BY CHRIS TRACZEK
Sears is one of the most recognized and well-respected brands in North America. Sears Home Central in Canada not only epitomizes the brand, but is also Canada’s largest retailer. The mega-retailer is known for brands like Kenmore, its expansive retail outlets and its far-reaching HVAC Service and Equipment Repair network. The breadth of the company’s HVAC Service and Equipment Repair division is as broad as the retail merchandizing business, reaching 11 million customers per year through call centers and repair services. The scope of this business is now growing in the oilheat segment.
In 2003, Sears Home Central acquired Imperial-Esso’s network of oilheat contractors and customers.
Approximately 140,000 homeowners with oilheat systems were added to Sears Home Central’s service portfolio. The challenge, then, was to roll-up the newly acquired business into the company’s existing network while maintaining Sears Home Central’s reputation for exceptional service.
It was ultimately the commitment to service and to their customers that brought Sears Home Central and Boston Environmental together. Sears Home Central realized the tank-replacement standards were at best inappropriate and, being new to the oilheat segment, the company quickly realized the residential tank was a market issue and a customer issue.
“This is good for our customers and if it is good for them it is important for Sears Home Central,” said Darrell Clarke of the business development and HVAC product repair services arm of Sears Home Central.
Boston Environmental’s TankSure Program offers the best available technologies to effectively and efficiently provide customers with a proactive tank-replacement program. Additionally, TankSure’s data collection and analysis feature is bringing rave reviews from the insurance industry, not to mention the hundreds of oil dealers and HVAC companies currently using the program.
“With all the discussions in our state and regional association meetings regarding tank issues, I am convinced this is the greatest thing to come along in the oil industry in 20 years,” said Dean Smith of Oswego, N.Y.-based Scott Smith & Son. “We are now being proactive regarding tank integrity and combining this with our annual tune-ups we find the service techs are paying much closer attention to the tank and surrounding conditions. This is a win-win for everyone.”
Boston Environmental and Sears Home Central are currently launching the TankSure Program in Sears’ major Canadian markets, which include Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. Sears estimates that it will service over 140,000 oilheat customers in these markets this year. The rest of the company’s key markets will be launched before the end of 2005. The TankSure Program is one of Sears Home Central, HVAC division’s, major initiatives in 2005.
The Atlantic Region of Sears Home Central is leading the way from a marketing, planning and operational perspective. Nova Scotia was the first to launch the program and management is already considering more innovative marketing methods. The goal is to get the tanks tested and change the quality standard for residential replacements. Hence, the company’s marketing strategy and related tactics will focus on volume of subscribers and getting bad tanks out of their network.
“The TankSure Program does more than identify tanks that should be replaced before they actually fail,” said John McGlane, vice president of Boston Environmental. “There is also a very powerful marketing component in terms of service quality, customer retention and customer acquisition. The program now includes a unique real estate program that is a compelling customer acquisition tool. In aggregate, the technology, the marketing, the additional revenue and the liability reduction component all work together seamlessly to provide service companies and fuel oil suppliers with a great value.”
The program allows Sears Home Central to accomplish several important objectives all at the same time. There is a significant customer service and liability reduction aspect, a positive marketing component and by taking a leadership role with programs like this, Sears Home Central fulfills its environmental mission.
A proactive replacement process has many clear advantages, but perhaps most importantly, this change leverages the industry’s most important competitive advantage: customer service. And the program works as well for the service giants like Sears Home Central as it does for a local fuel supplier.
“In our first year we have proactively replaced five tanks,” said Liz Lumbra of Edward S. Mull in Meriden, Conn. “It is a very good situation when a bad tank is getting replaced before it leaks. It is obviously better for the customer and us, but our service department likes the fact that these replacements are not a fire-drill.”
To Sears Home Central, the TankSure Program is another important way the company lets its customers know they care.