JAM News
Friday, May 7, 2021

2021 Boiler Report: The Industry is Getting Warmed Up

PHCP PROS - Linda P. Noir

Coming off the heels of a turbulent year, the North American boiler industry remains steadfast in its goal to keep the country positively moving and to do so with vigor. As we look back to the not-so-distant past, the country came to a halt as we all tried to reckon with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

The boiler industry, however — with all its manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors — kept going to ensure our hospitals were operating, our food processing facilities were producing, and even that our homes—where many of us found ourselves spending more time — were safe, healthy and comfortable. 

Last year, everyone at PHCPPros emphasized that the entire boiler industry was essential — not just in the throes of a pandemic, but always. That statement remains true as we see how the players within the boiler industry are working harder than ever to not only adapt to the changing times, but to ensure the future is approachable, too. 

We reached out to a number of manufacturers — Aerco, Bosch, Bradford White Corp., ERC International, Energy Kinetics, Laars, Lochinvar, Navien, Noritz, NTI Boilers, Parker Boiler, Raypak, RBI, Rheem (IBC Boilers), Thermal Solutions, U.S. Boiler Co., Velocity Boilers, and Weil-McLain — to get a better understanding of what the industry is doing and where it aims to go in the future.

They spoke candidly about the challenges they are facing, what they see as growth opportunities, and what each of their companies is focusing on now. But before we get into that, let’s first dig into where the boiler market is today. 

2021 Ushers in New Outlook for Boiler Industry 

When looking back at the domestic and commercial boiler market in 2020, we can clearly see the effects COVID-19 had on the industry, not just within the United States, but across the globe. As businesses — large and small — had to contend with new regulations involving lockdowns and requirements around employee and customer safety, not to mention supply chain disruptions, many were forced to make tough decisions about their business. 

Planned projects and construction, in some cases, came to a halt, wholesalers were forced to reduced inventory and contractors couldn’t go to jobsites. 

When BSRIA, a global strategic market intelligence company with more than 30 years of experience researching the HVAC markets, published its March 2020 annual heating studies, it forecast a global domestic boiler market of 15.5 million units and a commercial boiler market of 470,000 units for 2020. 

Later in 2020, BSRIA notes (https://bit.ly/3cRy7ab), “As the year draws to a close, we see sales numbers nearing 14.3 million and 450,000, respectively, thus, sales of well over a million units were wiped off the market by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

But those were global numbers. In North America, each market — commercial and residential — has been impacted differently. 

In the case of the residential market, people spent more time in their homes and, in some cases, that led to a surge of home improvement projects. Additionally, consumers are continuing to upgrade and replace existing systems in search of better technology and energy efficiency. 

According to Global Market Insights (https://bit.ly/3wrfjGq): “The residential boiler market size was valued at over $38 billion in 2020 and is expected to register more than 6 percent [compound annual growth rate] between 2021 and 2027. Shifting trends toward deployment of energy-efficient water heating systems will stimulate the market demand for residential boilers. Ongoing investments toward the establishment of green building will flourish the market statistics of boiler units. 

Some estimates suggest that the U.S. commercial boiler market size will reach a yearly installation of more than 69,000 units by 2026, but the ongoing pandemic has slowed down the market growth and stalled production. 

But according to Market Watch (https://on.mktw.net/31O7wnX): “New research on the U.S. commercial boiler market suggests that by 2026, it is expected to witness an annual installation of more than 95,000 units. Adoption of stringent energy-efficiency mandates to enhance the overall performance of heating units across commercial establishments is positively influencing the penetration of advanced boiler systems.” 

Research shows that one of the key contributors to the surge in the commercial boiler market is the fact that several institutions and commercial facilities across the region are replacing conventional systems with new boiler units offering efficient and reliable performance.

So, all signs continue to point to steady growth in the boiler industry in 2021 and beyond. Since we know new regulations will play a pivotal role, let’s take a deep dive into what’s on the horizon and how the manufacturers we spoke with are preparing to meet the new requirements.

New Rules: How Manufacturers Have Adapte 

Here’s what we know about the new regulations — both current and on the horizon. At the beginning of this year, the 2021 Department of Energy (DOE) new boiler efficiency minimum standards took effect for residential boilers. The revised national minimum AFUE requirements and new maximum standby and off-mode electrical consumption standards include 84 percent for gas hot water boilers, 82 percent for gas steam boilers, 86 percent for oil hot water boilers and 85 percent for oil steam boilers. 

