FLUSHING, N.Y. - The HVAC trade show is a time honored tradition bringing people of the HVAC community together. But in this day and age of e-mail, texting, and Twitter, contractors, manufacturers, and distributors still value the handshake and eye-to-eye contact that is available at events like the International Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo), Air Conditioning Contractors of America Expo, and the ABCO Expo.
That does not even take into account the numerous other contractor and manufacturer shows that are sprinkled in at other times of the year.
Many similar meetings have been replaced by the telephone, e-mail, or text. But a lot of people still prefer the method of communication that has worked in the HVAC trade for decades. This method is still relevant and important.
“This business is almost archaic because of the need for touchy-feely,” said Jeff Harris, vice president sales/northeast, Mueller Industries Inc. “But the people aspect is more personal and valuable.”
Contractor Peter Abreeny of All HVAC Service Co. Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y., agrees. “I am old school,” he said. “I’m still a strong believer in verbal communications. I get to talk with vendors because I normally don’t have the opportunity to interact with manufacturers.”
THE CONTRACTOR SIDEMany HVAC contractors in metropolitan New York City come to the ABCO Expo for the same reasons that Abreeny does, to meet and talk with people they would not normally communicate with. These same contractors send a lot of their technicians to learn about products and ask questions. “I tell my service techs to come to talk directly with manufacturers about any service issues,” Abreeny said.
Mike Cappucio of N.E.T.R. Inc., Woburn, Mass., comes to the expo because he doesn’t get to supply houses very often. “You can see, touch, and feel products,” he said. “There are things here that I didn’t even know that my supplier sells.”
Scott Berger of Arista Air Conditioning Corp., Long Island City, N.Y., believes face-to-face meetings establish trust. “Trust is a good part of every relationship, as well as clear communications and support,” he said. “The first time you try and establish a relationship after having a problem is almost too late to save the relationship. Face-to-face is critical as a foundation.”
Timothy Dehardt of AAA Refrigeration Service Inc., Fairfield, N.J., said these types of personal meetings are critical to a businesses’ success. “Nothing beats a handshake and a face-to-face conversation,” he said. “We are all people and have families; no matter how much business we do with a customer, you must maintain some type of a personal relationship as well.
“Too many people today rely so much on the Internet and e-mails and that personal connection has been lost. I feel that it is imperative to either go visit a customer or to pick up the phone even if it has nothing to do with business.”
THE MANUFACTURER SIDEHarris said that it is important for his company to learn more about the customer base - so he can service them better. “It is important for us to align ourselves with a company that is customer focused,” he said. “I know there may be a day when face-to-face is not viable because it is not economical. But the electronic media jeopardizes touchy-feely.
“Customers define who we are and what we look like. They give us an education.”
Birch Taylor, vice president sales & educational services for Emerson Climate Technologies, believes that face-to-face meetings with contractors are essential, which is why he said expos are “a key focal point of our year.” He added, “We want to reach out and develop relationships with contractors in one of the biggest markets. We want to make sure that contractors can evaluate our products.”
Jim Bachman, national sales & marketing manager, DuPont Refrigerants, said his company is very interested in meeting face-to-face with contractors, especially this year in light of the big changes in the refrigerant industry. “Face-to-face communication is critical, particularly during this time of transition as our industry works through the phaseout of R-22,” he said. “A personalized connection with customers is not easy to accomplish via e-mail, text, or voice mail.
“We all rely on these tools, and they are a normal part of doing business today, but there’s a value in spending time together that the e-tools can’t replace. E-communication can be a very one-sided conversation and we’re interested in hearing first-hand the concerns of the contractor community.”
SHARING WITH THE INTERNETAll contractors and manufacturers who commented for this story agree that the Internet and e-communication is a vital and important part of the distribution channel - and provides a complementary form of communication to the face-to-face meetings. But one should not be used without the other - or to replace the other.
Berger said, “The sheer volume of business makes it important to be more efficient, an advantage of the Internet. But it is still all about a phone call between people. I suppose the traditional model will change when the next generation of owners comes into the business.”
Youngkin noted, “The Internet is important on the contractor level because they can get info 24/7 and don’t want to wait until the doors open at a business in the morning. However, it is still a people business. All things being equal, people want to deal with people - and people they like.”
Tony D’Amico of A&J Refrigeration Inc., Cedar Grove, N.J., said that the Internet allows people to search for products that their vendors do not offer - but there is no relationship. “I like looking people in the eye,” he said. “To me, it will always be a people business. The younger generation depends on the Internet, which requires no presentation skills and is very impersonal.”
Bachman summed up the importance of both. “There’s something very powerful in meeting people in person, and forging relationships far outweighs anything you can accomplish via e-mail,” he said. “E-mail seems most effective when a relationship exists already, and e-mail supports the relationship. But e-mail can’t convey the trust or commitment that can be shown through a handshake.”
Michael Senter, ABCO CEO, summed up the importance of bringing people together in person. “We believe a firm handshake and face-to-face communications are irreplaceable in building relationships and closing transactions,” he said. “Realistically, in today’s fast-paced marketplace, it is almost impossible to achieve this as often as we would like. With this in mind, we need to maximize every opportunity to talk in person with our customers, manufacturers, and colleagues.
“It is the look in someone’s eyes, the expression on their face, and the emotion expressed or withheld that often communicates as much as the actual spoken or written word. The wonder of any successful trade show such as ours is that our customers, manufacturers, and our fellow ABCO team members in one wonderfully fast-paced day achieve intellectual intimacy in conversations while thousands of colleagues and friends explore those latest developments in our industry.
“Truly, there is no better form of marketing than the integrity of a firm handshake, provided the commitment is there to fulfill the expectations implicit in that straightforward and irreplaceable expression of trust.”