Redefine Yourself as a Conservation Partner
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
How many times can the media report that "It's 90 degrees outside, but homeowners are already gripped with fear about next winter's heating bills..."? Oilheat is awash in bad press in 2008, but you can chart a new path to success by redefining yourself as a proactive conservation partner.
The high price of heating oil is an easy story to report, and it's guaranteed to sell papers and boost ratings. A lot of the reporters make a good faith effort at objectivity, but others don't even try. They might as well just flash "Convert to gas! Convert to gas!" in huge letters on the screen.
One can only imagine what we're in for when the cold weather comes. Congress will take some flak over stingy LIHEAP funding, but most of the mud will splatter directly on Oilheat marketers.
Our associations are working overtime to combat the negative publicity, but their good work alone can't deter the growing number of consumers who are looking for new solutions. Much of the burden falls to the individual marketers, who face a pressing need to redefine their businesses.
As an Oilheat dealer today, you can have all the traditional attributes - family owned and operated, local, full-service, friendly - and still take major hits to your market share. Customers really do appreciate our businesses, but loyalty has its limits when forced to choose between putting oil in their tank or food on their table.
Conservation and alternative energy sources are two great directions to consider for your company. A recent ABC News poll indicates that 71% of Americans are taking conservation steps, so why not capitalize? You'll add valuable expertise that will create additional, long-term revenues for your business and generate goodwill. Many local dealers across the country have found new success by offering Bioheat, solar energy and geothermal heating solutions.
The future of your company is on the line, and a major commitment is required. One route you can choose is to add important services like energy audits and home-sealing services such as insulation, weatherproofing, or installation of doors and windows. You can partner with local companies if needed, or even retrain your own employees. The point is to give your customers more reasons than ever to trust you and turn to you for their comfort needs.
Another way to get on board the conservation bandwagon is to embrace an alternative energy such as solar. You can start small by investing in training for one or two employees and gradually build an installation base. The new division may account for only a small portion of your business, but there's nothing to stop you from making it the focal point of your marketing efforts. Solar is the ultimate "green" heating system: the energy is free and produces no air or water pollution, and supply is guaranteed as long as the sun continues to rise. New systems store heat so the home remains comfortable on cloudy days.
Even closer to home is Bioheat®. It's been the coming thing for several years, but the window of opportunity to become a leader in your area will close before long. ASTM has calmed fears about equipment warranties by expanding the Oilheat spec to include B5, and one state - Massachusetts - has already enacted a Bioheat mandate. You might have to extend yourself to secure supply, but it could be the move that turns the tide for your business. Marketers who have taken the plunge say that response is favorable and often downright enthusiastic, and new customers seek them out.
Once you choose your direction and start offering your new "green" services, you will be positioned to upgrade your company image. You'll be able to market yourself as a pro-active conservation partner who is taking the lead and providing new solutions. That is a much stronger image for the long haul than being known simply for fuel delivery and equipment repairs.
Disseminating your new image and making it stick is another big job. You can start by recrafting your logo and displaying the new version proudly on brochures, trucks, uniforms, signs, advertisements and your website. You'll also want to redesign your Web site home page so that it reflects your new emphasis and prominently highlights your commitment to conservation. In newsletters, you can generate considerable enthusiasm around "green" services that help customers achieve their twin goals of saving money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
You should consider going the extra mile for some good public relations work. With all the attention on energy costs, the press is pouncing on everything - and looking for good news. Set yourself up as the leading provider of alternative energy solutions and conservation advice. Beyond the traditional newspapers, there are conservation groups, environmental activists, bloggers and even real estate associations all over the Internet discussing this issue and looking for the next hot story. If you play your cards right, you can trigger a deluge of positive coverage and get a lasting return on your investment.
With so much energy being spent complaining about Big Oil, there is an equal amount of good will for companies looking to help the consumer. By refashioning yourself as a conservation partner for your customers and getting the word out, you'll lead your business to new heights.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.