issacs. “Those testimonials are much more prevalent than those who tell us they saved X on their energy bills.”

D’hondt agrees with the importance of the comfort factor and he says he is amazed at how many homeowners in California keep their blinds closed. But he says his sales reps are trained to spot things like closed blinds, or a blanket in front of a particular window.

“We tell them they don’t have to do that anymore,” says D’hondt.

The comfort factor is one that builders and manufacturers take into account as well. Melissa Wahl, co-owner at Cobblestone Homes in Saginaw, Mich., builder of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes, says one of the company’s basic premises when building an Energy Star Home with a low HERS rating is “Will the homeowner be more comfortable?”

“That is one of our founding principles,” says Wahl. “The basic premise to get there is good windows and good insulation.”

4. Upping Appearances and Value
Rennekamp says that while energy savings is a plus many people don’t buy new windows due to the money they may save.

“Most people replace because their old ones look crappy and have drafts,” he says. “Energy savings help us offset the investment cost. So while it is nice most people don’t call for that reason. It’s a plus to help us sell but it isn’t the motivating factor.”

Rennekamp says Energy Swing Windows has a good performing product for a variety of reasons.

“Our windows ride on a track so if you look at air infiltration we probably do a better job,” he says. “What we tell our customer is there may be someone with a better U value. If someone makes a triple unit with krypton, yeah, that is better but most don’t want to pay for that. While energy savings is important we push the value and that is not just the product.”

At Energy Swing even if a homeowner calls about replacing a few windows, the company doesn’t stop in the living room, so to speak.

“We look at the condition of all the windows in the house because sometimes they don’t realize how bad they are,” says Rennekamp.

But again the company doesn’t promise specific savings. The sales reps just talk about energy savings in general and talk about the glass package and the argon fill.

"Three to four years ago people called for an estimate and they were pretty likely to buy from someone. Now if someone calls you out to their home it doesn’t mean they are going to buy. They are weighing this against other purchases. So you have to sell the idea of new windows."
—Steve Rennekamp,
Energy Swing Windows

5. It’s All about the Install
He adds that the energy efficiency is assumed and doesn’t set the company apart from the pack. So what does help these companies stand apart? Most would agree that the installation plays a role.

At Clear NRG, the company’s installation advantage comes down to the different way it installs its windows.

“Most cut out the old window—and 80 percent of the products we take out are aluminum and they have fins on them,” D’hondt explains. “So the average window installer takes a saw and cuts the fin out and then puts the new window in without a fin and put a few screws in and a bead of caulking. That has limited protection because the fin isn’t behind the siding. We cut the old windows out by cutting into the siding and removing the fin, and then install the windows with a fin then put trim up with brickmould. We do that as a standard install.”

“We really promote our install,” says Issacs. “We foam fill the voids—a lot of companies don’t take that extra step. We tell people that you can have the best window in the world but if it is installed improperly you have an inferior product.”

A lot of people use cheap caulking, adds Rennekamp. “We use caulking that is more expensive and will last. If a window is not put in properly you just negated all the work you put into building your window.”

Wahl says items like caulking and flashing make a huge difference and contribute to the energy efficiency of a home. Cobblestone Homes are constructed using double-pane units filled with argon manufactured by Paradigm Windows in Portland, Maine. When installed, the company uses Dow Great Stuff and flashes it from outside using what she describes as “textbook flashing.”

“Everything is in the execution,” she says. We look at two things when we look at people in our company: They have to care, and they have to be willing to learn. If they have those the technical information is out there for them to learn. But we can’t change these two things in a person. If they don’t care we will have issues. If they are stubborn we will have issues.”

Sales reps at Energy Swing Windows also believe strongly in the installation and promote the fact that it makes and installs its products. In fact the company offers factory tours and, according to Rennekamp, tries to bond with a homeowner before they go out to get the job.

“Most window companies that offer replacement windows have three people involved and most homeowners don’t recognize that,” says Rennekamp. “They point fingers when there is a problem and the poor homeowner has no one to go to.

6. Finding the Sweet Spot
So while the way retailers sell windows has changed, all companies agree that they have to convince homeowners of the need for new windows, but how you do that varies greatly.

“You always have to sell a reason why someone is going to buy your product now,” says Issacs. “We tell people—it’s always the perfect time to buy windows. Your cost of labor is not going to go down. We don’t depend on external incentives and revolve our marketing plan around that. We proactively come up with our own incentive.”

At Clear NRG it’s all about finding the right touch points.

“If you are going to buy a car off a car lot the brand new Corvettes may get your blood going, but the Prius is logical. Depending on a consumer’s specific touch points that is what is most utilized during a sales pitch,” says D’hondt.

Rennekamp adds that the company isn’t just selling new windows it is selling relationships. “There are fewer people looking to buy but the people who are looking are checking out companies more than ever and that is good for companies like us. We do what we say, and we do things from a follow up perspective that most won’t do.”


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