Mutually Beneficial Device

Hot-water recirculating pumps generate revenue, save customers money

Mutually Beneficial Device

Lawrence Sanchez, TLC Plumbing & Utility technician, installs a hot-water recirculating pump (Taco Comfort Solutions) in a residence near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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It’s not unusual for plumbers to feel uncomfortable about upselling customers on items above and beyond the repair needed. But hot-water recirculating pumps offer an easy win-win situation for both customers and plumbers — as long as it’s an upsell, not a hard sell.

That’s the message from Dale Armstrong, the owner of TLC Plumbing & Utility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Established in 1987, the company installs thousands of recirculating pumps every year, mostly HLS-2 Hot-Link units built by Taco Comfort Solutions.

“Taco is a very reliable pump,” Armstrong says. “It’s been a standard in the industry for a long time, so they’re tried-and-true devices. We have very few issues with them, which is important. Nobody likes callbacks.”

In addition, the company sometimes uses Comfort PM hot-water recirculating pumps manufactured by Grundfos for applications in older homes that don’t have a recirculating loop plumbed into them. Typical cost for a recirculating pump and installation is about $500, Armstrong says.

Saving significant amounts of water that are usually wasted while waiting for hot water to arrive at a faucet or showerhead is a great selling point. Customers also save money by using less water, not to mention less natural-gas usage, he adds.

A typical showerhead, for example, probably wastes about 2 1/2 to 5 gallons of water per shower while waiting for hot water, which comes out to about 900 gallons a year. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that an average-size household wastes about 12,000 gallons annually while waiting for hot water.

But there’s another even greater cost: Wasting an already scarce resource — especially in an arid desert area like New Mexico. “If you’re turning on faucets and just letting them run, you’re adding to the problem of wasting a limited natural resource,” Armstrong points out.

In a normal-size household with average water usage, a hot-water recirculating pumps will pay for itself after about one year. “But the added convenience is also worth quite a bit to customers,” he adds.

CASUAL APPROACH

So what’s the best way to ask if a customer is interested in such an upgrade? At TLC, which employs nearly 600 people and does residential and commercial service and repair, drain cleaning and trenchless pipeline rehab statewide, technicians are trained to ask lifestyle questions to identify products that could benefit customers, Armstrong explains.

For example, while repairing a faucet, a technician might ask a customer how long it takes to get hot water to the tap. If the customer says it takes awhile, the technician can ask if hot water on-demand would be worth considering.

“Asking the question can lead to an easy conversation about what it would take to make that happen,” he says. “But it’s not a hard sell. We only provide more information if the customer is interested.

“We offer whatever is mission critical to fixing the existing problem — give customers a recommendation of what we’d do at our own home,” he continues. “Then we make a recommendation for anything that could make their home operate better than it ever has in the past.

“That way the customer truly is deciding what he or she wants.”

MAKING TIME FOR INSTALLS

How does TLC handle scheduling if customers decide they want a recirculating pump installed right away? Armstrong says the company schedules its 155 technicians with a little “wiggle room” to accommodate such situations.

“We schedule close to daily capacity, based on how many techs we’re running and the season,” he explains. “One advantage of having a group as big as ours is that there are a lot of resources available. If one guy stays on a job longer than anticipated, we just move that next call to somebody else.

“We like to send technicians out on just one call at a time,” he continues. “That way they’re not thinking about rushing through one job to get to the next job. They go to one call and satisfy all the wants and needs of that customer before moving on to the next one. The fewer trips we make, the more profitable we are.”

The ability to respond to upsell approvals also depends on having parts on hand, which the company accomplishes with 16-foot box trucks that carry anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 worth of parts inventory. The company relies primarily on Isuzu NPR trucks outfitted with box bodies made by Supreme (a Wabash National company).

As a former technician, Armstrong believes it’s critical to educate customers and talk about their wants — and respect those wants. It’s easy for plumbers to get caught up in what they believe a customer needs and ignore what the customer really wants.

“So just having a conversation about they want can make all the difference,” he says about upselling. “I always tell our technicians that it’s their job to know what customers want before they leave a job site. If they don’t know that, they haven’t done their job right.”  



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