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“The idea began as a trailer,” says John Herrick, contractor network manager at Intellihot. “But it morphed into this.” This being a 40-foot long behemoth fashioned out of a MT55 Freightliner that Herrick and others at Intellihot turned into the water heater manufacturer’s first mobile training vehicle.
We met John at last year’s PHCCCONNECT who filled us in on the truck. Later, we saw pictures of the vehicle, but nothing quite does it justice until we saw it with our own eyes last year during a visit to the company’s Vernon Hills, Ill. headquarters.
“It’s bigger than a standard FedEx truck; similar platform just longer,” he says of the vehicle, to give readers some perspective on the sheer size of the truck.
We started our tour in the back of the vehicle with a working Intellihot iN401, with a maximum output of 400,000 BTU.
“With this unit,” Herrick adds, “it’s easy to train contractors on how to properly set combustion and check gas pressure. And we can show how the heat exchanger flexes to keep scale from building up. We just have to remember to strap it down when we’re driving or it’ll drive you nuts.”
Next to the iN401 sits a working demo of the telliBot_ai, a device that can be hooked up to any make of an existing water heater. Once in place, the unit gathers 10 days worth of data based on flow rates, temperatures, firing rates and more functions to accurately predict the remaining useful life of the water heater.
“That way, a contractor can help a restaurant owner better plan to replace the water heater instead of it going down in the middle of a busy Friday night for the business,” Herrick explains.
Moving forward, the vehicle includes iQ251s, iN199s and iN401s models, six units in all, that can be completely disassembled (and, of course, reassembled) for training purposes.
“We can give them some real world experience taking apart our product,” Herrick says. “It’s better than being in a classroom with a unit laying on a table that maybe a bunch of contractors have to take turns with. Anything that simulates the real world – that’s what I tried to bring into the truck.”
Workstations allow for up to four contractors to be trained at once – and the trainees also get some very long courtesy screwdrivers to take home, which will help them for future troubleshooting.
Capping off the Intellihot products on display in the truck is a floor-standing iQ1001 model. Delivering up to 1 million BTU, this unit is a smaller version of Intellihot’s largest unit, the iQ3001, which delivers the highest capacity in the industry at 3 million BTUs.
To aid in training, the truck is outfitted with five monitors to provide for PowerPoint presentations. The truck is also web-enabled, which allows any training event to be easily streamed online.
While the truck has plenty of firepower inside, Herrick thinks the truck’s best feature is the wide awning that can be unrolled on the outside of the truck.
“It did take us a long time to get the awning,” Herrick explains. “But I was bound and determined to get it since I really think it’s the essence of the truck. When we’re doing counter days and barbequing under the awning that will be a perfect day.”
Herrick only joined Intellihot a year ago after working as a contractor, and describes himself “as a master plumber, a mechanical contractor and a truck driver.”
But while the truck was indeed a group effort, Amy Turner, the company’s director of marketing, gives kudos to Herrick for seeing it from concept to completion.
“We have a lot of brilliant engineers on our staff,” Turner says, “but they haven’t been in a basement every day doing the plumbing work John’s done.”
When the subject of training came up, Turner says it was Herrick who said Intellihot would need to take the training to the contractor.
“And not just take the training to them,” Turner adds, “but John also wanted to replicate what they might come across in their service calls. John really had the vision. As a plumber himself, John knew how plumbers needed to be trained.”
Meanwhile, Herrick’s “regular job” is heading up the company’s IntelliPRO initiative, which qualifies and signs up professional contractors for additional benefits, including leads, training and overnight parts shipping.
None of which has precluded Herrick from taking the truck out on the road. He did a dry run the week before our visit and was planning a tour of Wisconsin and Michigan. Anyone who follows the company or Herrick on LinkedIn can see some pictures of recent visits to wholesalers, rep agencies and contractors.
To date the truck has had other training stops in Minnesota; Nebraska; Kansas; Ohio; Tennessee; North Carolina and South Carolina.
The company does plan to hire a full-time driver. And as big as the truck is, it may not be big enough for Intellihot’s training ambitions since the manufacturer is already considering adding a second truck of similar size in the near future.
We saw the truck parked outside the company’s new Chicago suburban headquarters. The 17,000-square-foot office houses the company’s sales, marketing, research and development and finance departments. The space also features a classroom-based training center, too.
At press time, we hadn’t heard any specific dates of where the truck will be. However, the company told us it plans a two-phase plan in 2023 to cover 40 cities with swings through the Southeast, Texas, Southwest and West in the spring; and the Northeast, Canada, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest in the summer.