No matter what success the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) might find, president and CEO Paul Stalknecht isn’t one to let the group rest on its laurels. In fact, he’s on a mission to make sure ACCA is proactive in preparing for the future.

“Let’s face it, the generational and demographic changes in America are impacting our industry,” Stalknecht said. “If we’re going to continue to succeed in the future, we have to move rapidly to identify the needs, not just of contractors in general, but of those businesses specifically owned and managed by Generation X and Generation Y. Our association’s officers have been working all year in a ‘blue-ribbon task force’ to look at the changing nature of association demographics, and how ACCA should adapt its operations. There are a lot of exciting changes ahead.”

Preparing a Plan

Before ACCA can fully embrace 2013, it must look back on 2012 — a time Stalknecht described as an “interesting year.”

“The weather, always an important factor in this industry, had its ups and downs, but we have received some anecdotal information from several contractors that it was better than last year,” he said. “They have told us that focusing on new market areas such as whole-home performance has allowed them to meet more of their customers’ comfort needs.

“The industry’s continued turn toward whole-building performance is having a huge impact on this industry. This is actually a very exciting time to be in the indoor environment contracting industry, because there are a number of new business opportunities available for those contractors able to reach beyond their comfort zone.”

When referencing the organization’s path to success and its ability to adapt to today’s rapidly changing climate, Stalknecht is quick to credit ACCA’s board of directors. He acknowledged their forward-thinking ideas that shaped the organization’s new strategic plan, which he said has made him very proud.

“They’ve led ACCA to reinvent ourselves yet again, a never-ending process to stay ahead of the industry’s needs,” Stalknecht said. “Our new accreditation, communications, and education platforms are enabling us to be not just the largest contractor organization in the country, but the most indispensable.”

Government Affairs

Working through a tumultuous political climate that included the reelection of President Barack Obama, Stalknecht said 2012 left ACCA in a holding pattern due to the election. However, he said, many ACCA members reported a quick surge in activity once the ballots were counted.

But, the path to the election was the tough part, and, as a result, ACCA concentrated much of its government relations activities toward state legislatures, while keeping an eye on federal regulatory agencies.

“The year began with inaction from the EPA that triggered uncertainty about the availability of R-22 and a spike in prices,” Stalknecht said. “And the failure of the Department of Energy to proceed with an enforcement rulemaking sets the industry up for ambiguity over how the pending regional standards will be enforced. Even if you assume the furnace standards are vacated as a result of the pending APGA vs. DOE lawsuit settlement, regional standards for central air conditioners take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

One positive note was the extension of the $500 tax credits for 2013, but the retroactive nature of the credit for 2012 means only those who happened to install qualifying equipment get to take advantage. The opportunity to upsell all those customers is lost.”

Despite the election being over, Stalknecht said ACCA members still need to be mindful, as always, of what’s going on with the government, noting contractors should be aware of some trends coming down the pike in 2013.

“Nationwide, utilities and state governments are moving toward performance-based incentive, market-transformation programs, along with defined guidelines on the knowledge, skills, and abilities of technicians,” he said. “Unfortunately, this can be a situation where the government picks winners and losers without perfect information. Contractors should also be mindful of the federal agencies as the administration looks to push its agenda before President Obama’s lame-duck years.”

On top of that, Stalknecht said members have been talking about the issue of untrustworthy contractors, which was thrust into the limelight last summer on NBC’s “Today” Show. He said this is an issue that has been on the minds of many contractors.

“With the economy struggling, more consumers are turning to cost-only as their decision-maker,” Stalknecht said. “And legitimate contractors have been encountering those clean-ups. We learned a lot this summer when the ‘Today’ Show performed a sting operation and exposed some of the people who were not doing things up to industry standards. We all know those people give the industry a bad name. Bobby Ring, who is an expert on the ‘Today’ Show segment, is also going to be talking at the ACCA Conference about that experience and sharing how professional contractors, who are doing things the right way, can overcome the poor image these low-cost people are creating.

“ACCA has taken the lead in bringing together the broad industry — manufacturers, contractors, and distributors — to address the issue of unlicensed contractors and consumer outreach. It’s time the entire industry recognized this problem and took steps to address it.”

Future Endeavors

Stalknecht remembers when he first came to ACCA 12 years ago, he announced the group would end its monthly mailing in favor of online delivery, he was “told by several people that contractors don’t use the Internet.”

“My response was, they’re going to need to adapt or they’re going to get left behind, and ACCA is not going to lead from behind,” he said. “It turns out contractors do use the Internet, and that move was one of the key changes that turned ACCA from an also-ran into the industry’s leading organization.”

Stalknecht, along with ACCA’s board of directors, is looking long and hard at what unique and innovative measures it can embark on to continue to make ACCA the best it can be for its members. Those endeavors will certainly continue in 2013, through the launching of several new programs, which Stalknecht believes will give members an even bigger bang for their buck.

“2013 is going to be an even more exciting year for us as we launch new programs, including accreditation programs, online training programs, and new member benefits. We are committed to expanding the value we offer our members in exchange for their dues. We’re also reaching beyond our membership to provide specialized services to contractors whether or not they belong. ACCA’s goal is to help all indoor environment contractors achieve business success, and you’re going to see us introduce more tools to do just that.”

Publication date: 2/25/2013