“This change forced a monumental shift for most manufacturers producing cast-iron boilers as they were forced to either adapt their products to the new requirements or phase them out of the market,” says Dan Moffroid, director of product management at Bosch North America. 

The majority of the manufacturers we spoke with were already preparing for these new regulations years in advance and have product lines that exceed the new values, which meant no changes were necessary. 

“Navien has always used innovation to produce high-efficiency products that go beyond the current regulations so we can provide our customers with a premium experience,” notes John Confrey, vice president of product and marketing at Navien. “Because of that, we stayed ahead of these new regulations and haven’t had to make many changes to our business.” 

Most of the manufacturers we spoke to, however, did see this as an opportunity to make further improvements and upgrades to their products in an effort to meet customer demand for more efficiency and better technology, as well as to qualify for rebates and incentives offered to end-users on local and state levels. 

“We took advantage of this movement to make other product and portfolio improvements to increase customer appeal and secure more high ground in cast-iron boiler markets,” notes Dave Hensen, product marketing manager for U.S. Boiler Co. 

Some manufacturers see consumer demands for more efficiency as game-changing for the industry, and perhaps a move toward electric heating products. 

“Between 2020 and 2023, the DOE and other regulators are moving to increase minimum efficiency in both residential and commercial sectors, but these changes are only impacting legacy products and follow the trend of the demands from customers to move toward higher-efficiency products,” says Peachie Maher Hytowitz, senior product manager at Raypak. “The move to electric heating will have big impacts on an industry dominated by gas-fired products. But it also will drive innovation — this is one of the benefits of regulations. We will see diversification of product portfolios to meet the needs of both new construction and replacement.” 

Although the regulations on residential boilers took effect this year, the DOE also is adopting a more stringent energy conservation rule for commercial packaged boilers with capacities up to 10,000 MBH. The amended standards prescribe minimum thermal and combustion efficiencies effective January 2023. For gas-fired hot water boilers, these rules increase thermal efficiency for boiler capacities from 300 MBTU to 2,500 MBH to 84 percent. For boilers greater than 2,500 MBH and up to 10,000 MBH, a combustion efficiency minimum is now 85 percent.  

With a new administration in office and a shift in focus toward climate change, we know regulations aren’t going away, and requirements will continue to shift and adapt to consumer and industry demands. “Sustainability is a core driver of innovations in the boiler market, as climate change and a reduction in fossil-fuel emissions continue to be a focus of consumers and regulators alike,” explains Doug Dodds, vice president of sales and marketing at IBC Technologies. 

All the manufacturers we spoke with are at the ready and continue to work on improving their product lines while staying one step ahead of the game. 

COVID-19: The Elephant in The Room — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly 

As noted earlier, COVID-19 played a critical role in how businesses operated in the last year. And the effects of the pandemic aren’t short-lived. Manufacturers across the country have had to adjust and adapt to new ways of doing business, put in place processes and procedures to ensure the health and safety of their staff and customers, and contend with supply chain disruptions — all while keep business afloat.  

We asked the manufacturers participating in this annual boiler report how the pandemic affected their business — whether it was positive or negative — and what steps they took to address any challenges or opportunities that resulted. 

“COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges in the market and the ability to interact with customers,” notes Christian Zapata, product manager at Aerco. “The slowdown and, in some areas, pause of the construction industry affected the entire boiler market. It also limited our ability to have in-person meetings. 

“With challenges, however, come opportunities. We increased our investment in developing and improving products and shifted resources to improve our operations and processes. We also actively supported the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts. We are proud to have helped provide hot water to patients and medical staff on the Military Sealift Command hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy in New York and Los Angeles.”

Bosch’s Moffroid replies: “Like everyone else, Bosch was forced to adapt to a new reality very quickly. There were negative aspects such as a temporary drop in demand, especially in the second quarter, and the cancellation of tradeshows and in-person customer visits. But at the same time, there were positives as we were highly productive in a work-from-home reality while leaning heavily on our heroes who continued to work the production lines and the warehouses to keep the business running. 

“We were pleased to finish the year with sales growth and zero layoffs. Unfortunately, we lost one colleague to COVID-19 and that’s what we all reflect on with great sadness.” 

