If you’re coming to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Conference in Orlando, Fla., be sure to bring a big stack of paper and your favorite pen (or two), because you’re about to get schooled.

In addition to all the usual activities, the association’s national conference, held Feb. 26 to March 2 at the Marriott World Center, will play host to more than 40 unique learning labs in six different tracks — business operations, quality assurance, building performance, commercial HVAC, residential HVAC, and radiant & hydronics — making for a great learning opportunity for all involved.

“There is a lot to be excited about this year,” said Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO, ACCA. “We have ramped up our programming to include a lot more educational sessions that will help contractors meet their customers’ needs and overcome the obstacles they face on a regular basis. We are covering a lot of new topics and we have more contractor presenters than ever before, so it will give attendees a first-hand look at what works from their peers.”

Incoming ACCA chairman Bobby Ring called the conference a tremendous educational opportunity.

“The majority of our programs are put on by contractors sharing their experiences and something they’ve done successfully in their business to make it better,” Ring said. “Other contractors learn from that.”

Extra-Curricular Education

A large variety of topics will be explored, ranging from “The New Surge in SEO & Social Media” to “Integrating Hydronics into a Forced-Air HVAC Business.”

Matt Marsiglio, service manager at Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electrical, Warren, Mich., will host the “Service Measures for Success” lab, taking a look at what information service departments should be collecting and reviewing to help grow profits. He’ll talk about how to properly benchmark service technicians based on hourly earnings.

“You can’t expect the same outcome from a high-level tech and a low-level tech,” Marsiglio said. “So it’s about setting a benchmark, measuring it monthly, and driving results. We establish this mark and also use it as a training tool.

“When we started it, guys hated seeing their numbers on the board, but after a very short period, if the numbers weren’t on the board soon enough, they’d be screaming about it. It drove competition. They wanted to be at the top of the list.”

Marsiglio, who will be attending his first ACCA Conference and will be one of the first presenters on the docket, said he’s been successfully utilizing this benchmarking method for about seven years.

“Everything I’m going to talk about in the presentation is stuff I’ve tried,” Marsiglio said. “And the beauty of it, anything I have, I’ll email anybody. I don’t care if it’s the guy down the street.

“It’s not proprietary or confidential information. I’m an installer that got into management. So, if I can figure it out, there are a lot smarter people out there than me. I’ve taken the bumps and bruises and found out what works and doesn’t work, and I’m trying to share knowledge that I’ve been fortunate enough to gain.”

Wes Davis, ACCA’s vice president for quality assured programs, will present “Let’s Get It Started with QA RSI,” a first-time program open to new applicants who want to be recognized for quality work.

Davis, a first-time presenter, said his goal for the program is to use it as a vehicle to grant contractors the recognition they deserve.

“We intend to make this a board certification for the contracting business, with a major focus on installation,” Davis said. “We want quality contractors to realize and understand that they deserve recognition, and that there is an accreditation platform out there for them.”

“I’m excited about the launch of our new Residential Service and Installation (RSI) accreditation program, which offers an avenue to recognize quality installations in existing homes that meet the minimum requirements as established by industry-developed standards,” Stalknecht said.

In the commercial HVAC track, Josh Kahn, vice president of Kahn Mechanical in Dallas, will present “Lawsuit Proof HVAC for Dummies (and Smart Contractors, Too),” a lab designed to give contractors tips for protecting their businesses from lawsuits by lessening liability while on the job. Kahn said he’ll bring experience, both good and bad, to the presentation.

“Our firm has been in commercial contracting since 1974, and we have many battle scars to show for our gained knowledge,” he said. “I am a contractor who shares for free and for fun, expecting nothing in return. Hard-fought experience, coupled with a passion for serving others, qualifies me for the task as well as anyone.”

Kahn’s lab could provide additional guidance to industry professionals who contractually deal with outsiders. “Contractors routinely enter into contractual relationships with end users, general contractors, vendors, and tier subcontractors,” Kahn said. “Some of these relationships are documented well, and in the interest of the contractor. Most are not. This is usually due to either a lack of documentation, which results in assumed contractual relationships, or through one-sided documents that favor the interests of the other parties.”

In the business operations track, Adams Hudson, president of the Hudson Ink marketing firm, will present “The Ultimate HVAC Lead Generation Machine,” his eighth-straight appearance at the association’s national conference.

“Most contractors across the U.S. — almost all of them — feel they’re good, technically astute, fair, and honorable,” Hudson said. “They all feel like they’re pretty good on business, some weaker, some stronger. Some feel they can sell OK, but the thing that greatly differentiates and brings them all the money, all the leads, all the phone calls, is marketing.

“They have got to get the marketing formula right or all that other stuff fails. So, the world’s best salesman and the world’s worst salesman both perform the same if they don’t have any leads.”

All attendees to Hudson’s lab will leave with a free month-by-month marketing plan.

Speakers of the House

On top of the labs, ACCA will welcome some new speakers who will touch on topics relevant to contractors, starting with the conference’s opening ceremonies, Wednesday, Feb. 27.

“We have an amazing opening general-session speaker, Mark Scharenbroich, who is going to give contractors a totally new way to look at all their customer relationships, both internally and externally,” Stalknecht said. “And we are featuring a very special session on March 2 with Dennis Snow, the guy who created the consulting division at the Disney Institute. He’s spent years helping some of the best and most successful companies in the world get to that point, and he’s going to share his wisdom with our contractor attendees.”

Exuberant Attractions

ACCA is pleased to introduce IE3: The Indoor Environment & Energy Expo, formerly the Indoor Air Expo.

“There will be more than 200 companies exhibiting who are ready, willing, and excited to show contractors what new and innovative products and services they have to help them,” Stalknecht said.

In addition, Wednesday will play host to The MIXer, a special networking session for current and potential MIX members.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, ACCA contractor members are welcome to attend the Contractor Town Hall Meeting, and later in the evening will be the Chairman’s Banquet.

Friday, March 1 will be the last full day of the conference, featuring the popular “I’ve Got an Idea” session. “We have plenty of other great events that contractors flock to each year, such as the CEO/Contractor Forum and everyone’s favorite, the I’ve Got an Idea session, which this year will be back on the main stage to make it fun as well as informative,” Stalknecht said.

That will be followed by the Ultimate Block Party, which will serve as a lead-in for the 2014 conference in Nashville.

“ACCA and the ACCA conference have made my business more professional,” said outgoing ACCA chairman Laura DiFilippo, vice president, DiFilippo’s Service Co., Paoli, Pa. “I learn amazing things. Even just by having a cup of coffee or glass of wine with other contractors, I’ve learned so much that I’ve been able to take back from this conference and apply to my own business.”

That sentiment was echoed by Stalknecht. “At the end of the day, the ACCA Conference is not so special just because of the way we keep upping the ante in programs and technology, it’s special because of who comes,” he said. “We are very proud that the country’s most profitable, most successful contractors continue to attend each year. Just walk through the halls and introduce yourself and you will walk away with a good idea or two that could change your business.

“Some people say face-to-face networking is dying, but the ACCA conference is proof that that isn’t true,” he said. “You’ll never get access to the contractors who attend our conference through a social network, discussion board, or listserve. All you have to do is show up in Orlando and you’ll find how much they have to offer, and how happy they are to share.”

Publication date: 2/25/2013