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Robert's Industry Observations, Part IV:
Copyright (c) 2007 Robert Bean, All Rights Reserved
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Skill Sets Required for Navigating the Future of Hydronics


Random selection of Bean's replies to inquires on the industry.

The hydronics industry is like the asthmatic in a room full of allergens…the body reacts by constricting the airways so it has to work harder to get the oxygen but the air is contaminated so the harder the lungs work the worse it gets. That analogy is a derivative of the Talmud’s, ‘We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are’. So rather than remove the allergens we're happy to declare ourselves,” asthmatic” and medicate ourselves with the strategies of the status quo.

(How's that for an opening remark...)

So what are the allergens…I’ve identified about 12 significant ones – one of which is the basis for a discussion on simplicity. Larry Drake has it right (always has) – and I agree with 99.9% of what is said but the 0.1% is hardcore and that relates to the opportunity for customization. I believe flat-out there should be no customization in consumer products that need to be resold back into the consumer marketplace and in fact it is customization that is the DNA of the allergen preventing wide scale adoption. I’ve never seen a job in 30 years that couldn’t adapt itself to a catalogue of factory built hydronic appliances – never. But I’ve talked with thousands of contractors who have no issue with adapting their artistry to the job by claiming it’s the "kind of job that needs customization". If you ask a barber if you need a haircut what do you think his answer will be…

Over the years I’ve had several wholesalers and manufacturers ask me, “Bean, what we can do to make a difference?” My reply…”stop selling components and only sell hydronic appliances.” Their reply is indicative of the illness…”we can’t do that – our competitors would eat our lunch”.

“We can’t do that” has been the industries motto for the past three decades and in unprecedented growth in construction the market share for hydronics went stagnant (Canada) or declined (U.S.).

“We can’t do that” will also take the industry exactly to where it is going in the future.

One of the other allergens I’ve addressed in the May/June 2010 issue of HPAC Canada – Modern Hydronics, is called Hydronics in 3D.

3D represents the industry problems created by diversification, divergence and dilution.

I strongly support a targeted consumer program such as CHC’s “Beautiful Heat”, but ultimately it will be necessary to develop campaigns directed at each filter stacked in the illustration posted earlier. This is critical – we mustn’t let any one program overshadow the need for other campaigns...this has to be a D-Day program on many beachheads. Why? Let’s say the CHC’s campaign increases consumer demand for hydronics (and if launched - I have no doubt that it will) but what if one or more elements up the hierarchy provides some measure of resistance to flow through?

On a micro scale variation of the’s no different than American contractors wanting European products available in only 50 HZ / BSP...a demand is created by visits to ISH or Euro websites but the demand is insufficient to motivate change by the manufacturers (can you hear the chorus of the Stones classic...You Can't Always Get What You Want). In the example given, replace American contractor with American consumer; likewise 50HZ/BSP with hydronics and manufacturers with builders and you now have the same problem just different products and players but all in the very same game.

Here’s an internal roadblock: Radiant floor heating and cooling is without a doubt the driving “brand” recognized by consumers due to programs such as, “This Old House”, “Home Time”, “Holmes on Holmes”, articles in Time Magazine, Forbes, Kitchen and Bath, Radiant Flooring, Architecture, High Performance Buildings and the ASHRAE Journal etc...this is great stuff for radiant but funding a large scale promotion of radiant would be vehemently opposed by the producers of baseboard, fan/coils, panel radiators etc... even though the promotion (as Larry correctly pointed out) would ultimately benefit all participants. This is where Trade Associations are a double edge sword since decisions must be made for the good of the association which trumps all - even if it is detrimental to the hydronic industry growth.

The RPA and similar organizations got started by slipping out from under the arms of the mainstream associations but the individual members didn’t which means designers, manufacturers, contractors, and distributers hold multiple memberships which fund multiple association management groups, plus funding multiple attendances at a plethora of trade shows and conferences - all further diluting the critical financial mass needed for a well funded multi tiered campaign. Only pain can come from this, “one foot on the dock and the other in the boat” syndrome.

As we have said before the money is there for a well funded hydronics war chest…it was collectively spent in the past 25 years without growth in market share and will be collectively spent in the future UNLESS the hydronics industry collectively demands a return on it’s marketing and PR expenditures measured purely in market share growth.
Put it this way…

1. if you were the CEO of a publically held conglomeration and you spent hundreds of millions of dollars over 25 years resulting in stagnation or decline – what kind of response would you expect from the shareholders group if you plan on using the same approach over the next 25 years?

