For example, the topic of selling equipment to noncontractors and their employees, i.e., moonlighters and homeowners, came up. Robert Arroyo, territory manager for Aces A/C Supply Inc., said his company does not sell to anyone outside of its own customers. “We don’t accept cash or personal credit cards either,” he said. “We are here for the contractors and we protect their business by not selling to individuals and homeowners.”
David Landry, owner of Landry Service Co., said the problem of selling equipment to unlicensed people goes beyond just what happens in supply houses. That’s why he believes the state has to take some action and step up its inspections of HVAC installations. “We’ve got to do a better job of requiring permits,” he said.
Robert McCordle, branch manager for Insco Distributing Inc., said a lot of contractors are getting fed up with new rules regulating permits in Austin. “Contractors used to be able to purchase a book of permits,” he said. “Now they have to buy one permit at a time and the wait is longer to get them.”
Landry noted, “A lot of guys aren’t pulling permits because it takes them three hours of waiting each time they need to get one.” That leads to frustration and opens the door to new, inexperienced people to compete with established, legitimate businesses - people who wouldn’t normally pull permits anyway.
“There are a lot of new guys coming in who don’t know how to price a job,” said Landry. “I don’t mind losing a $100 job but it’s the $2,000 jobs that I question.”
GOOD HELP HARD TO FINDThe Austin area is not immune to problems that other HVAC businesses face, the most notable being a lack of good, qualified employees. Each roundtable member said there are different reasons why the trade faces large shortages.
“Votech schools are telling students they can make $20-$25 an hour when they finish their studies,” said Landry. “In reality, the numbers are more like $12-$15 an hour. At that rate, it is hard to find good people who also have good soft skills.”
Arroyo added there may be enough good techs out there but they can’t get into the field because of some of their past records. “Background checks are important and a lot of people can’t pass the checks,” he said. “How far do you go back to check someone anyway? A lot of good techs simply cannot pass state qualifications.”
McCordle uses temp agencies to find workers and although most of them don’t last very long, there is an endless supply of people who are willing to give working at an HVAC supply house a try. “I can bring temps in and have them work for me for 90 days while the agency is still paying them,” he said. “After that, I have to make the decision to keep them or not.”
Landry said some of the young people who are good often work in HVAC for the wrong reason. “Kids need to figure out that if they are making the boss money, they are going to make money, too,” he said. “Too many of them are in it just for a paycheck.”
OTHER TOPICS TO COVERArroyo said his company is always looking for ways to streamline its business and cut costs. One way he discovered to do this is by depending heavily on the Internet. He spends a lot of time e-mailing information to customers instead of showing up with documents. “It’s easier to e-mail information rather than to drive it over to someone,” he said. “Our home office is looking closer at expenditures like this and to cut some corners.”
McCordle said the coming phaseout of refrigerant R-22 has had a “huge impact on our business. Whatever we have this year will be it for us.”
Arroyo agreed with the importance of the phaseout issue. “Austin is very green,” he said. “Homeowners are becoming very knowledgeable and are asking for R-410A products now. Our goal is to stock up to 70 percent R-410A. Contractors are demanding it now.”