ACHRNEWS

My Two Cents: Learning at SMACNA

December 7, 2009
Butch Welsch

When I found out that nobody from The NEWS was attending the SMACNA Convention in October, I suggested to Mike Murphy that perhaps he would like to have me file a report. I should have known when he answered “Yes” so quickly that maybe it wasn’t going to be as easy as I might have thought.

What I found was that it was easy attending all of the gatherings, educational sessions, etc. as I always did. The hard part was trying to write an article that would be interesting and informative without copying speakers word for word. Well, here goes my effort with a new appreciation for the job writers do in covering an annual meeting.

This year SMACNA opened its program with former Arkansas Governor, Rep. Mike Huckabee. His talk included some humorous anecdotes regarding his run for the presidency as a virtual unknown with a very small amount of campaign funds. Let’s just say his staff didn’t book him into Five Star hotels. In fact, he said one or two of the hotels complained because they wanted the rooms all night.

In speaking to an obviously friendly audience, he pointed out his concerns about there being too much taxation by the federal government and with it the excessive government spending. But the message I remember the most was a story he told which ended with a statement, which we should all remember: “In life and in driving, don’t worry about the ice behind you, but keep your eyes on the curves ahead.”

Following the opening session was the first of what seemed like an endless lineup of food functions. The food was always delicious and well prepared. I’m always impressed that convention hotels can prepare over 1,000 meals at the same time, while my wife and I have trouble timing my barbecued hamburgers and her minute rice.

Although the food was very good, I always ask myself do we need three, four-course meals each day? I personally know of very few (or no) HVAC contractors who have that much food any day - much less three or four days in a row. Therefore, a word to convention planners; I think you could save some money and make people happier by having a sandwich and chips for lunch. I know the after lunch speakers would be happy that the audience wasn’t stuffed and dozing from lunch.

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

As usual with most conventions, the breakout sessions were interesting and informative. One message stood out. This message was presented by frequent SMACNA speaker Tom Schleifer. Knowing he was speaking to mostly commercial contractors, he presented compelling statistics, which showed that the commercial HVAC market would not likely turn around for two or three more years - at best. His data mainly took into account the amount of time it takes for privately financed projects to move from an idea through design and financing to the point where sheet metal is actually being installed.

On the second morning was the Annual Trade Show. I couldn’t help but reflect on how not too many years ago industry trade shows had several vendors with dozens of booths showing off their new plasma cutting machines and coil lines.

Today’s trade show consists of booth after booth of various software vendors selling their product as the very best in business management, service department operations, CAD (computer aided drawing) or our industry’s newest buzz word, BIM (Building Information Modeling). Nevertheless, it is always worthwhile to take a look at the newest products and systems available and to try and guess which will still be in business two or three years from now.

Despite the success and value of all of these events and meetings, like with any gathering of contractors, the most benefit occurs in the halls outside the meeting rooms. This is the time when we as contractors have the chance to talk to our fellow contractors about any and all issues that are bothering us. Since almost all of the other contractors are not direct competitors, we can be free and open in our discussions.
From these sometimes chance meetings, we often receive those little tips that we can take back to our business, which really make a difference. Or perhaps we can get a business card or e-mail address of a contractor with similar issues with whom we can share our thoughts long after the convention crowd has returned home.

I realize that in these times when we all have to make sacrifices to help our business, there is a tendency to scratch the idea of attending a national meeting or convention. However, I assure you that in these times it’s more important than ever to meet with others and share your frustrations and successes. So make attending that next contractor function a priority - not a scratch.

By the way, Mike, I hope to see you at SMACNA in Phoenix next October.

Publication date: 12/07/2009