By Diane M. Calabrese / Published December 2020
Snowmaking as an add-on? It’s unlikely, but never say never. Repairing deck boards prior to cleaning and coating them is a different matter.
Similarly, air compressors may seem to exclusively occupy the domain of manufacturing facilities and large-scale field applications, but this is not so. For many projects, contractors tap air compressors. Distributors serving power washing contractors who are not selling air compressors might
consider doing so.
“Many contractors offer additional services like painting, landscaping, or general home repairs that require an air compressor to run various tools, such as air wrenches, grinders, chisels, etc.,” says Terry Connett, who is with BE Power Equipment, a company headquartered in Abbottsford, BC, Canada (with a U.S. facility in West Palm Beach, FL).
Yes, there are the do-it-yourselfers who shop for air compressors because they have the idea to construct a pressure washer with a spray nozzle, hose, and air compressor. It’s not the way to go.
What would Connett tell DIYers? “Buy a pressure washer to meet your needs; ‘don’t try to reinvent the wheel,’” he says.
On the other hand, certain recon-figurations support innovative methods. “Some of our dealers are using compressors to run air-driven diaphragm pumps to create ‘soft wash’ systems, which are very popular,” says Connett.
The air compressors sold by Connett’s company serve many needs. “Our company offers a wide range of air compressors powered by electric motors or gas engines with single- and two-stage pumps to meet a wide array of applications from homeowner to commercial use,” he explains.
Many distributors may not be selling air compressors, but they are buying them to use themselves in service centers or on service calls. The familiarity provides a good starting point for thinking about what contractors require and adding air compressors to the product roster offered to contractors.
For example, in its commercial series, Connett’s company has a stationary model (AC7580B) that offers 24 cfm at 175 psi, 80-gallon tank, 230v/1-phase/32-amp electric motor and a belt-driven two-stage cast iron cylinder pump. “It can be used in commercial shops where multiple tools and accessories can be used simultaneously,” explains Connett.
A low tire can throw a contractor’s day into a downward spiral. Being able to pump it up without heading to a service station helps.
Connett’s company includes the model AC206 in its workshop series. The model offers 4 cfm at 125 psi, six-gallon tank, 120v/1-phase/14-amp electric motor with a direct-drive single-stage oil-less pump, he explains. “It runs off a standard 15-amp plug and is great for small jobs around the house or workshop, like operating an impact wrench or simply airing up the tires on your vehicle.”
For distributors aiming to expand sales of air compressors, Connett recommends they take advantage of information provided by manufacturers. “We have information available in our catalog for our distributors, like the ‘Choosing an Air Compressor’ page and all of the specifications of each model.”
Connett suggests taking advantage of interaction with the manufacturer of equipment being sold. “We offer our customer service and technical support team that can be reached by phone or email,” he says.
Distributors should also put air compressors forward as a product they are selling. “Having the more popular models in stock on display is the most effective way to generate sales with walk-in customers,” says Connett.
Distributors that sell air compressors are often too quiet about them. “Simply marketing and letting their customers know they carry and have the ability to sell and service industrial air compressors can make a sale,” says Karl Loeffelholz, dealer division manager with Mi-T-M Corporation in Peosta, IA.
By helping a contractor anticipate his or her needs, a distributor builds a stronger relationship. Inquire whether the contractor has considered upgrading an air compressor, for example.
“Contract cleaners can find them-selves assisting their customers with other tasks while cleaning,” says Loeffelholz. “Deck boards can be loose or missing nails. The contractor might even need to make a small or quick repair where a saw or screw gun comes in handy.”
For the sorts of occurrences Loeffelholz names, readiness eases the course of the day. “A portable truck-mount air compressor or combination unit with a generator makes it very convenient for on-site repairs,” he says.
“We offer a wide variety of reciprocating air compressors that range from 3 cfm at 90 psi up to 93 cfm at 175 psi,” says Loeffelholz. “We do have a portable rotary screw air compressor as well that produces 100 psi at 115 cfm that is great for construction sites. We offer hand-carry, portable, truck-mount, and stationary units all for specific applications.”
