By Roy H. Williams
Light is fading and snow is falling; a reflective white coat to warm a surreal, half lit world. The scene indoors is even more surreal as a man in a blue work shirt with the name “Fred” on the pocket gives John Young the opportunity of a lifetime. “John, you’ve got to help me sell air conditioning systems in February and March or I won’t be able to hang on until summer.”
Like most HVAC contractors, Fred makes money during the heat of the summer, then spends it to survive the cold winter. Last year’s mild summer meant fewer air conditioners sold, so now Fred’s company is on its financial knees. “Can you help me sell air conditioners in February, John? Will you help me save my company?”
Most marketing consultants would have searched for a mailing list of homeowners with broken air conditioners, but John Young is of that rare breed whose faith lies not in scientifically targeted direct mail lists, but in the power of words. On February 5th, John mails a three page letter to five thousand, randomly selected homes. The envelope contains no fancy brochure; just 1,041 carefully chosen words written in a casual style.
During the next seven weeks, Fred’s company will sell more air conditioners than they have ever sold before, breaking the sales record of even the hottest and most profitable summer. Fred’s instal-lation crews work overtime and on weekends. “John,” Fred will say, “I think you’re on to something.”
Two years later, John Young and his partner Jim Abrams build a national member organization wherein John performs his wizardry in marketing and Jim teaches members to be Wizards of Finance. John’s letter sells nearly five hundred million dollars worth of air conditioning systems during the cold of winter. It’s the first of many things they give their members to help them grow their companies. A few years later, Jim and John take a spin-off of their organization to Wall Street, where it becomes one of the most successful IPO’s of that year, netting them more than twenty million dollars apiece. The company they create, Service Experts, currently trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol SVE.
What does John Young tell Fred’s customers? He simply points out that by waiting until summer to discover you need a new air conditioner usually means several days of waiting in the heat as overworked crews scramble to meet the need. John further points out that buying an air conditioner in the wintertime usually means you get a better price, have greater product choice and receive more careful installation. In other words, he appeals to the customer’s intellect with simple, straightforward truth.
Unlike most great writers, John Young doesn’t really like to write, but he definitely knows the value of words. Apologizing to his longtime partner, John says, “Jim, if I had known we were going to be paid $40,000 a word, I promise I’d have written a much, much longer letter.”