The expression “the third time’s a charm” certainly proved true for Michigan Saves’ unique incentive program, which rewards contractors who complete 24 or more loans in the last six months of a given year with parties to enjoy cold beer and spicy wings. In 2016 — the third year of the Beer and Wings contest — the number of winners doubled.

“That’s a 100 percent increase over last year,” says Michigan Saves customer service manager Todd Parker. “It’s fun for us not only to see how enthusiastic our contractors have become, but also to know that, because of their success, we’re making a bigger dent in Michigan’s energy use.”

Together, the eight winning contractors made 395 loans valued at more than $4 million. That represents 45 percent of all the loans made during the second half of last year and 44 percent of the total loan value.

“That’s pretty impressive,” says Parker. “It also means double the exercise needed for us at Michigan Saves, because we try to attend, and partake, at every party to show our appreciation,” he adds with a smile.

Parker attributes the growth in the contest to three things: a strong desire among past winners to repeat their success; better publicity for the contest, which resulted in more first-time winners than ever before; and the addition of two new eligibility categories.

Popularity growth

Perhaps the greatest proof of the contest’s growing prestige is that four contractors this year are repeat winners: American Metal Roofs (Flint), Randazzo Mechanical Heating and Cooling (Macomb), SIR Home Improvements (Schoolcraft) and WeatherGard Window Company (West Bloomfield).

They all reached, and stayed at, the top of the heap in different ways. WeatherGard, for example, continues to outpace the competition despite the fact that only one person on their relatively large sales team uses Michigan Saves financing.

“I’ve found that Michigan Saves’ extremely low rates are an excellent tool for motivating customers to take on energy improvement projects,” says Brent Ramsey, home performance manager for WeatherGard. “This year, I invited our entire sales team to the Beer and Wings celebration to entice them to join me next year in taking advantage of all Michigan Saves has to offer.”

In the past, staff worried about alienating companies with small sales forces by basing the competition on loan volume, but, as Parker says, “WeatherGard’s amazing one-man effort shows that anyone can win. In this case, size really doesn’t matter.”

More first-time winners

The 2016 contest also saw four new winners: Bel-Aire Heating and Cooling (Portage); Kotz Heating, Cooling and Plumbing (Waterford); North Winds Heating & Cooling (Okemos) and One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning (Brighton).

When asked about the reason for their newfound success, two of the first-timers — Bel-Aire and North Winds — mentioned the importance of special promotions run by local utilities. Both Consumers Energy and the Lansing Board of Water and Light were offering 0% APR financing during the competition, which more than likely helped propel contractors over the top.

“These wins taught us that utility buy-downs are another excellent way to spur contractors and customers to do energy-efficiency work,” says Parker.

New eligibility categories

Interestingly, the addition of two new eligibility categories in 2016 – Rookie of the Year and Most Improved — didn’t increase the number of winners quite as much as anticipated, because the Most Improved title went to Randazzo, who also won in the overall category.

“They set the admirable and ambitious goal of making one loan every 24 hours for the last six months of 2016, and they came very close to achieving it,” explains Parker. “They actually made one loan every 25 hours.”

Although Randazzo fell just short of its own impressive target, the contractor’s efforts were more than enough to break the overall 24-loan threshold and, concurrently, boosted their total number of loans so much that they earned Most Improved honors, as well.

The Rookie of the Year title went to first-timer One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning who, despite joining Michigan Saves five months into the year, was still able to secure more loans than any other new contractor.

So, so close

Another first in the contest: This year Michigan Saves bought lunch for two companies – Blessing Company Plumbing, Heating and Cooling (Grand Blanc) and Schaafsma Heating and Cooling (Grand Rapids) – who were each just two loans shy of reaching the all-important overall threshold.

“These contractors secured a lot of loans in 2016, just not in the second half of the year,” Parker says.

Which begs a couple of questions: Should Michigan Saves make Beer and Wings a year-round contest so timing doesn’t play as critical a role? Or, if timing does matter, should it move the contest to the first-quarter of the year, when the fewest loans are typically made?

Parker maintains that Michigan Saves will continue to look for ways to make its Beer and Wings incentive program even better, but for now, they’re just thrilled that the contest is gaining popularity and that contractors are actively building it into their sales strategies.