The choices available in air compressors is a big selling point. Distributors should emphasize that contractors can select a machine in a size that fits their need.
“Our company’s smallest air compressor is a hand-carry unit that produces 90 psi at 4.2 cfm, just enough for wood-trim finishing work in residential applications, model number AM1-HE02-05M,” says Loeffelholz. Contractors tackling deck restoration are among those who can benefit from the tool.
“Our company’s largest air compressor offering is a stationary 120-gallon tank with a two-stage duplex pump/motor combination, model number AED-46315-120HM,” says Loeffelholz. “It supplies 175 psi at 93 cfm. Heavy truck repair shops that have multiple tools operating at one time are a great setting for this type of unit.”
Distributors who get the word out regarding the variety of air compressors make more sales. They also open an additional line of work for their service centers. And they may consider offering distributor-based warranty protection along with a service contract.
“Pressure washer distributors have found that every one of their customers has a need for an industrial air compressor and the market potential is very large,” says Loeffelholz. “With this product needing to be installed, maintained, and serviced, it falls right into what they’re already doing, allowing them to make necessary sales margins.”
Manufacturers provide ample information about how to choose air compressors. The page that Connett cites from his company’s catalog is one example. In that primer, essential components (motor/engine, pump, and storage tank) as well as kinds of pumps, type of drive (direct or belt), and performance rating are among the factors involved in the choice of an air compressor.
Distributors can take the information a manufacturer offers and share it directly with prospective buyers. They can also share distilled versions of the information when explaining the features of an air compressor.
A distributor wants to be sure the contractor purchases an air compressor that will yield the psi required by the tool (or tools) it supports. Few tools operate on less than 90 psi.
Power washing contractors them-selves have several considerations to make when choosing tools. Conserving energy—or at least using less fuel—is one of them.
Distributors can assist contractors with weighing machine type and efficiency options by reviewing the information provided on compressed air in the Energy Tips series from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the U.S. Department of Energy. (Portal to tip sheets is located at https://www.energy.gov/eere/amo/compressed-air-systems.)
Air compressors give the punch to pneumatic tools and reduce risk in hazardous environments where an electric spark could ignite gases. Because compressed air is clean, as opposed to blowing ambient air, it is also favored for many jobs.
Still, the DOE asks end users of air compressors whether an air compressor is the right choice for a task. Although manufacturers work to make air compressors ever-more energy efficient, they are not the most energy-efficient choice for certain tasks.
Using low-pressure air to clean parts can be much more expensive than brushes or high-efficiency nozzles. The expense derives from the energy use. And the energy use translates to more environmental emissions.
A distributor can help a contractor reduce energy use (and emissions) by providing guidance on the maintenance of an air compressor. Advice on spotting leaks and the waste in exceeding the required pressure should be part of any sale.
When a contractor hears a hissing sound, much efficiency may already have been lost. There are ultrasonic detectors (a product line for distributors) that can be used for leak detection. The traditional method of applying soapy water and looking for bubbles works, too.
Maintaining (changing) air intake filters is another area for instruction. Distributors can augment sales by giving contractors routine maintenance schedules and selling them the ancillaries, such as filters, they need to meet schedules.
Because air compressors generate so much heat (wasted disorganized energy), industrial air compressors can be coupled with heat-recovery systems. The heat can be used to warm spaces or water.
Given industrial-size air compressors are not efficient converters of energy, DOE strongly recommends not using them for cooling personnel. Doing so is not only counterproductive (see the preceding paragraph), but it is also dangerous. (DOE advises HVAC replacement or fans.)
Creativity among power washing contractors in adding services is great. Although we know of no contractor who has taken on snow making at a ski resort in winter, it’s in the realm of possibilities. Selling air compressors—of many kinds for many purposes—makes sense for distributors.