Carl Pinto, senior director of marketing communications at Bradford White Water Heaters, notes: “Early on, Bradford White was classified as an essential business, but our first priority was to ensure the safety of our employees. After we put those procedures in place, we worked with suppliers to stabilize our supply chain to ensure production continuity because of the importance of hot water for health and sanitization purposes. The supply chain fallout from the pandemic still exists, and we are continuing to work diligently through those challenges to meet a high-level of product demand.” 

“As an essential business providing heating and cooling solutions to families, we had a responsibility to be proactive,” recalls Michael Klas, director of sales and marketing at ECR International. “ECR is a founding member of a New York State cohort of essential businesses that assembled to exchange best practices and manufacturing policies. The documented procedures of the cohort to operate essential businesses throughout the pandemic was recognized by New York State as a leader in safe business practices. Those procedures were even adopted by other states as a template for their industries to follow.” 

The company made many charitable contributions to front-line workers in New York State, including 3D printing more than 2,800 face mask ear guards for health-care workers around Central and Western New York, and providing more than 600 washable face masks for its employees. It also sponsored “Thank-you” lunches for health-care workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities. 

“On the business front, COVID-19 also had a major impact — a complete change in B2B and B2C interaction took place,” Klas explains. “ECR embraced the new communication technology by creating a series of training webinars, participating in virtual trade shows and redirecting our day-to-day activity around virtual platforms. These new business tools will continue to evolve and will have a significant place in how we do business well after the pandemic is over.” 

Jay McCay, national sales manager at Energy Kinetics, notes: “We took many steps to address COVID-19 health and safety to mitigate transmission effects. This slowed operations as we changed and adapted through the transition. So far, these efforts have proved very effective as the few cases that affected employees experienced did not contribute to further spread, and our employees returned healthy soon afterward.” 

IBC’s Dodds says: “COVID-19 was a catalyst to reevaluate our training initiatives, which before the pandemic were held at our training center in Wisconsin. Since then, we’ve embraced a de-centralized approach to training with a fleet of mobile training centers, which allow IBC to bring its expertise directly to contractors across the country. These mobile training centers and the sessions we host include the same level of detail as our original training format, but in an outdoor setting and while adhering to any local mitigation guidelines.” 

Chuck O’Donnell, director of marketing at Laars Heating Systems, says: “As a provider of essential products, Laars continued operating throughout the pandemic, navigating the confusion and supply chain disruptions. We implemented strategies to protect our employees at all our facilities. As we enter the newest phase of the pandemic, we continue to run our production facilities in a way that maximizes safety while meeting the demand for our products.”

“COVID-19 has, unfortunately, impacted many people both professionally and personally,” notes Robert Wiseman, Lochinvar’s commercial product manager. “As an essential business, Lochinvar was able to keep the doors open and our manufacturing lines running throughout the pandemic, making our products available to customers with very little downtime. There have been supply chain challenges for most businesses and industries as well, but we’ve worked closely with our reps and customers to ensure product is available where and when they need it.” 

He adds: “For an industry that relies on partnerships and face-to-face meetings, the temporary elimination of our in-person plant tours and training has been the most difficult, but we’ve turned it into an opportunity. Virtual meetings have allowed us to connect with more reps and customers — people that we may not have met with before. Producing webinars and consistent virtual learning content with LochinvarU also has become a staple for our business and customers, a go-to resource customers can access 24/7. The virtual nature of business has streamlined and strengthened our internal communications and processes. 

Navien’s Confrey says: “Our first priority was making sure we could keep everyone involved with Navien safe, including our employees and customers. Once we were able to ensure the safety of our team and partners, we found we were still able to operate at an elevated level and secure growth even in an uncertain year.” 

 “COVID-19 created a significant impact on the business,” notes Andrew Tran, Noritz marketing manager. “Operations-wise, our company has shifted to having all primary staff in a work-from-home capacity, while keeping only warehouse/manufacturing in the office. As a relatively new player in the boiler market, a significant part of our business operations relied on field-training customers on how to install and service our products. In lieu of traveling, we have significantly expanded our online training presence with significant digital content in the forms of live and recorded trainings, podcasts and instructional material.” 

“Luckily, NTI fared well during 2020,” says Dave Walsh, vice president of sales at NTI USA. “We slowed obviously in April and May, but business came back nicely, and we had one of best years ever. However, it was not without its challenges. Our first concern was the safety of our people and customers. On the sales and technical support side, we had to be creative in how we interacted with our customers. Like most, there were lots of video meetings but our time in lockdown allowed the NTI team to collaborate on many things. 

