Tools. A simple word that many never give serious thought to until they need them. Yet, one way to measure the progress of civilization, from prehistory to modern times, is by the tools it creates or improves. This sense of progress exists even today when examining the HVACR industry, as one new tools company, hilmor, has created dramatic advances through its diligent and thorough research.
The hilmor brand started nearly 90 years ago in the United Kingdom as a tubing bender company, founded by Mr. Moore. He came up with the idea after watching a friend of his, who happened to be a plumber, struggle with bending copper tubing. He invented the first tubing bender that could bend copper tubing without having to heat it up. That idea of ‘observing, then improving’ is what the hilmor brand has held onto all these years as it’s taking tools that already exist and improving them. “It’s not about bells and whistles,” says Emily Bavaro, director of marketing, hilmor. “It’s about taking parts off and making the products more intuitive and easier to use. That’s our goal in retooling.”
Research and Development Process
In 2010, hilmor put together a dedicated group of engineers and marketing professionals to study HVAC technicians’ every move. “The first process that we went through with our research was observing,” Bavaro explains. “We studied over 80 HVAC contractors on 45 job sites. We did ‘truck logs’ where the contractors showed us everything on their trucks. We found out the brand of tool used, how long they owned it and what they paid for it. We asked what they would change about the tool, if given the choice. We really wanted to understand what tools were important to the HVAC contractor.” The research team also visited many distributors to get an understanding of what merchandising would look like for the hilmor brand.
The team brought their findings back to the office and developed dozens of product concepts that would make the tools better for the HVAC technician. Those ideas were put back out in focus groups around the country to find out if the changes really made the tool better and in turn made the technician’s job easier. “We’d get even better ideas from there,” Bavaro explains. “We’d bring all the new ideas back to the developers to find out if the product ideas were still feasible. We also did price testing to find out if what was available today, versus what we were going to create, was still something that contractors were willing to buy. That really helped us add value for our distributors.”
Almost 1,700 HVAC technicians and HVAC distributor employees were involved in the research process. They helped hilmor with packaging concepts and marketing ideas. By the end of the research process, hilmor had spent millions of dollars on research and development. “We wanted to make sure that we got it right and that contractors were getting everything they needed in a tool from us,” Bavaro says.
The first range of products from hilmor is completely dedicated to HVAC tradesmen. “We started in two categories,” Bavaro says of the product rollout. “The first category is manifolds and gauges. We see these products as the lifeblood of the HVAC technician. It’s their partner when they are all alone on the job and they need tools to be accurate in order to diagnose a system.
“The second category is hand tools. In many cases, hand tools are thorns in technicians’ sides. Some are cumbersome products that we thought we could make easier to use. We watched technicians work in tough spaces like crawlspaces and attics. When we saw technicians holding their flashlights in their mouths, or with tools pressed into their sides to do their work, we thought, ‘We can make this easier for them. They shouldn’t need a third arm to complete their work.’”
The product range at launch is almost 150 different tools. “It’s big, because we wanted to be comprehensive,” Bavaro says. “That means we have every available refrigerant in our different gauges, and products to bend, flare and swage every different size of copper tubing. We also have every size of nut driver imaginable; it’s a full range.”