"We think this is the worst move Trane's ever made," DeRousse said. "In this area it has alienated a lot of dealers. We had no intention of taking on another line, and now we sell Bryant. I won't be just a convenience for the homeowner to call me and come out and install it."
The Trane Co. has established an MRO arrangement with Maintenance Warehouse to sell 10-SEER equipment from 1 ton through 5 tons to commercial users such as property management firms, said Dale Green, vice president/sales and marketing for Trane's Unitary Products Group.
"There are several entities in the United States that serve the apartment aftermarket with plumbing supplies, heating and air and electrical," Green said. "Maintenance Warehouse is a company headquartered in San Diego, and they serve the MRO market with just one line of units we offer."
The Trane equipment does not show up on the Maintenance Warehouse Web site, but a telephone sales manager who identified himself as Luis said the Trane equipment is available. He said the company only will sell the equipment to hotel and motel operators, real estate management firms, apartment managers and homeowners associations.
"Maintenance Warehouse does business with a specific set of buyers who serve the apartment maintenance and repair market and typically that customer is not an HVAC dealer as we would consider a dealer," Green said. Such customers, however, would probably hold or employ somebody who holds an HVAC license, he said.
Trane's MRO arrangement may not be unusual.
"It's always been a muddy channel," said Mike Giersch, HVAC market manager for Grainger Industrial Supply, about HVAC distribution. Giersch noted that almost anyone could walk into many HVAC equipment distributors and buy a unit, although at retail price.
"People are feeling uncomfortable with it, but it's not that unusual," he said. He surmised that DeRousse and others are uncomfortable because it's a Home Depot division that's selling Trane and not some of the "loser" home centers that have since gone bankrupt.
Grainger, perhaps the country's largest MRO distributor, does not offer unitary equipment through its e-commerce Web site, OrderZone.com. On the other hand, it offers its Dayton line of unitary equipment through its grainger.com site.
DeRousse said a salesman from one of her wholesalers tipped her off about the Trane/Maintenance Warehouse arrangement. She said she also received a direct-mail catalog from Maintenance Warehouse.
"I saw it [the ad] and thought nothing of it except that they're out to cut the throat of all my wholesalers," DeRousse said.
After the wholesaler's salesman tipped her off, however, DeRousse called Maintenance Warehouse posing as an apartment building owner. She was told that Maintenance Warehouse had 12 units in stock and she could get one that day through its St. Louis distribution center.
"On the heels of the Sears thing, they are too afraid to publish it as such," DeRousse said. "I, for one, won't be a Trane dealer much longer.
"I took on Trane 10 years ago because I thought it was a very exclusive product, but now they've prostituted it," she concluded. "You'll have Joe Blow down the street getting it."