“We developed a series of technical ‘Quick Hit’ videos so our contractors could get the answers they needed whenever and wherever they wanted. What is truly amazing is that although our manufacturing plant in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, produced nearly record number of products, we did not have one case of COVID-19 at the factory. Our Vice President of Operations Jeff Bainbridge and his entire team did an amazing job reconfiguring assembly lines and work areas to be productive yet very safe.”

Michael Leeming, national and international sales at Parker Boiler, notes: “Even though we have more than 3.5 acres of a manufacturing plant, teams of people have to work together to build parts of a boiler. This makes things more challenging. Most of our sales teams are working remotely still, but we are running 10 hours a day, five days a week still. We build boilers for hospitals, pharmaceutical, food processing, laundry and dry cleaning, and other critical needs. COVID-19 has opened some new opportunities in the pharmaceutical, research and development, and hospital industries as they cope with about 10 percent of the population with this virus.” 

“COVID-19 obviously made us evaluate our everyday processes personally and professionally,” say Matt Kleszczynski, director of marketing at RBI. “From the influx of remote workers to manufacturing safety protocols, we seamlessly transitioned into the new norm. Our organization’s focus is on partner (customer) relationships as much as anything else, so travel limitations and meeting protocols greatly influenced our daily professional lives. Not only did this affect our sales side but also our training programs. We quickly transitioned to a virtual-based world using the tools afforded us through the organization.” 

He adds: “Externally, we used either Zoom or GoToWebinar for all our training sessions and sales presentations. Our training attendance numbers were phenomenal overall, which gives us another useful tool as we continue on the path to the new normal. If anything, the pandemic further reiterated our need to be nimble and versatile in this ever-changing climate of business. You never know what will come your way; it is how you react that defines you as an organization.” 

“COVID-19 impacts were delayed in the commercial sector,” says Jim Schnorr, president at Thermal Solutions. “With March marking the beginning of shutter-in-place, the effects of the pandemic were not felt until well in the summer and Q4. We remained open through numerous steps to produce what we had on the books, but new orders slowed the second half of last year, and that will be felt the first half of 2021.” 

Mike Hook, marketing communications manager at U.S. Boiler, replies: “I’d be hard pressed to think that anyone in our industry felt a positive effect in their business at the onset of the pandemic last March. While our company was identified as an essential business and production was allowed to continue per CDC guidelines, the business as a whole was affected by regulations in key markets, which limited contractor home visits to emergency calls only. 

“We quickly identified an opportunity to implement a series of remote training sessions (U.S.B. University) available to all contractors who wanted to use some of this downtime to sharpen their knowledge of common hydronics-related topics. They were front-loaded into the spring and early summer because we figured that contractors were going to be busy finishing up jobs from the previous winter and getting started earlier on jobs going into the coming winter. That’s exactly what happened. I’m thankful that all our employees showed tremendous resilience and flexibility while providing both products and support during a very busy heating season.” 

“There was a definite downturn in business starting in March of last year as key boiler markets were the hardest hit by COVID-19 and some of the earliest areas to lock down,” says Lee Ensminger, national sales manager at Velocity Boilers. “As restrictions started to lift late summer and into the fall, we saw an increase in demand for product as homeowners wanted to make sure their heating systems were prepared for winter. 

“Operationally, we instituted social distancing and mask requirements in both our office and factory floor. Where feasible, we had employees work from home. We adjusted our product training from in-person at our training room to a combination of online classes and in-person. We also had parking lot trainings with our product van where we were allowed by local mandates and customer protocols for outside visitors.” 

Mike Boyd, product manager at Weil-McLain, explains: “As an essential business, Weil-McLain is continuing to make every effort to ensure we continue to make products while ensuring the safety of our people. COVID-19 affected all manufacturers with modest delays in our supply chains that has impacted the pace of production of some of our manufacturing lines at times. Despite this, Weil-McLain has been able to maintain production with only modest delays in some lines during the past year. We continue to do everything we can to meet demand as we receive orders, and we expect continuing improvement in these supply-chain factors throughout 2021.”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who were lost to this pandemic and to all those who love and miss them. We appreciate the hard work and determination that was brought forth by all who represent the boiler industry — you are our heroes.

Barriers and Drivers of the Market Outside the Pandemic

Although the pandemic took centerstage in a lot of instances this past year, it wasn’t the whole of what shaped the boiler industry. We asked the manufacturers what factors outside the pandemic are driving the market and which are barriers. Overwhelmingly, many of the manufacturers saw regulations as being both a driver of as well as a barrier to innovation. 

