Minnesota HVAC Company Shifts to Support Restaurants, Workers in Crisis
Springtime in Minnesota should be when Corey Hickmann’s nine-man crew focuses on doing air conditioning maintenance. Cold weather in April is no hindrance—although a foot of snow atop an outside air conditioning unit can create a challenge for the technicians at Comfort Matters Heating & Cooling.
Who could have foreseen that the usual concern about snowfall predictions in Maple Grove, a western suburb of Minneapolis, would take a backseat to a worldwide pandemic?
Welcome to the COVID-19 epoch.
In terms of health and economic impact, Hickman’s community hasn’t so far been hit as badly by the coronavirus crisis as areas such as New York City. Still, while he’s keeping an eye on the bottom line for Comfort Matters, he’s seeing other local industries take a pounding in the pocketbook.
As the community began to self-quarantine and business began shutting doors, Hickmann did some soul-searching and asked himself, “OK, what can we do about this?”
He decided to lend his neighbors a hand with several creative, inspirational and heart-tugging promotional campaigns.
“We saw that, with lots of places closing, elderly and senior folks needed more care,” Hickmann says. “Well, we’ve got a bunch of trucks driving around. We’re still running service. We’re still running pretty close to business as usual.”
His team put together a campaign on Facebook called: “Are You Stuck at Home?”
“It just said, ‘Hey, we have people out driving around,’” he says. “If you need a gallon of milk, if you need whatever, Tylenol, some bread, give us a call. We’ll swing by. We’ll grab it for you and we’ll drop it off at your house.”
Hickman says that Facebook campaign was organically viewed by close to 12,000 people.
Next Up: Serving the Restaurant Industry
Building on the success of the “Are You Stuck at Home?” campaign, Hickmann turned his attention to the restaurant industry, starting an Eat Local campaign.
“Our local restaurants have been dealt a hand nobody should ever have,” Hickmann says. “Countless servers, cooks, bartenders, and owners are sitting at home with stress they don’t deserve. This is when a community pulls together. These restaurants sponsor our local groups and sports events and need some help now.”
He decided to tap into Comfort Matters’ marketing budget and do a matching program to support restaurant workers. The program worked in two ways:
1. Customers could pick their favorite local eatery, go onsite and buy a dining gift card. Comfort Matters then matched those gift cards up to $75 for purchases at the restaurant. To redeem the offer, consumers just emailed the gift card receipt to Hickmann’s office. (Of course, the offer was limited to restaurants in roughly a dozen local neighborhoods.)
2. The public could also buy a restaurant gift card and use the receipt to get a credit on a scheduled furnace tuneup. Comfort Matters took up to $150 (or 20 percent) off those service calls.
Comfort Matters: Hairstylists spread the word
The Eat Local campaign got a lot of community response. And since he still had money left in his marketing budget, Hickmann looked for another niche that might need some support.
“I was on a phone call with a bunch of local businesses, and there was a hairstylist on the line,” he says. “She was explaining how difficult it is for them. They all rent their chairs. They’re independently owned. They can’t do anything. And they literally got four hours of notice that came from the governor that said, ‘OK, you’re closed, starting tonight.’”
Hickman decided to focus his next campaign on the hair, massage and nails industry. The Shop Local post read:
“In the last week we have learned about an industry that can use some support … hair stylist, massage, and manicure workers have been hit hard. Not being able to provide any work when most are self-employed can be devastating. Comfort Matters wants to create a movement to help. Go out to your favorite Hair Stylist, Massage Professional, or Nail Salon and purchase a gift card. Email (us) a copy of the gift card and receipt and we will get you another matching gift card at the same location.”
The offer was for up to $50 — and Hickman says the campaign response was overwhelming.
“People were buying $100 cards, $200 cards,” he says. “I've seen them as high as $1,000. People were buying gift cards like crazy. This confirmed for me what we already kind of knew—hairstylists are very, very capable of spreading a story.”
Hickman estimates that up to $30,000 in revenue was pushed toward the industry from this campaign. He adds that people affected by the effort were extremely appreciative.
“We got a lot of feedback on the impact it made on them,” he says. “I mean, some of the messages we got were very emotional.”
The lesson learned
Hickman says the Shop Local post engaged more than 30,000 people on Facebook and was shared more than 250 times. He says his company is getting hundreds of emails related to the outreach ads.
“Right now, we have three people in the office just purely working on managing this program,” he says. “We put our home advisors on this—because they're not running many replacement leads right now because people are self-quarantining.”
In the long run, Hickman says the campaigns are an overwhelming success on many levels.
“At the end, we’re looking to be really good because of the positive reaction we got from customers,” he says. “They are just appreciative, and saying they want to use our services in the future.”
In retrospect, Hickmann believes genuine concern about the community proved to be a great business decision. Before doing the Facebook posts he had already deduced that the coronavirus economy wasn’t conducive to putting out direct mail pieces.
“We shifted some marketing money and put it into community effort,” he says. “We got a lot of traction out of it. My wife and I enjoy doing a lot of community things. And as a company we definitely focus on that.
“Allowing us to focus on this has been a positive thing.”
A positive thing, indeed — one that both stimulates the local economy and potentially creates a long list of appreciative new customers.
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