Distributors Often the First Stop for Contractors Seeking Training
Companies offer general HVAC skills, troubleshooting, business management training
Whether it's experienced contractors and technicians staying up to date on the latest technologies or entry-level technicians learning HVAC for the first time, training is an essential part of the industry — just as it is in any profession.
And, when it’s time to hit the books, HVAC distributors can be a great resource, as many offer specific product training from their vendors as well as general HVAC skills, troubleshooting, and even some business management courses for their contractor dealers.
Meier Supply Co. Inc. owns and operates two factory authorized training centers and six Meier University locations across New York and Pennsylvania. The distributor offers a variety of training ranging from general knowledge classes to factory certified classes for Ruud, Mitsubishi Electric US Cooling & Heating Division, and LG Electronics USA equipment. All technical courses are designed to educate service technicians and will incorporate hands-on training, when available.
“Meier Supply values training and technical support enough to dedicate an entire division of our company to that purpose,” said Ed Brink, division manager, technical/training, Meier Supply Co. “In the past year, we have spent close to $150,000 on training as a company. This includes the construction of our LG VRF Training Academy in Conklin, New York; the retrofit and remodel of our Mitsubishi Training Center in Buffalo, New York; and the construction of several portable hands-on training modules. As of today, we have three Mitsubishi training modules, including a multi-zone hyper-heat system and four Ruud training modules, including an inverter-driven dual-fuel heat pump. We use our training trailer to transport these systems to our branches or contractor location to perform hands-on service and install training.
“We believe it is our role as the contractor’s partner to identify market trends and deficiencies in the areas of application, design, servicing, installation, and troubleshooting of the equipment we sell,” he continued. “Once we know what the needs of our customers are, we design classes specifically to address those issues. The goal of our training is to give our customers advanced knowledge of the equipment in those areas and give them a competitive edge over their competition while providing an immediate ROI [return on investment] for the cost of our classes.”
Young Supply Co. has three training centers in Michigan and Ohio and features HVAC technical, specific product, and business training. The distributor, like most others, holds classes during the offseason.
“It’s hard to get people to attend when they’re working 60 hours a week, so we don’t conduct training during the busy season,” said Terrance Tarantine, director of HVAC sales, Young Supply Co. “Our training schedule is based on input from the field, as we get training requests from vendors and manufacturers. They’ll be introducing a new product and request training on it. So, we’ll evaluate it — is this something useful to Young Supply and its customers? A lot of input comes from customers, as well. They will say their team needs training in something or ask if we can show them how to do something.”
Illco Inc. also conducts its training in the spring and fall, noted Tony Ventura, product manager, Illco Inc. Ninety percent of Illco’s training classes are held in the evenings and feature specific product training from its vendors, including Emerson Climate Technologies Inc., Grundfos Pumps Corp., Bell & Gossett, Fluke Instruments, Sporlan, Samsung HVAC, and more.
“Most of our training is done at our Elk Grove, Illinois, training center,” Ventura said. “It’s far enough away from the counter so it doesn’t interrupt daily procedures. We also do some training at our branches. Almost every branch manager of our eight branches hosts one to two classes during the year. Our programs are very hands-on. We have a contract with Copeland, and they bring in simulators and professional instructors for an all-day class. It’s boys and their toys, and they absolutely love it.”
The company also will host training classes at customer locations on request. “We’re very flexible in what we do,” said Ventura. “We do charge for our classes, but it’s not meant to be a profit center. We simply try to break even. Also, there is a perceived value to the class when you’re not giving it away.”
ON-SITE TRAINING IN DEMAND
Even with the increasing amount of online classes, Brink said on-site training at distributor locations is still in high demand. “I believe it is more important than ever. Online classes, though convenient, are limited on the depth of information provided, lack instant feedback from an instructor, are susceptible to interpretation and exterior distractions, and sometimes leave the participant with more questions than answers. Personal interaction and hands-on experiences are key to any learning experience.”