One of the key themes that kept coming up is the trend toward electrification. 

“The world is continuing to deal with climate change initiatives,” notes ECR’s Klas. “Some have been rushing toward electrification and losing sight of the main goal, which is reduction to elimination of CO2 emissions. Our industry struggle will be to get government, municipalities and stakeholders continually focused on CO2 reduction instead of picking energy sources. Some municipalities are now banning the use of natural gas in new construction, which we believe is misguided. 

Noritz’s Tran echoes that sentiment, adding, “Beyond the increased minimum efficiencies enacted in January, there are multiple areas throughout the United States and Canada that are moving much farther away from gas and oil. These electrification activities are pushing toward heat pump technologies, which are directly at odds with boiler market share. 

“In cooperation with industry groups, Noritz and other manufacturers are always looking out for the best interests of the customers. While acknowledging the need for a reduced carbon footprint, customer ability to have ample, low-cost, reliable energy should be the primary driver for market development.” 

Not all manufacturers are opposed to electrification. As Raypak’s Hytowitz notes earlier that electric heating “will have big impacts” on the boiler industry. And most of the manufacturers are beginning to or already have electric product lines. 

“The primary factors driving the boiler market are regulations and competition,” Aerco’s Zapata states. “Changes in regulations promote advances in technology, and the growing number of market players pushes manufacturers to continually optimize their products and provide more choices to their customers.”

NTI’s Walsh agrees: “One factor impacting our market is the ever-increasing number of boiler brands on the market. More than 20 years ago NTI was the first North American manufacturer to introduce a modulating condensing boiler. At that time, you could count on one hand the number of condensing manufacturers. Now there are more than 40.” 

The competition is fierce and will only continue to grow as the market demands more efficient and more technology-forward types of products.

Facing Challenges Full Steam Ahead with Optimism 

We asked the manufacturers how all the changes are impacting their 2021 operations and what their outlook is as they forge ahead to 2022. There were a few themes that kept surfacing, such as ongoing supply chain issues and how that plays out, a resurgence of both residential and commercial projects, a spike in appetite in consumerism and, finally, a strong belief in things coming back to normal. 

“The effects of COVID-19 to the global supply chain made the boiler market much more competitive,” Aerco’s Zapata said. 

Bosch’s Moffroid agrees, noting that although there has been a ramp-up in demand for boiler products — both in the United States and globally — the supply chain continues to be restricted. “We have seen these factors continue into 2021, so we are not expecting the operations to be smooth for many more months,” he says. “Our expectation is for 2021 to be another up-and-down year and for the market to stabilize in 2022.”

ECR’s Klas adds: “The demand for heating and air-conditioning product is now on the rise and we expect the industry will exceed 2019 levels. But as our entire industry and most others continue to work through supply-chain interruptions, ECR has had to be proactive in adjusting raw material levels to stay in front of the situation and minimize finished goods’ lead-time changes.”  

As things open up, there seems to be a new influx of Request for Quotes worldwide, which is a good sign for the economy. But Parker Boiler’s Leeming notes: “Assuming raw materials don’t go skyrocketing as they have due to supply shortages, things could remain good. As of now, we are seeing a huge spike in material cost, and there are still shortages of certain components we need to build our boilers.” 

Thermal Solutions’ Schnorr agrees: “Raw material prices are skyrocketing, and we suspect the labor to put new projects together will be tight, especially in the Northeast.” 

It may be too early to determine when the supply-chain issues will be completely resolved and how that will play out in the coming years, but that wasn’t the only issue manufacturers faced. 

 The sale and installation of boilers requires the ability to interact with others. Whether it’s to inform on the product’s features and abilities, to sell to vendors and contractors — and eventually to the end consumer — or it’s to actually install the product, there are various levels of interaction that are required. The year 2020 definitely put a damper on that and it has affected operations in 2021 and will likely continue to impact how interactions are handled in 2022. 

The challenges of the last year created difficulty in accessing jobsites and communicating with contractors, distributors and engineering firms. 

“We’ve responded by increasing the use of virtual training and online communication to better reach the supplier, engineering and contractor communities,” explains Bradford White’s Pinto. Laars’ O’Donnell agrees: “To compensate, we greatly increased the use of web-based communications and expanded the curriculum offered via Laars Academy Live online training.” 

