Merit Mechanical: Leading the Way in the New Economy


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By Sara DeHoff for BetterBricks

In the midst of challenging economic times, Merit Mechanical is helping building owners evolve to meet today's realities and prepare for the future. A leading service contractor in the Seattle/Washington market, Merit Mechanical has expanded their service offering to include energy management, helping customers save money and retain tenants. "We strive to be the best, to be the solution to a customer's problem. We look for ways to help customers save on operating costs, make their equipment more efficient and make their tenants and employees more comfortable," says Rod Kirkwood, the company's President and CEO.

Merit's energy management program, High Performance Maintenance, was developed as a result of working with BetterBricks advisors and offers building tune-ups to make sure buildings operate as efficiently as possible. Merit works with customers to identify and fix inefficiencies in the buildings' systems. They also provide enhanced operations and management services to maintain those buildings at peak performance. With new high-tech tools, they can monitor a building's performance more closely and provide a higher level of operational support. Partnering with Puget Sound Energy, Merit provides customers with detailed reports of the building's energy use to identify areas of additional savings potential. All this boils down to reduced costs for their customers and expanding opportunities for Merit. In today's market, that's important.

Market Challenges Drive New Demand

The current economy poses serious challenges and new opportunities. Money is tight everywhere and people are looking for ways to cut costs.

Traditionally, building owners have included building equipment maintenance in their fixed costs. Few realize that building maintenance could be another way to save money. But Merit has found that with the right approach to energy management, their customers are able to cut costs significantly. Improved operations and maintenance not only lengthens the life of the equipment and maximizes the investment, it saves energy as well. Both directly benefit the bottom line.

Tenant retention is another challenge for building owners. "In today's economy, the big concern is don't lose any tenants. By all means, protect the tenants," asserts Mike Frickberg, Senior Vice President. Fortunately, there's a growing awareness, among building owners and tenants alike, that an energy efficient building is a more valuable asset. The industry is realizing that energy cost savings can be achieved without compromising tenant comfort. As a result, more tenants are looking for green buildings, knowing that they'll come out ahead on their triple net costs over the course of their lease. Building owners, eager to attract and keep tenants, are paying more attention to the energy use of their buildings. 

Educating Customers is Secret to Success

In selling this idea to customers, the biggest challenge Merit faces is concern over the upfront financial costs. However, they have found that the best way to overcome this barrier is to build understanding. "We're educating the customer on the long term advantages and the life-cycle costing of their equipment-keeping it functioning at peak so they maximize their investment. By doing this and saving energy, we're appealing both to the green side and also to their pocketbook," says Kirkwood.

In their initial presentation to customers, Merit starts with the savings data they've achieved for other customers. This hard data, provided by third party validation, piques the interest of prospective customers and very often leads to meetings with key decision makers. Once customers see how the numbers add up, the idea tends to sell itself.

Merit's Investment Helps Attract and Retain Quality Staff

Merit has poured considerable time and resources into training their staff and acquiring the diagnostic tools needed to make this program a success. This investment has paid off in many ways. "Our technicians understand the importance of their services. They realize they play a significant role in saving the customers money," says Tim Atwood, Controls Division Manager.

Rather than just going out to repair a motor, adjust a temperature setting or replace a relay contact, Merit technicians see the building as a whole. They understand the entire system-how the pieces fit together, and how to make it run more efficiently. They know that a quick fix in one portion of the building's system can impact energy use elsewhere. Often the technicians are the ones educating the customers, "Don't put the coffee pot next to the thermostat; the room will be overcooled."

Merit's investment has also made it easier to attract and retain quality technicians. This is becoming increasingly important as the U.S. moves toward a more efficient economy. Moreover, Merit's training goes beyond just energy efficiency. They cross-train their staff in different aspects of the various trades. At Merit, you are not just a plumber or an air quality expert, you learn to see the system as a whole, to think outside the box. As a result Merit Mechanical is viewed as a premier shop for which to work.

New Approach Brings New Opportunities

Merit's investment in training and technology is paying additional dividends for their customers. As an ENERGY STAR contractor, Merit helps owners improve their buildings to a level of efficiency that qualifies them for the ENERGY STAR label. Interest in this program is growing, as it makes these buildings more attractive to prospective tenants.

Opportunities are opening up for Merit on all fronts. Their existing customer base has become more stable as a result of offering energy management services. More often than before, the Merit sales team is talking to decision makers directly. Customers have been so impressed with these enhanced service offerings they are hiring Merit to maintain more of their buildings, both within the state and across the region. New customers are signing up to take advantage of these services as well. "The next generation is coming up and becoming property managers. The 25 and 30 year olds are stepping into these positions now. They are very in tune. They see the (environmental) problems. It's paramount to them," says Frickberg.

By moving beyond the standard mechanical contracting services to providing whole building energy management, Merit Mechanical is able to address those problems head-on and is leading the charge for a leaner, greener property management industry.

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