The recent Make-A-Wish Gala in New York included (from left to right) Janette Rebelo, Michael Senter, CEO of ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp., Lisa Senter, Paul Rebelo, Executive Vice President of ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp., Thomas Levy of JP Morgan Chase, and Rita Pelosi of JP Morgan Chase.

One of the most common and revered relationships in the HVAC trade is that of the bond between contractors and their distributors. The success or failure of each business is often directly tied to the success of this relationship. If one does well, the other should do well - and vice versa.

So it is only natural that an HVAC distributor will do what it can to ensure the profitability and solvency of its contractor clients. On the buying side, these measures include special pricing, invoice terms and conditions, expedited delivery, etc. On the business side, these measures include technician training, product demonstrations, and operations/management training. The really good distributors - and there are many - do much more than just sell parts and equipment. They are, in effect, a business partner to their clients.

That partnership is taken very seriously by distributor organizations, too. The Heating, Airconditioning, Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) is at the forefront of the industry when it comes to providing educational tools for its distributor members. On its website,, members have access to an array of information and training - all designed to help them maximize their relationship with HVAC contractors.

On the individual and local level, there are many stories of how distributors have gone that extra mile for their clients.


Education comes in many forms. One Michigan distributor - The Behler-Young Co. - is using its facilities to update clients on technology that they may not otherwise have physical access to. The distributor is partnering with ThermalNetics of Auburn Hills, Mich., to bring Daikin AC technology, which it represents, to HVAC contractors.

“Being a local representative for over 25 different global HVAC manufacturers, it is very important for us to educate our customers with the new, innovative, emerging technologies making waves in the industry,” said Nick Evanoff, LEED AP, application manager for ThermalNetics. “Many times our customers are not aware of these advances in the industry until they are faced with bidding a project or their customers request it. This can be a daunting task when you know nothing about the system, how it works, the labor involved for install, commissioning, etc.”

Evanoff said that doing the normal “lunch and learns” at the customer’s office is helpful, but his company wants to provide a complete understanding of its products to its customers. As a result, ThermalNetics is going to market with a more value-added approach. Evanoff said that although Daikin AC has been around for a while, its variable refrigerant flow and variable refrigerant volume technology is fairly new to the industry.

“We have partnered with the local distributor of Daikin AC, The Behler-Young Company,” Evanoff said. “They have a state-of-the-art training facility that has installed Daikin AC equipment serving the large presentation/conference area. This system includes a variation of units to cover the large spectrum of products Daikin AC offers.

“By having access to this, we have set a monthly training session for all of our customers interested in this technology. It works great for owners, consulting engineers, and contractors. The end user can ‘kick the tires’ on the indoor units their people will interface with.”

Customers of ThermalNetics and HVAC distributor Behler-Young Company get classroom training on Daikin AC technology, such as variable refrigerant flow and variable refrigerant volume.


Sometimes “wow” moments happen best when HVAC distributors and their contractor clients reach outside of themselves and their areas of business expertise to help others. That’s according to Michael Senter, CEO of ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp., Long Island City, N.Y., and a member ofThe NEWS’Distributor Panel. Senter is also the vice chairman of the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York.

Recently, with just less than one week until the annual Make-A-Wish Gala, Senter challenged ABCO’s executive leadership team together to see if ABCO and its community of contractors and manufacturers could raise at least $100,000 in one week. Senter told them that their funds would be doubled by Stewart Rahr, the CEO of Kinray Pharmaceuticals and a Make-A-Wish board member, who had committed to matching up to $1 million in donations in connection with the gala.

Together, ABCO, its community-minded contractor customers, and its dedicated manufacturers, raised $138,000 in seven days, which was doubled by Rahr’s incredible matching challenge to $276,000 on behalf of Wish children and their families.

“ABCO’s support truly makes a difference and inspires others to become involved,” explained Patricia Clemency, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York. “The fact that you could enlist the support of so many business associates to join you in this effort to grant a wish a month was incredible.”

“Imagine the joy and hope we as a community will be able to bring to these brave children and their families,” Senter said. “It is our mission and commitment to grant the wish of every child who needs the hope, strength, and inspiration of a wish fulfilled while battling a life-threatening medical condition.”


Ferguson Enterprises is one distributor that came through in an unusual situation. Tim Gilbride, general manager of Ferguson’s Philadelphia location, shared a story about fellow general manager Vance Stillman.

“Topp Portable Air is a great customer,” Gilbride said. “Recently, we had an order for nine Heat Packs, portable heating systems that were critical for a delivery going to Afghanistan for our troops stationed there. If we missed our delivery date and time, we faced missing the C-130 air lift that they were scheduled to fly out on. With the troops facing the winters in Afghanistan, we took this very seriously.”

Gilbride said that Stillman stepped up and offered service that went “above and beyond the call of duty.”

He explained, “With no benefit other than doing the right thing, Stillman drove to the freight company’s location in Charlotte, N.C., and waited to have them unload the items that were destined for delivery in several more days. He then personally drove them and met the customer halfway across the state to get the Heat Packs to them.

“Vance showed what it means to be on a winning team, and he showed the customer just how much we care.”

Mark Nimmons (right) of Gateway Supply Co.’s Greenville, S.C., branch helps local contractor Lee Crandall of Crandall A/C and Heating. Gateway launched a full-service parts business in anticipation of a slowdown.


For one distributor, getting back to basics has given his relationship with contractors a real boost. David Williams of Gateway Supply Co., Columbia, S.C., and a member ofThe NEWS’Distributor Panel, said his company had overlooked a very important segment of the service business. “Not more than two years ago our company chose to keep replacement parts only for the equipment we sold,” he said. “We had a smattering of generic parts, but nothing that would say we were in the replacement parts business. We kept mainly OEM parts for direct changeouts and/or warranty purposes.

“When we saw that the economy was more than just a blip of a slowdown, we knew that more homeowners would be faced with replacing parts instead of replacing units, and we figured it out, albeit slowly, that OEM parts were not going to compete that well in a struggling economy.”

To use a popular cliché, that’s when the light bulb went off over Gateway’s head.

“We became not only a full-service equipment supplier with all the necessary parts to work on the equipment we sell, but a real factor in the aftermarket parts business with generic parts,” Williams said. “It has taken a while for the customer base to realize that we can now help them with this, since for 30-plus years we were not a real player in this market.

“Sometimes we struggle to keep enough generic parts on the shelf because dealers are buying them in bulk quantities. With that being said, this is a very good thing. I know that this is not an earth-shattering revelation for most distributors, but it took us a little longer to catch on, and it has been a major difference for us.”

Publication date:08/16/2010