Although supply-chain and communication problems caused a hinderance to operations, not everything was a challenge. It appears that when consumers were unable to spend on services such as dining, vacations and travel, they refocused those considerable savings on the comfort of their homes. “This has driven increases in demand for boilers and HVAC equipment,” Energy Kinetics’ McCay says.

“While there’s a current decline in commercial office spaces with more people working from home, I think resorts and other entertainment venues may start booming post-pandemic,” Lochinvar’s Wiseman notes. “On the residential side, people are spending more time at home, and we’re seeing an uptick in remodeling and home-improvement projects.”

It’s not just homeowners who are contributing to sales; there is hope for an uptick in construction and infrastructure projects this year and next. “Our outlook for 2022 is very positive,” Raypak’s Hytowitz says. “With the impacts of COVID-19 likely receding in late 2021, construction will rebound. We are optimistic about projects driven by government infrastructure investment.”

U.S. Boiler’s Hook agrees: “We are seeing strong sales into the spring, and contractors are telling us that they are working through a backlog of installations.”  

“We saw delays in commercial projects during the planned replacement season during the summer of 2020, especially in markets where construction work was put on hold,” Weil-McLain’s Boyd adds. “But we have seen many of these projects start again and we are cautiously optimistic about the commercial market for 2021.” 

Cautiously optimistic is definitely the way to approach this year and going into the next. If the last year taught us anything, it’s that even the best laid out plans should be ready for disruption at any time. 

“2021 has been a carry-over from 2020, one of the most trying years in recent history — socially and professionally,” notes RBI’s Kleszczynski. “As a commercial boiler and water heater manufacturer, we were considered essential and found a lot of work still going on across the country. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses suffered during this terrible time and we hope everyone can rebound accordingly.” 

Velocity’s Ensminger adds: “We are optimistic about 2022, and as the economy recovers, we feel that there will be strong demand in the residential sector for energy-efficient equipment.”

We, too, are cautiously optimistic and look forward to a year of rebound and success. 

Competition Is the Oil That Greases the Boiler Industry 

Competition is the name of the game and all the manufacturers we spoke with are in it to win it. We asked all who participated in the report to tell us how their company is helping the professional channel market to sell their products. We asked what new initiatives, if any, are in place to support the wholesaler, specifying engineer and contractor. 

“At Aerco, we help our professional partners by offering a complete solution that allows them to specify systems that satisfy engineering requirements while also affording the contractor the convenience of a single source,” Zapata says. “In support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, we are prioritizing all orders that directly impact these efforts.”

Moffroid notes: “Bosch has a healthy respect for our industry partners who are out there every day, bidding on projects and installing them into homes and businesses. Our job is to provide them the tools they need to be effective and efficient, including training and product information, CEU credits, customer leads, software programs to enable plug-and-play solutions, partnership benefits, etc. Whenever we have the opportunity, we do our best to show our appreciation to those partners.” 

“We are constantly listening to our customers to truly understand their needs and effectively respond,” Bradford White’s Pinto says. “Training continues to be a significant priority for all our customers, so we have expanded online and live opportunities and continue to add to our training staff. We also work to make sure our manufacturers’ representatives are well-positioned to support training in the field.” 

Klas explains: “ECR has always supported the wholesaler with quality products and consistent on-time delivery. We will continue to provide the needed marketing literature, point-of-sale material and strong field support. One of the ways in which our industry is changing is in the interaction from the manufacturer direct with the contractor and end-user. ECR is introducing a customer loyalty program called VIC to further engage with the contractor, offering an array of tools and incentives to provide a winning customer experience.” 

“Energy Kinetics’ close ties to contractors is a key contributor to market knowledge and product development to incrementally innovate and offer better heating solutions,” McCay says. “COVID-19 has limited in-person contact and opened up other lines of communication and remote training, offering some more scalable solutions that were not embraced before the pandemic. Product knowledge, training and support are key factors in driving contractor and specifying engineer success.” 

Dodds states: “IBC’s training initiatives, whether at our training center in Wisconsin or through our mobile training centers, are designed to offer a hands-on experience for the professionals who market, sell and service our products. These experiences not only improve knowledge and familiarity of the IBC product portfolio among these channel professionals, but also improves the service and installation experience of the end user.” 

“We continue to focus on providing training via the Laars Academy Live online courses and offer LaarsPro to give residential contractors the marketing tools to better promote themselves,” O’Donnell says. “Their success is our success, and we continue to look for ways to empower them.”

