Visitors to the Air Conditioning Engineers booth at the Suburban Michigan Spring Home Show were greeted by an inanimate Bryantman (left) and two “animated” sales representatives.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Palace of Auburn Hills is the home of championship teams like the Detroit Pistons of the NBA and Detroit Shock of the WNBA. Now some other organizations hope the winning formula rubs off on them, too. The Palace was the setting for the Suburban Michigan Spring Home Show on Jan. 12-13, sponsored by the American Consumer Shows (ACS).

It was also the setting where only four HVAC businesses opted to meet and greet consumers who, despite the depressed Michigan economy, turned out in large numbers to get tips on home improvements and set up appointments for sales calls and service. A total of 138 exhibitors lined the upper tier and floor of the Palace for the two-day event.

One familiar face among the contractors was Bernie Grossman, residential sales manager for American Discount Heating & Cooling Inc. Grossman has been a regular exhibitor for many years at various Detroit-area trade shows. That longevity has paid off with some preferential locations on the show floor. His booth at the Palace was second from the end where all attendees to the show had to walk pass as they entered. Grossman was offering free estimates and show specials during the event.

“I get a lot of traffic here,” Grossman said. “It looks like it is going to be a very good show.”

One of the booth visitors talked about a problem he was having keeping his house cool in the summer, thinking that his condenser was undersized. Grossman asked some questions and offered some advice on the spot.

A second contractor who was getting a lot of booth traffic was Air Conditioning Engineers. Robert Strang, CEO, was part of the two-person crew who was fielding questions from visitors. He was very impressed with what he had seen in the early hours of the show.

“I usually stay away from these shows because there are so many contractors and little traffic,” he said. “Most of these shows are not well-promoted. But this one is different.The Detroit Newsis one of the sponsors, and I see it promoted everywhere.

“I’ve seen more people in the first two hours than I did during an entire three-day show last year.”

Strang acknowledged that times are tough, but his plan is to promote his heat pump business this year to give consumers a way to fight high natural gas prices. His display of Bryantman, the symbol representing his Bryant product line, also grew attention.

Holding down the very last exhibit space before visitors descended to the show floor was Randy Nichols, owner of Nichols Heating & Cooling. Nichols is also a veteran of the local home shows and decided to set up a booth at the last moment. But he said business has been very good.

“We’ve been blessed,” he said. “We’ve been picking up some good commercial work, including some local grocery stores. I can’t complain. One local contractor had 60 installers last year and now the business is gone.”

Nichols was using displays of portable generators and the high-velocity Unico system to bring people into his booth.

Oddly enough on the show floor itself, only one HVAC-related business set up shop among the 87 exhibitors - and it wasn’t the typical HVAC contractor. The business was Geo-Renew Systems, which specializes in geothermal system installations. Considering the Michigan economy and installation costs of typical geothermal systems, this provided a challenge for sales engineer Joe Williams.

“People are curious about geothermal,” said Williams, who had just finished showing a video demonstration to a couple. “We are staying busy, but I wish we could be a lot busier.”

For the four HVAC businesses at the home show, it was a mixed bag. But they all agreed that the good traffic flow was encouraging, and that despite the hard times facing Michigan home and business owners, there was still a lot of sales to be made and service work to be performed. In other words, there were many opportunities to be championship businesses.

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Publication date:02/18/2008