The Sharpest Tool™

Max Rohr | How to Stay Ahead of the Curve in Your HVAC Company

Cheryl McRae
Josh Smith
Max Rohr is the Marketing Academy Manager of Building Solutions for REHAU Academy and the host of the podcast REHAU Academy on Air. REHAU is a sustainable, polymer-based solution company focused on improving energy efficiency in businesses, homes, and automobiles. He shares how growing up in the home services trades shaped his passion for radiant heating and cooling, and why you should never be afraid to pitch your premium product.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the sharpest tool. My name is Josh Smith and I am your host, the vice president of marketing of home services over here at scorpion. And today on the podcast, we have max Rohr, who is the marketing academy manager of building solutions for Ray, how he has worked in the installation, hydronics and solar industries since 1998. And, uh, we're really excited to have you on the show, max.

Max Rohr (00:27):

Welcome. Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Josh Smith (00:30):

Yeah. It's to be, you happen to be the son of, uh, Ellen Rohr, who we've had on this show. We love Ellen, and I know we're going to love you to bring to the table. You have your own podcast, you have a newborn to,

Max Rohr (00:42):

And it's been a busy 20, 24 for me and others, I think.

Josh Smith (00:45):

Yeah. Yeah. What's your podcast. Tell us a little bit about what's going on in that world for you. Sure.

Max Rohr (00:51):

So we call it radio academy on air and we're doing a second season this year, and it's more of a discussion about some of the problems that our customers are solving, uh, on topics like snow and ice melt and radiant heating and cooling, uh, district energy, things like that. So we've changed the format a little bit to see, uh, kind of to learn from our cool customer projects, more so than just to lecture people about the science of the technology. So

Josh Smith (01:18):

Why don't you tell the listeners a bit about your background, your experiences here?

Max Rohr (01:23):

So I'm a fourth generation in the plumbing and heating industry. Uh, I worked with my parents. Uh, they had a family plumbing heating and solar business. Uh, when I was a kid, um, as early as department of child labor will allow my dad to say that I went to work with him, but I think it was when I was old enough to not wander away or crawl away or something like that. So, uh, I love hydronics. That's kind of my favorite, uh, thing in the world. And, um, buildings are super important and what we can do with radiant heating and radiant cooling is really get to those like net zero energy, lofty lead platinum, uh, project goals. And it is something that I just I've really enjoyed being in this industry. Yeah.

Josh Smith (02:05):

Tell us a bit about hydronics for those who are listening, who might not be familiar with it, what are you referring to?

Max Rohr (02:12):

Yeah, so water can move 3,500 times more energy per volume than air. So it's a great conveyor belt for moving energy around a building it's widely utilized in Europe, uh, partially because it's what they've done for a long time. Partially because their energy prices are so much higher that they just need to hit those really, really high energy efficiency goals where, uh, the price of energy in the U S has been lower for so long. And we move so frequently that people sometimes want to invest in radiant heating and radiant cooling. But the energy information agency, uh, in a 2012 study said that radiant heating saves about 32%, uh, energy on especially commercial projects. So it's a great way to maintain comfort and have energy efficiency, kind of both in the same package, which is one of the reasons that I love to talk about it.

Josh Smith (03:03):

Yeah, absolutely. So buildings use 39% of the energy in the us, but we can build them to be better from, from your perspective. Talk a bit about

Max Rohr (03:13):

Sure. So, uh, that study, um, more so than transportation. So buildings use more energy than all the planes and trains and automobiles in the world. So if you could take your car to an auto mechanic and have him flip a switch and make it 30% more energy efficient, that would be pretty incredible. And the people listening to this in the service industry know how to do that. They can fix these problems and make buildings so much better. I think that we're starting with a pretty low baseline respective to the amount of accessible technology that we have in the world. So a lot of big problems that we can solve with the tools that you can go pick up at a wholesaler today. Yeah.

Josh Smith (03:51):

Do you find, I'm just curious on this point, do you find a lot of home services, um, service businesses are putting this out there as an offering? Is it, or is this something that a lot typically miss?