Cfm Distributors Inc., which offers about 30 live training courses per year on different product groups as well as live business training on flat rate pricing, job costing, marketing, fraud prevention, and more, has incorporated online training into its training through several of its manufacturer partners.
“On-site training is still in high demand for a number of reasons,” said Lauren Roberts, vice president, cfm Distributors. “We have several organizations and municipalities in our territory that require continuing education, and some of them require that the CEUs [continuing education, units] come from live, on-site training. The continuing education requirements are a large contributor to filling our on-site training classes. As we transition to the next generation of technicians and business owners, I think there will be more of a shift to online training usage, especially if the aforementioned municipalities and organizations begin to allow online training as an alternative way to earn required CEUs.”
Ventura said distributor training is in demand because service technicians like to ask questions. “They like to listen to other experienced technicians in the room make comments. They like to see and touch the products, if they can. They like talking to our sales reps and counter guys because they have a relationship with us. Not everybody strictly wants price; they want assistance and relationships. People like doing business with people they like.”
With the HVAC industry becoming more advanced, the ability to learn on the job is becoming limited and more expensive, according to Brink.
“We try to show our customers an immediate return on investment for the class by giving them the tools, knowledge, and skills needed to make them more productive,” he said. “We often will revert back to a service, application, or warranty issue the contractor had and show them how attending our training could have prevented those issues.
“We use the ‘value add’ approach to our classes. We try to determine what information the contractor should leave with that will make him better at his job and more profitable,” continued Brink. “Once we have that information, we design classes around those concepts. There is no marketing or fluff; only the information that the technician needs to do his or her job is covered in our trainings.”
Training benefits contractors by making them more comfortable with products, which, in turn, benefits the distributor when they turn around and purchase the product.
Training does pay dividends, according to Gerry Wagner, director of HVAC technical training, Watsco Inc., who has tracked the sales of a particular product for the 90 days following a class or seminar at a specific location.
“The numbers are always mind-blowing — it’s double-digit sales increases, every time,” Wagner said. “From a basic sales standpoint, guys are going to purchase a product they’re comfortable with. So training starts at that basic level. You want your customer, the end user, designer, and installer, to be comfortable with the product so that is the product they choose to use. That’s the basis of where training starts, then it goes on from there. And it has a huge positive effect on warranty claims. You see warranty claims go down after training is held in a particular market.”
Wagner said he tries to put himself in the audience’s shoes when conducting any kind of training. “I’m not a guy who learned this out of a book; I’m a guy who learned in the field, living in the truck and doing service work and installs. I feel kindred with my audience. I know what they need to know, and, frankly, what they don’t need to know. Training cannot be me standing in front of 100 guys spewing information for four hours. That’s not fun for me, and it’s certainly not fun for them. It has to be give and take. It has to be information going in two directions. I learn as much from my audience as they learn from me. It’s an exchange of ideas. That’s what makes our classes very unique — they’re interactive. We can adjust the classes to our audience — a room full of engineers, designers, service techs, installers, or a mix of all the above. We cater to the needs of our specific audience.”
Young Supply Co. has been in discussion with some Michigan community colleges to partner in training programs, according to Tarantine.
“They’re looking at utilizing some of our resources at the wholesaler level,” he explained. “In addition, then maybe we can hold a class there. We recently held one at Mott College for combustion analysis because they had working systems. We needed working systems to train contractors on a program we have going. So, we partnered with Mott and brought everybody up to the school so they could have working furnaces to test on. The school’s students got to attend, as well, so it benefits their HVAC program.
“We’re going to see more of this type of thing going forward. We do some things better than the schools, and the schools often have resources that are unavailable to us. So, we’re going to see more partnerships between certain wholesalers and schools. It’s part of an effort to get more people in the trades. If we can get ourselves involved at the student level, get more students involved in the program, and get more students to finish the program, it’s a benefit for everybody in the industry.”
Publication date: 7/11/2016