2. If you were Churchill and Roosevelt and this was D-Day would you have only created a strategy for Omaha when Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword were also necessary? Heck even they cut a deal with Stalin to make it work.

Industry needs to get behind not only the Beautiful Heat campaign but create and support others targeted at each of the industry segments. Which is why the challenge is big, comprehensive, coordinated, expensive and long term (at least seven years in my estimation)… and it requires an Allied force that deliberately disbands after a set objective - otherwise it could become a victim of its own success...(read United Nations). Will it happen? Yuck yuck...- unlike the reporting’s of stocks – the status quo always reports, “past performance is in fact a good indicator of future performance”.

Thoughts on how paradigms fuel the fire...


Yes…every “artist” I know looks at each new project as a blank canvas so “in their eyes” designs and fabricates a custom system instead of designing and fabricating a system around a compliment of standardized appliances based on the customer eyes.

Net result…so long as an inventory of contractors sees themselves as “artists” and so long as manufacturers see themselves as suppliers of tubes of paints and brushes…they jointly prevent the application of “appliances”. Incidentally for those who have a belief system that hydronic appliances “dumb down” the industry…it might surprise you to know that one actually requires a greater engineering skill to design a system around an “off the shelf” product since you have to work within the hydraulic and thermal limitations of the manufactured product…that means you have to have an above average understanding of thermal dynamics, fluid flow and controls to apply the appliance….no different than working with a fan/coil, furnace, boiler, heat pump, indirect water heater, HRV/ERV or brazed plate heat exchanger.

Re: If not trade associations, then what?

What the CHC did was essentially fire themselves and hire an outside firm. I just think we need to scale up that strategy… Weiden+Kennedy are a step in the right direction though I’m personally devoted to the wisdom of Al Riess and Jack Trout ... Before and after their partnership dissolution they continue to be a step beyond most PR and marketing firms in their strategies and tactics and what they believe (in my opinion) is what the industry needs.

If I were in charge of leading the Allies I would partner with Jack Trout for strategies and tactics for consumers, builders and HVAC contractors.

Again...industry would have to fire itself and agree to build up a war chest to hire these very very talented firms...


Re: “You can't fix the marketing until the product is fixed” ...agreed…but a caveat for clarity - I only partially subscribe to the belief that marketing is the exclusive saviour for the entire hierarchy between producers and consumers. If we selectively substitute the word “marketing” with “laxative” it might make it clearer to what I believe is necessary. Better yet …it might make it clearer if one were to understand each layer in the hierarchy needs a custom made solution to suits its own dietary constipation. That laxative might be; public relations...might be marketing…might be sales…might be industrial design or…. it might be legislation for example that prevents failure to obtain Energy Star ratings for customized on site fabricated mechanical stuff …regardless I still know it will take a war chest applied in measured amounts to each industry segment using an appropriate strategy for that specific segment. I guess another way of saying it is…if one were to turn all the snow in ones yard into one big snow ball and throw it at that one big mean neighbourhood bully – it might make one feel good but it’s all but wasted– as there would not be any snow left over to make a snowman…don’t know if that helps explain where I’m coming from….in any event - “… getting the product fixed” – from where I sit - requires a cultural shift in the contractor, wholesalers and manufacturing chain….and the industry and its various elements are masters at change prevention. Sustainability to this industry translates to: “how long can we sustain old practices without being forced to change.” Why? Because it’s true that - consumers know about radiant; and it’s true the hydronic appliance has existed for decades in several forms; and it’s true in informal surveys consumers prefer radiant systems using hydronic appliances with very few appreciating the onsite custom made” science experiment” (we really see this in the previously owned real estate market where consumers have a choice – they can buy as is – or negotiate down due to the “complexity” perception or walk away due to the cost to reformat the mechanical room)…. Since I have a little bit of knowledge with manufacturing and distribution (Larry is in the same camp) - the blockage in my opinion - at least as it relates to cost effective, reliable, user friendly, simple, attractive - is not a consumer problem but a contractor + distributor + manufacturing cultural challenge (Larry your thoughts?).

From my camp...the laxative for the above ménage à trois addicted to labour and parts sales - has to be funded from industry itself and the first in the chain to go into rehab has to be the growers (manufacturers) and the dealers (wholesalers). [Sorry for the analogy…when I was in manufacturing, I had this slide in my presentations that went like this…”do you know what manufactures and drug pushers have in common?”…they both call their customers, ‘dealers’.]

Getting the product fixed – yes absolutely….getting the supply chain fixed as well – also necessary.

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