Max Rohr (04:02):

So I think that whoever's listening to the car right now finds like a premium plus offering. That's one of the things that I'm passionate about. So whatever your best version of equipment, uh, that you would pitch to a customer, find something that's even better because it's out there. So we can go with that, like absolutely platinum platinum offering, if it's an ECM pump or an air to water, heat, pump water, to water geo exchange system, something that really works well with radiant heating and cooling. That's kind of the world that I live in, but even just in a standard at forced air, there are so many great technologies available. Uh, and I think that one of the things as an industry we don't always do well is, uh, not pitch that premium option. I think that in some ways, uh, when I've been a consumer and I have gone to a store to ask for something and they pitched me the middle of the road, uh, product, I kind of find it insulting if I was like ready to get the best version of what's out there. So whatever your premium is, uh, look for something that's maybe five or 10 years ahead of right now. Uh, because that's, that's what customers want to at least be offered. And you'd be surprised how many times people will say yes.

Josh Smith (05:11):

What, why do you think that they don't offer the premium offering, um, on a regular?

Max Rohr (05:16):

So I think that, uh, one of the things that, um, is an, an issue for an industry and has been very interesting this year is I think we have a self-confidence problem. I think that there are some people that will pitch you the best version of the speakers at best buy, because what do they have to lose? But I think that we're afraid of rejection and necessarily not seeing the value in ourselves as a trade, that we are absolutely worth it. I think this year has been so interesting because everyone has said, oh no, plumbers and HVAC people are essential. We need them. When was the last time you heard that it's been such a weird year in that sense. And I think that we need to not forget that and say, okay, would you like the, the premium offering of something that is absolutely essential to the point that we have to go to the front lines in the middle of a pandemic? Would you like to hear about an ECM pump? Would you like to hear about a geo exchange system? I can make this building more comfortable or energy efficient it's I think that that's a, it's been a weird 2020 in that sense, because we didn't decide that that was whoever the powers that be said, plumbers are essential. HVAC people are essential and I I've loved it. I mean, so

Josh Smith (06:33):

You're hitting on something so important. I was having a conversation with a business owner yesterday, actually, and we were talking about pricing, right? And, and if this was a different conversation than, um, than hydronics, but this was based around just how do you even price a business and today's business world business culture, marketing costs are going up. And what was coming out of the conversation was you actually go about providing the value because people buy what people value. And if you're providing something that's in value, even if it's a premium product, people will find a way to pay for it. So I think bringing up such a powerful point of really knowing and understanding the value of what you're providing the consumer.

Max Rohr (07:15):

I think that one of the things that our industry has quietly done, such an incredible job of making thermal comfort and plumbing disappear, that the average homeowner doesn't even think about it. We've done our job so well that you don't think what happens when we flush the toilet. What happens when I push up on with thermostat, we've made all of that hide behind the wall because we do our job well. And if you've installed a system, well, your homeowner doesn't even know what the equipment is. They might not even know where it is in a big house. We have just made it invisible. Sometimes that's harder to upsell. If you don't understand, you know, you drive your car every day, get in your car and you know what that feels like. You know what that is. You don't go to your furnace or go to your boiler every day and experience that you just see kind of the benefits of it. So being able to paint that picture of what comfort is a little bit better, opens up the ability to upsell. And it's a, it's a complex topic. Comfort is not the same for anybody. So you really have to find a way to make it relatable. And I think that that makes it easier to pitch that, that upgrade. Wow.

Josh Smith (08:19):

I love that. So talk a bit about how this is all done. How does this take place?

Max Rohr (08:24):

Yeah. So I'm at the highest level with hydronics. What we're doing is we're circulating with radiant heating and radiant cooling. We're circulating water through a network of techs, pipe. That's hidden in the walls and the ceiling embedded in concrete, and then we're warming up a surface that way. So instead of blowing forced air through the building, warming up the air, replacing the air with warmer air, what we're doing is we're warming up. Like you're kind of on a warm beach or something like that. And what's cool about that is that your thermal comfort profile as a human, you kind of like warm feet and a little bit cooler head, but that's what radiant does because it's warming like that as opposed to being in a cloud of hot air or your head is really warm with HVAC. And one of the things that as an industry, radiant used to kind of clash with forced air that like, we're better. We do this better. We're the only way to do it. Building codes are, are different now that the buildings are so tight that you need some forced air movement. The buildings used to be leaky enough that you could get away with the natural infiltration. Now we have to move some mechanical air. So the best systems commercially, especially are going to be a hybrid of forced air and radiant to get the best of both worlds there.

