As a kid, Ralph Harmon of Tampa, Florida would tag along with his father on HVAC service calls, as the father owned an HVAC repair business in Tybe Island, Georgia. Ralph learned the ropes over the years, and today he works as an HVAC technician himself. “I’m second generation air conditioning,” as he puts it. “I remember going out and doing service calls with him. So I got into the business through the years -- fix them, replace them, whatever people need I can do.”
But along the way, Harmon realized he had an interest in the electronic side of things. He carried his computer with him everywhere, and he would create online sales presentations and show them to prospective customers looking to buy HVAC equipment.
Bringing his interest in electronics to the forefront, Harmon combined that with his mechanical knowledge to create a Facebook community page two years ago called HVAC-Hacks.com. With this, technicians and other HVAC-related people post their experiences to educate people and further the industry. It has become an Internet success story beyond expectations.
Harmon spent countless hours building his website by getting people to post on his page.He came up with the name from sales presentations he did, showing prospects the dos and don’ts and what can go wrong if you select the wrong HVAC equipment and install and use it improperly. “I feverishly worked at it, building the page until I was averaging about 1000 new followers a month,” he reports. “I got good response, and a lot of people liked it.”
Then several months later, Terry Roden from Teco Metal Products approached Harmon about running an ugliest-roof-curb contest, offering an iPad Mini for the winner. This proved a success, so he started doing other contests, and things took off from there. People e-mailed Ralph pictures, and he would post them, constantly keeping the site refreshed. He would go through Facebook pages and find everything associated with HVAC. Eventually, he created the many categories you see on the site, which include Air Handlers, Condensers, Ductwork, Mini Splits, Reference Guides, and Wiring & Zoning, to mention a few.
But HVAC-Hacks is actually the result of two like-minded souls finding each other on the Internet. One person Harmon reached out to for content was Matt McFarland of Good Day Tools in Cincinnati, OH. McFarland handles marketing for the company as a website designer and Internet marketer. “It’s something I’ve been passionate and enthusiastic about. I’ve learned as much as I can,” he explains.
A startup company, Good Day Tools develops and markets products that help HVAC technicians do their job better. They made their name with the Draft Simulator, a hand-held instrument invented by co-owners Rich McFarland, Matt’s father, and Gene Warren thatcan calibrate and test pressure switches in induced-draft furnaces. They licensed rights to the Draft Simulator to Fieldpiece Instruments, a major player in the HVAC instrument industry. Rich McFarland later invented the Clog Popper, a simple device for unclogging condensate drain lines in air conditioning units, and the company now markets that. Matt McFarland was marketing the Clog Popper and getting involved with social media when he noticed Harmon’s Facebook community and was impressed by it.
As McFarland recalls, “Ralph actually reached out to me because we were doing something with smart HVAC products and giving away Clog Poppers, and he wanted to do a contest. So we did one on his Facebook page. They had to submit a cleanout project showing before and after pictures. I kept the communications open with him. I thought this was a good place to get the Clog Popper out.”
With a dialog open between them, Harmon e-mailed McFarland saying he was going to create a website. “Something just switched on, and I said, ‘let me make the website for you,’” McFarland says. “One day, I made a beta website for him, and I showed it to him. He really liked it.” In late July 2013, they went live with HVAC-Hacks.com. “We launched on Facebook, and we immediately got 50 people on at once. It was really exciting.” They logged 30,000 pageviews by the end of July and have grown in quantum leaps to become the fastest growing HVAC website in the country, now getting over a million pageviews a month.
McFarland says his and Ralph’s talents mesh “really well. We have a good straightforward relationship. We work together well because we have the same goals. He’s always sending me suggestions, and we always bounce ideas back and forth. We work off of each other.”
With such a productive relationship in place, Harmon and McFarland work together on a daily basis to improve their website. McFarland says he has redesigned it at least three times, each time making it better and faster. “I made it fully responsive, so it works on any device. I used a cloud-based deployment, so it doesn’t matter where you live, it’s going to load fast, and I made it so people can post on it, and it’ll syndicate through our social media.”
Noting that 82 percent of their visitors are mobile, McFarland reports that they’re working on a mobile app that will be used on Android and Apple devices. “It’s going to make the user experience with our site even better, much easier. It will require less bandwidth so they can have a weaker 3G signal and still access it and upload pictures and stuff.”
Meanwhile, Harmon continues to work in the HVAC business full time while finding time every day to work on the website on the side.He and McFarland have a contract where they each get 50 percent of the revenue from the website. Once they generate enough advertising revenue from it, they plan to form a separate company.” This confirms McFarland’s sentiments: “It’s been a really good ride so far.”