Wiseman notes: “Lochinvar continues to invest in educational opportunities and product resources. Virtual events such as webinars, Zoom sessions and LochinvarU will only continue to grow as we keep evolving as a business and industry. And we recently relaunched our residential mobile marketing truck, giving customers the opportunity to interact with our products and other resources first-hand. Anyone who enters the truck must wear a mask and remain socially distanced, but it still allows us to interact with customers and provide a one-on-one learning experience.”

“Navien continues to be dedicated to our partners by only offering our products through wholesale distribution to be installed by professional contractors,” Confrey says. “Our latest virtual product launch was done with the professional channel in mind as we addressed all the new features that would benefit contractors, wholesalers and engineers. 

“Especially during the pandemic, we realized a need to offer more resources to our partners through digital channels. Whether it be through exhibiting at virtual trade shows, offering contractors digital resources such as sizing calculators and virtual training classes, or even launching our own products through virtual events, we understand the industry is making that digital shift. We will continue to provide valuable digital resources to our partners, even when things get back to normal.”  

Noritz’ Tran states: “We’ve shifted to creation of more digital and rich media in order to be able to inform and educate industry professionals. A lot of this was in response to the pandemic and the difficulty of being able to meet in person.” 

“NTI respects the integrity of our two-step distribution model,” Walsh states. “Our wholesale partners are as committed to the contractor as we are. They assure that proper levels of inventory and parts are readily available to our customers. We continuously listen to our partners to ensure we are adapting and putting ourselves in the best position to support them. Our limited and protected distribution philosophy rewards the time and effort our partners put in developing and supporting the NTI brand. 

“This year, NTI will launch the NTI loyalty program. It will reward contractors on purchases of NTI products, as well as providing sales and marketing support to help grow their businesses and remain profitable.” 

Raypack’s Hytowitz says: “Our biggest focus is providing each of these groups with the tools they need for their specific sector. One major focus is training assets that are easy to digest, use and share to support the market product knowledge and to provide information on features and benefits.”

“We dedicate a tremendous number of resources to support,” said RBI’s Kleszczynski. “Customer, technical and sales support are our number one priority along with reliable, high-quality products. We have dedicated teams to assist all channels with presale support, during-sale support and post-sale support. We provide our customers with piping and venting layout assistance at no cost, which often might include layout drawings. 

“We provide monthly training for small and large groups across the country. We offer nonbiased, nonproduct-specific application engineering training to help further the vast knowledge base of our engineering partners. These trainings are provided for free and include approved continuing education hours to be put toward their annual certifications. We also have traditional graphics, advertising and video capabilities for our factory-direct and external customer needs.” 

Thermal Solutions has a digital presence at the engineering level, Schnorr notes 

Velocity’s Ensminger says: “We are continuing our online training and meeting with contractors when requested for product updates and trainings. We also added a chat feature to our website to assist a contractor when onsite should they have a question regarding one of our products.”

“We want our contractors and dealer customers to know we are making every effort to ensure that their businesses remain profitable during these uncertain times, as boilers will still need to be repaired or replaced during this upcoming heat season,” Weil-McLain’s Boyd explains. “We have curated and made available links to important resources for small businesses including government assistance resources, updated regularly. Weil-McLain works closely with channel partners by providing education to improve technical skills needed to install and maintain equipment, as well as application knowledge to ensure the correct type of product selection. 

“On the product side, we continue to develop equipment that is more plug-and-play capable and easier to install and troubleshoot. During this last year, we made adjustments and refined the ways to provide information and services to our channel partners that don’t require in-person contact. One way we have offered for residential and commercial heating contractors to hone their boiler technology skills this spring is with Weil-McLain’s Knowledge Builder Sessions taking place twice a week. Many of our distributors have leveraged on-line ordering with contactless pick-up for their customers. We will likely see more uses of these digital platforms during this time.”

As we close out a chapter none of us saw coming and get ready to embark on a new wave in this story, one thing is clear: The resiliency of everyone who makes the boiler industry move is admirable and appreciated. Every manufacturer we spoke with maintains that the dedication they have to producing a product that delivers comfort, security and convenience, while remaining mindful of the most effective and efficient way to do it, is at the forefront of everything they do — even in the face of a pandemic. 

There is no time to be present like the present and we thank you all for your commitment and readiness to keep things moving. 


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