Josh Smith (09:34):

Yeah. And well, you know, you mentioned, I I've heard, it mentioned too when we're talking about obviously the codes and making sure we've got to make sure buildings are up to code and we have all of that to consider as home service professionals. Um, why do you find it to be so important to get involved in code committees?

Max Rohr (09:52):

Yeah. So this is not the Illuminati in, uh, at the HVAC world. Like you can just get on the newsletter for the atmo Legionella commission that they're starting and see if you can get on that, that group where they're going to start talking about those things. Or even in Washington, DC, I live in Northern Virginia and DC. They're targeting net zero energy or carbon neutral by 2050, which is a pretty lofty goal. I went to a meeting where they started to pitch the initial idea of this. And they're like, and if you guys have any like ideas, let us know, like jump on those opportunities, be the person who actually technically technically knows what's going on and you can help drive those things. Or at least if you can't control what's happening, understand how you as a service professional or a new construction can work with that, know what form you need to download, know what numbers you need to pay attention to. And you can really, uh, get ahead of these codes. And I think it's just such a great niche market to be five years ahead of the energy codes in your cities. Even if it doesn't apply to you yet just stay in front of it. Okay.

Josh Smith (10:56):

Yeah. Yeah. That's such good information. So for everybody listening, you definitely want to think about how you can implement this and incorporate this into your heating and cooling business. Because I think is a big opportunity. A lot of our biggest contractors that are really healthy corporate account, you know, where they're dealing with a lot of the commercial buildings, commercial, uh, work that they need to do on some of these large accounts. And that's where the large majority of their revenue comes from. So if you're primarily residential, this is probably a fantastic segue into another revenue stream as a business owner. But I have another thought I want to kind of move on to, but is there anything you feel like home service business owners need to know about hydronics before we jump into a business operations, which I'm curious to get your thoughts on? Sure.

Max Rohr (11:40):

I think that it's something that is completely underutilized in the U S especially radiant cooling. Uh, that's something that we don't do a lot of and radiant heating has traditionally been a good fit in, uh, the mountains places where energy is very expensive, reading, cooling, compete anywhere, and you gain those benefits. Uh, what you need to know is the forced air side pretty well. So I think that it's, it's a nice option for people that are doing traditional HVAC to branch out, into reading and cooling, and then be that person who can solve those, you know, 30% energy savings you blowing ASHRAE 90.1, uh, out of the water and really be the hero for your engineers and to be known as that person, that, that guy or that girl that can tackle those projects, I think is just something that is a really nice, uh, under utilized. Neat.

Josh Smith (12:28):

Yeah, definitely. So maxi, you had an interesting upbringing, you know, the minute in the home services business, you did, you were there, what does it mean to build off a family legacy, but in your own way?

Max Rohr (12:42):

Sure. So I think that, uh, I'm probably not alone in that. Uh, I have struggled with my place in the trades because I grew up in both of my parents had really cool careers and have done fun things in the trades. Uh, I won't do exactly what they did and I won't do it better. And I think that that's an unrealistic thing to target for yourself. I think there are probably in any business, uh, things that are just, you're not going to do it the same way that your parents did it, nor should you. So I think that finding your spin and how you can find some personal interest in what you do, maybe you guys are great at service and, uh, you want to expand into new construction or you want to be that person who's going to expand into the really energy efficient upgrades and say, you know what, in five years, the energy code is going to be different. Do you want to get ahead of that? Do you want me to pitch you that option? That could be a way to kind of find something that you can sink your teeth into that may be related to what your parents did, but you're not just chasing them. Cause I don't think that you'll ever find that. I don't know that you'll find happiness in it, uh, which is something that I had to kind of go away from the trades and come back a little bit to find my place. Yeah.

Josh Smith (13:54):

And goes back to you. You got to find something you're passionate about. It's so interesting. Max, you've taken a path that is so niche and so specific. And I think there's a lot of power behind that because you become the expert in that and you're passionate about it. So you're gonna go further and do more than your average person's going to do, which is fantastic. What would you say is some of the pros and cons that you found in being your own boss?

