As the weather heats up, one thing is certain: HVAC demand calls will flood the marketplace. Will they be coming to you? That’s a big question for sure, but the answer doesn’t have to be a big mystery.

First, let’s talk about who is calling. Some callers will be new to the marketplace. Some will be the customers of your competitors. Some will be your customers.

If the first two groups call, good for you. But if the third group doesn’t call, that’s not good at all. It’s a much worse predicament than if the first two groups don’t call – because it’s a bad sign for the overall health of your company.

That’s reality, but before we get too discouraged, let’s talk about how to make sure your customers are calling you when they need HVAC service.

Two words: Customer Retention.

If you can think of five things that you do to retain your customers, good for you. I’d venture to say that most contractors can’t – and that’s because the biggest failure in HVAC marketing is having a poor or nonexistent customer retention program.

On average, contractors pay $275 to gain a customer, but many lose them for free due to poor retention efforts. Today, customers buy faster, pay more, and refer more… and cost you zero to acquire since you’ve already got them on file. That makes even a small customer retention effort a cash-flow surge, especially in busy season.

Think about it. If you miss out on the “spending” season and allow a customer to call your competitors, you lose that customer, all his future sales and referrals – and you never even know about it. So make an effort by getting out in front of your competition with a professional customer retention weapon. (And yes, you’ll end up winning some of the ones he’s neglecting too.)

A high quality postcard with a well-placed retention message (not a hard-driving ‘sales’ message) gains credibility, sales, referrals and great top of mind awareness (TOMA). Plus, postcards require no envelope, can be metered, and are very inexpensive to print. They can be out to your entire database almost immediately. When developing your postcard, follow these guidelines:

• Focus on a singular summer-themed headline. This is simple since you can refer to the “heat” of summer versus the “cool” of your service and systems. You can also use a July 4th theme since that is a powerful and popular tie-in. Since these are going for customer retention, you do not promote a special, but you reinforce the relationship.

• Tie the headline to a magnetic photo. Not equipment or trucks! Thousands of royalty-free photos are available at many websites. (Caution: the discs can be $2500, but this beats a professional photographer at $300 per photo). We sift through 300 to 400 to find the “right” ones, but this process is what draws the reader or turns them away. Best bet: Children in summer activities rank #1 in female-oriented focus groups, which account for nearly 70% of the readership.

• “Sell” them on your relationship with a soft call to action. This means draw the reader into the copy, then remind them of your service and that you can “fix” many of the ills connected with the hot weather or plumbing related issues.

• Two extra “lead bumps” for smart marketers. You can include a request for referrals such as, “We’d be delighted to hear from you or your friends anytime.” Also, you can turn the postcard into a $10 off coupon (or whatever amount) with one sentence at the end or on the front.

Remember, the summer sales season can make or break your business. Don’t wait on the weather or hope your customers remember you. Make sure it happens by driving your name further into the market to get more leads, sales, and profits. The calls are out there. Make sure they’re coming to you.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can call Hudson, Ink at 1-800-489-9099 to ask about our summer customer retention postcards or go to www.hudsonink.com. To receive a free marketing newsletter, fax the request on your letterhead to 334-262-1115 or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.