Contractors Talk Issues

May 21, 2007
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San Antonio contractors exchanged ideas at an informal roundtable. The group included (from left) Parish Hebert, Scott Burger, Lee Rosenberg, Betsy Rosenberg, Michael Rosenberg, and Max Gardiner.

SAN ANTONIO - Are issues facing contractors in the San Antonio area any different than those faced in other parts of the United States? The NEWS wanted to know and recently assembled a group of contractors for a roundtable discussion of issues facing business owners in this Texas region.

One thing on the mind of contractor Parish Hebert of A-Bear Air Conditioning LLC was the licensing issue. Hebert felt that too many unqualified and untrained HVAC contractors - not to mention those doing subpar work - can pay a very minimal license fee and open up shop in the community. He said that $500 will get a license to sell and service HVAC equipment, which he said is an open invitation for anyone to enter the trade.

“Maybe we should raise the fee to $3,000 or more, at least for a renewal,” he said.

Scott Burger of Climate Control agrees that not everyone is cut out to own an HVAC business, even if they can afford the license fees. “At least four of my former employees have tried to go out on their own,” he said. “I really believe that only one will make it.”

The four contractors in attendance were happy to discuss the importance of relationships between contractors and distributors. “Distributors need to work closely with contractors,” said Hebert. “We are at the mercy of our distributors. They have the research and development capabilities to help us. They also have the business plans which allow them to factor in the 25 percent failure rate of their contractor customers.”

Another issue which has been near the top of the list of all U.S. contractors since early 2006 has been the equipment mismatch problems brought on by the mandated 13 SEER requirements. Max Gardiner of Air Care said that not only is there a mismatch problem between condensing units and coils, but there are other problems of equal proportion.

“Contractors are installing new equipment that is matched up with old, dirty coils,” he said. Part of the problem, according to Gardiner, is that homeowners and building owners don’t know any better because they don’t understand the mismatch problem. “Contractors are just not educating their customers,” he said.

One issue, which has been around a lot longer than 13 SEER, is the issue of finding and keeping the best people. Lee Rosenberg of Lee Rosenberg HVAC Consulting Group Inc., said the very nature of HVAC makes it difficult to keep the best people.

“The problem is that we bring people in and then turn them out because of the seasonal nature of the business,” he said. “And we also don’t pay them enough.”

Burger said that one way he solves the seasonal problem - although not the most logical for other HVAC contractors - is to work in the new construction market. He said there aren’t as many ups and downs there as in the service market.

The group also discussed a number of other issues, including:

  • Quality of installations, especially when properly sized using load calculations;

  • The rising cost of R-22 refrigerant and how it is getting out of control;

  • Selling extended warranties instead of service agreements.

    Hebert touched on one other topic that all of the contractors agreed on, and likely one that the entire HVAC contracting community can agree on. “We need to take the time to understand what our customers really want,” he said.

    Look for other roundtable discussions in future issues of The NEWS. If you would like to host a roundtable discussion in your community, contact John R. Hall at johnhall@achrnews.com.

    Publication date: 05/21/2007
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