A little over eight years ago, The IAPMO Group purchased the assets of the Radiant Panel Association. Over the subsequent years, several executive directors have been in place. Some have been non-technical, while others have been very technical and well-respected across the industry.
For the past few years the association was managed, directed, led, coaxed (you may pick the verb, as all apply when you have a group of strong-willed competitors in the room) by Les Nelson, a very humble, extremely intelligent guide. As reported in just about every plumbing and solar energy periodical, Les died unexpectedly in May. The industry lost a luminary. Having been with IAPMO since before the acquisition as senior vice president of marketing, I was asked to keep things going until a full-time director could be appointed.
These are big shoes to fill, so I will not even try from a radiant system technical point of view (members can attest that I was lost in the weeds whenever the advanced mathematics of mechanical systems were being debated at meetings). I am not a professional association manager, just the marketing guy who makes sure the five trade associations under our umbrella succeed. The RPA still has all of the resources to move the radiant industry, but just needs a few tools for the contractors.
Build your business
Every business is built one sale at a time. The ones that last provide their customers with demonstrable value for the goods and services provided. The RPA is not a lead-generation machine, though since joining IAPMO, it has turned over 200 qualified leads per year to our members, which has been done with very little paid advertising. Consumers and contractors seek us out.
Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, Houzz, Service Roundtable and others are great lead-generation sources beyond your own organic and paid promotion of your business. Just about every month, articles are written in the various trade journals about how to generate and close more leads. As someone who was a straight commission sales rep, I know it can be a volume game; you can either burn yourself out chasing down every unqualified, one-legged lead that crosses your cellphone or you can run a laser-focused, high-closing-rate program of those who want all of the natural benefits of radiant heating and cooling.
Having your business affiliated with the original — and still industry-leading — association puts you with the right decision makers. We maintain a Directory of installers and dealer members across the country that is available for free to consumers.
Contractors have asked for consumer-friendly brochures that RPA members can use to educate people about radiant’s key benefits. We have refreshed the “Smart and Comfortable Radiant Solutions” and “Consumer’s Guide to Hydronic Home Heating” brochures, and have a new one titled, “Consumer’s Guide to Selecting and Working with a Radiant Contractor.”
All of these are designed to be overprinted by contractors with their contact information.
We also make copies of the Radiant Comfort Report magazine supplements available to our customers for inclusion as part of their pitch book and leave-behinds.
Getting certified is the ultimate “wingman.” Talking about how good you are only gets you part of the way; having a certification from a reputable third party that really knows this business and has an online directory of those who have leveled up puts you ahead of the crowd. Being one of the recognized experts in your local market gives general contractors and consumers the confidence to go with the higher bid. There is a direct correlation between price and quality — especially for something that is going to be poured in concrete or embedded in the wall.
Even though your jurisdiction does not require contractor certification yet, is your company a leader or a follower? If you are already differentiating yourself by simply being in the radiant and hydronics market, then why are you losing jobs over price? Designing and installing a radiant system requires real know-how. This is not the place to “fake it ’til you make it,” as your reputation and potentially years of profit are at stake with every install. Having you and your team certified as qualified installers puts you in the clear leadership position of quality and pricing.
But this is not an “only the very rich can afford it” sale (though we do like those to fall into our laps every now and then). Radiant system component manufacturers are working constantly to bring more cost-effective and efficient solutions to the professional installers. Consumers and building owners want to buy (not be sold) the long-term savings and healthier buildings from a radiant system. By being part of the RPA, you can demonstrate your level of commitment to properly designed and installed systems.
Learn from the best
The RPA has forward-thinking manufacturers as members. In the early days, there were few training programs and much of the material was being translated from European installation manuals. At that time, the RPA was the central resource for training. Today, the manufacturers have brought together wonderful training centers to educate contractors on their specific products. The RPA does not need to get into that level of product detail; however, our course teaches the sections of the building, plumbing and mechanical codes that deal with radiant and hydronics.
Once we can go about normal business, the RPA will continue our Industry Night events at the AHR Expo. Our members let us know this a one-night-a-year event that allows them to openly discuss radiant situations with non-competitors from around the country. Our members network long after the event to continue to learn from each other.
Every trade association is asking for this, and there is only so much of you to go around. For about the same price as a foursome of golf, you can start down the differentiation pathway. There are many readers who know the military adage, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” There is a problem: The old-timers are just getting older and the young guns want quality of life.
There is also a second problem: Anyone with access to YouTube thinks he or she can install just about anything. High-quality installations of radiant systems require knowledgeable and trained professionals. Sections of the codes require updating as new technologies come onto the market. The embedding of radiant into local building codes requires a grass-roots effort. These codes keep the installations from heading to the absolute minimums. With our members working with our field services and government relations teams, they can keep this specialized industry segment profitable and a necessary part of the future of energy-efficient heating and cooling.
Take advantage of the tools of membership. You can be part of the change to your industry.