Max Rohr (14:18):

Yeah, so, uh, growing up, uh, my parents owning their own plumbing and heating company. We had a great schedule. And then if we wanted to take the motorcycles and go out to the desert on a weekend, they didn't have to get approval from the big boss or anything like that. You could just do that. Uh, as a pro the downside is that when the phone rings on Thanksgiving and your best customer needs a water heater to be replaced, you go do that. So that's kind of your, there's the one to, uh, to take that phone call or else you're going to have an unhappy customer. So I think finding your balance there, uh, is hard as well. Uh, what do you want, do you want to, a path of least resistance is just to jump right back into what your parents have been doing and continue on that way. And then it may take some soul searching to figure out if and how you want to do that differently and what your ideal schedule or Workday looks like.

Josh Smith (15:09):

Yeah. Is there a specific platform that you use to keep the communication flow in constant, constant flux with your team?

Max Rohr (15:18):

So right now we've had, uh, during the COVID crisis, we've had good luck with webinars and it kind of a mixture of discussion as well as just a regular presenting a topic. But I think that people are more interested in that, uh, that discussion right now. And when we're at our best, we're asking a lot of questions of our customers and listening and asking good open-ended questions to kind of see what we can do better. I think that manufacturers will try and figure out how they can be the best, how they can be the coolest. And I think that the most effective manufacturers are the ones that figure out how to make their customers happy and are paying enough attention to say, we need to offer that product. We need to offer a solution for that group. That's really innovative. And that's what we hope that we do on a good day.

Josh Smith (16:05):

Yeah. Is there anything you've found to be kind of best practices when communicating with,

Max Rohr (16:10):

I think that just listening open-ended questions, I think, especially as salespeople, we're quick to jump into the solutions that we think will fix the problem. When we may not a hundred percent understand what the customer is asking for or what they're experiencing, and especially in the world of comfort that someone could say, I'm uncomfortable in my house and I can say, okay, brilliant heating system. Here you go. And maybe their interpretation of comfort is that they hate the noise. They're perfectly thermally, they're perfectly comfortable, but they hate the noise. And if you just jump to that solution, you're not going to find that underlying issue. So, uh, definitely listening more than talking as a salespeople. I think that that's when we're at our best,

Josh Smith (16:52):

It was a fun, a fun phrase. A sales trainer told me once that shut up and get rich step back and actually just listen, listen to your customers because that's where ultimately the money is because you solving a problem that they have. Um, in your opinion, what's the one thing business professionals in the trades should not stop doing right now, especially amidst the COVID, the writing that's going on, that the entire country's in the state of crisis. It seems, what should we not stop doing? Right. Yeah.

Max Rohr (17:27):

Uh, learning, I think that as much as you can stay, it's been a weird time right now, also that there's been a big, like boom, in the amount of different things that you can learn with webinars and different people that are jumping on these E platforms instead of just the PowerPoint in front of a room. So soak up as much as you can research your region or your state and see what codes are the corner and, and jump on those things. And don't just go back to business as usual at the end of this year, because it's going to move so fast. And if you don't have a niche, people are gonna be desperate to just take jobs at really low prices. And it's not a game that you want to call.

Josh Smith (18:02):

Absolutely. Totally agree. This is all honestly great information, max really appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything else in closing you want to make sure our home service business owners know,

Max Rohr (18:13):

I think just find your place in the world and what you do is essential. And after 2020, don't forget it because it's an important part of our identity is as people in the trades and that's how we can confidently pitch that premium product and, and sell a lot of it and make money.

Josh Smith (18:28):

Yeah. I like to thank you max, for joining us on the sharpest tool, the information you shared, honestly, it's fantastic for any business owner looking to expand their service offering right now. So if, uh, if people want to reach you, where can they find you? Sure.

Max Rohr (18:42):

So we've got more education resources, N a dot [inaudible] dot com slash academy. You can see all of our training stuff there, and then you can poke around our website, which is new this year as well.

Josh Smith (18:53):

Fantastic. And the podcast is a link to that on there. So with

Max Rohr (18:57):

The podcast, you can find it there.

Josh Smith (18:59):

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, max. Appreciate being on the show and congratulations on a new baby Luca again. Thank you. Very welcome. Definitely hit that like button and give that subscribe button a little tap wherever you might be listening at. So you can get more of the awesome content coming to you from the sharpest tool team until next time I'm Justin. Thanks.

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