It has become the dark-horse front-runner of modern business, right under our hightech noses. Trends come and go; essentials remain, even though they hide occasionally.

While the world chased the promise of worldwide accessibility, 24 hour commerce, and free e-mails, a funny thing happened: direct mail had a resurgence.

Usage plummeted following September 11, 2001 and the anthrax scare. The e-mail tidal wave nearly drowned “snail mail.” Costs rose, delivery times seemed comparatively glacial, and there was no interactivity, whatever that means. The onslaught of “free” and rampant list sign-ups — with or without permission — deluged even the most fascinated cyber junkie.

Smart marketers took note of the trend.

The ever-declining e-mail response rates, compounded with SPAM filters, signaled a shift back toward “personal, real, authentic” communication (pay particular attention to the quoted words in that sentence.) Direct mail is back in a big way!

Response rates for well-crafted, personalized mail has climbed significantly. Why? Consumers see mail as “real.”

Where have we heard this desire for “personal and real” before? Oh, yes, when the “automated attendant” took over for the muchloved- but-hurriedly-replaced customer service representative. People hated it with a passion.

And who’s this Nordstrom Company anyway? Who do they think they are, bringing service back to retail? Same with Costsco. Are they nuts?

Isn’t it interesting that Nordstrom and Costsco are among the only retailers who outperformed projections last quarter? Maybe people actually like service.

That’s your hint as we take a look at the these buying trends.

Hottest Trends – Contractor Connection
• The trend in hotel stays: customer recollection. Your preferences are noted, remembered, and selected for you on subsequent visits.
• The trend in spas: over-pamperization. Affluency at a new level of personal services; they shop or detail and fill up your car for you while you’re being massaged.
• The trend in casinos: hyper upgrades. Exclusive, expensive, indulgent packages with $20k hotel rooms booked a year in advance.
• The trend in catalog retailing: story telling selling. The back-story of product creation, materials, people behind it.
• The trend in consumables: bling packaging. Water, vitamins, deodorants, razors, all up-priced with stand-out packaging.

One common theme above is summed up by University of Florida English and advertisiing professor James Twitchell: “One generation’s indulgence becomes the next generation’s necessity.”

The above examples would’ve been absurd a few years ago. Tastes, time, affluence, and expectations change; the once-coveted becomes mainstream.

We moved from “hoping for” to “requiring” heating and cooling. Yet, many increased comfort and upservice trends within HVAC have been slow to come, and even slower to be retailed. Often to the detriment of the unwatchful contractor; occasionally to the industry.

Too many contractors consider themselves commodity providers and either immune, or at odds with retailing. I hear, “They must have our service, so why dress it up?” Correction: they must have someone’s service. Preferred choices emerge in trends, which later lead to movements.

Respond to the trend or scramble after the movement. It’s your choice.

Mindful Movements
A few established, and emerging, movements are:

Speed and convenience. Though customers want and pay for “turn-key service with scheduled maintenance reminders,” only about 12% of HVAC contractors dabble in maintenance agreements. Those who focus on them greatly, widen predictable revenue streams. Those behind this movement will find re-attraction difficult.

Health watch. Though 70% of homes are estimated to have indoor air quality (IAQ) problems, fewer than 10% of HVAC contractors consider themselves serious about providing a solution. Parallel this with the bottled water industry that was given away by the plumbing industry. Plumbers virtually gift-wrapped it through trend neglect. HVAC contractors who have an IAQ focus see increased customer retention and higher margins. Sharper Image may have a lesser solution, and David Oreck should stick with vacuum cleaners, but they’re both outselling contractors.

Going green. It was a trend when liberal professors biked to class. Now, its a movement splashed through core urban centers, retail stores, catalogs, info-mercials, entire shows on HGTV. Though our product says “green”, too many inhome presentations remain mute or shy.

Personal interaction and service. Customers beg for this, even if upsold, to resolve even the remotely mundane. Time-starved customers prefer not to shop for basic services. One carpet cleaner, one pest control company, one landscaper by choice, not by chance. If you feel it’s not worth the trouble to stay in touch, maybe they’ll agree with you. For 2008, retention and recall will rule revenues more than ever.

More Smart HVACtions for 2008
I just made up the word “HVACtions” because I’m so trendy. You too? Then become intentional about these trends:

Special and personal direct mail. Tightly targeted pieces, personalized, with offers that make sense to customers. Square footage as an indicator of multisystem service package, also for energy expense targets to compare “high-low” in neighborhood. Thank you cards are very hot right now, with subsequent service benefits. Cluster control for radius mailings are catching on big.

Improved CSR interaction. Callers have lost patience with what they used to put up with. The line has moved. People pay up for professional efficiency and courtesy — they hang up on anything less than that.

Offer service upgrades. No longer pushy, but appreciated if appropriate. Tell the customer they can save before the service, tell them you can perform an IAQ inspection with their service, tell them they could’ve been spared the whole silly breakdown by going on a maintenance agreement. Please!

Publicity. The latest big thing in contractor marketing. If linked to social conscience (charitable community support), it’s even more effective on many levels. Limelight builds credibility, transaction size, shortens sales cycle, and is “free,” which is hard to refuse. Smart contractors are moving this way.

Big sellers. IAQ, green, energy reduction with proof, bundled packages of services and products, cross-selling (HVAC with plumbing).

Consumer buying trends are popping up all around you. Wise retailers have already paved the way, proving their profitable acceptance. You can craft any of the above — without difficulty or delay — to cash in with ready buyers.

Yet trends have momentum of their own. As you’re part of them, you differentiate your company, gain a better image than before, and become more attractive to media and prospective employees than your competitors. And that’s a trend I’d like to see for you, too.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink — Contractor Marketing That Works. His company offers turn-key marketing packages for contractors, customer retention newsletters, and custom ad creation. Contact www.hudsonink. com or send an e-mail to freecbstuff@hudsonink. com to get his free ezine, and dozens of free marketing tools, or call 800/489-9099.