On the frontlines of this battle were multiple trade associations such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA); the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI); and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), among others. Each represented the needs, desires, and interests of its members and the overall industry.
The benefits of belonging to a trade association, however, are not reserved to the legislative arena and governmental representation.
A GROWING COMMUNITYConsidering the myriad of challenges in daily business, when asked about the benefit of belonging to a trade association, multiple contractors agreed that “no company is an island,” and that networking is a key principle to not only business success, but also business growth.
“Being a business owner is a lonely job if you cannot communicate openly with peers that share your concerns,” said Ken Bodwell, principal of Innovative Service Solutions, Orlando, Fla. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel alone.”
Creating a community, association members find that resources available to them often save time and effort while still yielding great returns.
“Somewhere, someone has probably already faced the problems or issues that I am currently dealing with,” said Steven Long, vice president of service and residential at Gastonia Sheet Metal Heating & Air Conditioning, Gastonia, N.C. “Being a member of an organization gives me access to good, quality information and access to other contractors. Through these organizations, I can ask and get help from experienced contractors and other industry experts.”
Larry Taylor, president of AirRite Air Conditioning Co. Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, cautioned contractors who are considering “going it alone.”
“The world is changing so fast that you have to reach out and create relationships to stay up to date,” he said. “By not belonging and participating in outside organizations, you can only know and grow so much. You are either a growing vine or a dying vine. You choose.”
Beyond the benefits of community, members of associations can avail themselves of business management, technical, and training resources that are not available to nonmember contractors.
Through association memberships, Roger Grochmal, president of Atlas Air Climate Care in Oakville, Ontario, has gained large projects and multiple referrals.
“I have also hired better people and have been made aware of industry happenings because of my higher profile within the industry,” he said.
“You stay ahead and avoid pitfalls by being plugged in. If you plan to grow, you need to learn at the leading edge to maintain a competitive advantage.”
According to Grochmal, his company has obtained large improvements in its business systems and training programs from networking with other contractors within multiple associations, as well.
Russ Donnici, founder and president of Mechanical Air Service Inc., San Jose, Calif., and long-time association member, recommends contractors become part of an organization.
“It adds credibility to your business,” he explained. “Customers are better-informed and they expect their contractor to stay well informed and trained. With association membership, contractors get access to all the educational and training materials needed to be successful and to stay at the top of their field.”
ONE SIZE FITS MOSTBelonging to a trade association is not a miracle fix for every business challenge. Contractors belonging to different associations cautioned those looking at possible membership not to fall into the common misconceptions that breed discontent and eventual membership withdrawals.
“Being a member of any association for the sake of hanging a plaque in the lobby is a waste of money,” cautioned Bodwell. “To get the most ‘bang for the buck’, a member must participate on boards, committees, or task teams of the association they join.”
Associations are not only an investment of money, but they are also an investment of time.
“Regular attendance at meetings is desirable,” said Aaron York Sr., president, Aaron York’s Quality AC, Indianapolis. “The benefits a contractor obtains from associations is directly related to the amount of attendance and participation.”
As associations grow and become integral in the HVAC industry, common misconceptions and false beliefs still plague association membership.
“Some contractors believe that memberships are only for large contractors, lobbying isn’t successful or necessary, and the associations are just run by the manufacturers,” noted Dave Hutchins, president and owner of Bay Area A/C, Crystal River, Fla. “I can truly state, however, that Bay Area’s 32 years in business is in part due to what we learned along the way through being association members. That is the best reason I know of to join one.”
When choosing an association, it is important for contractors to clearly define their expectations.
Brian Boysen, owner of Choice Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Manassas, Va., had specific reasons to join when he first became a member of multiple associations.
“My sole reason was to get my telephone to ring and education on how to run an HVAC business,” he said. “It was tough in a large market to find an edge, and the organization was a vehicle to get our name to the general public.”
After spending a year as a member of two associations, Boysen dropped his membership in one. There was nothing wrong with the organization, however, it wasn’t providing for his specific needs.
“What I was really looking for was a mentor to help with some of the tough decisions,” he said.
“Each association meets different needs,” said York Sr. “You should absolutely become an association member, but be selective. While participation in any good organization is beneficial, positive participation in those that are progressive leads to many affirmative actions and results.”