Nearly 1,000 HVACR and sheet metal professionals gathered in Phoenix for the Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA’s) 73rd Annual Convention Oct. 16-19 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge.

Guy Gast, president of The Waldinger Corp. — Iowa Division and immediate past president of SMACNA, said attendees cherish the opportunity to get together and learn from each other.

“That’s the reason people come, whether it’s to learn from other contractors, key industry partners, consultants, or other experts in the industry,” he said. “We don’t have a changing template, which is one of the key benefits of the convention. Every year, we bring a lot of valuable educational content. So, if there is something different this year, it’s that it’s bigger and better. This is one of our best-attended conventions in the past decade. We have 38 educational opportunities and sessions, and this was probably the largest product show we’ve ever had.”

Gast said if convention attendees take away one thing, it’s this: “I hope people walk away and say, ‘I met one new friend,’ ‘I walked away with one new idea,’ or ‘I learned one new thing that paid for the expense of being here.’ I think that’s the most important message — who did you meet and what did you learn?”


Ryan Hamilton, one of Rolling Stone’s “Five Comics to Watch,” kicked off event’s opening session by poking gentle fun at the convention’s educational program titles, saying he couldn’t wait to attend ‘Reap the Reward: Federal Tax Laws that Can Boost Your Bottom Line.’ He had the audience rolling with laughter at jokes about being single, hot air balloons, and skydiving.

A more serious keynote address, given by Army veteran Daniel Rodriguez, followed. Rodriguez discussed his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting at the Battle of Kamdesh, which was one of the bloodiest fights in the war in Afghanistan; coming home and walking onto the Clemson football team in order to fulfill a promise to a friend who died on the battlefield; and, finally, signing with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent.

Rodriguez told a grim story, one heard all too often, of war veterans having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life upon their returns to America. He told audience members how he turned to alcohol and prescription drugs prescribed by the VA Hospital. He spoke of a comrade who committed suicide, and reminisced of the night he considered taking his own life. In the end, the remembrance of a promise given to a friend who didn’t make it home saved his life. The moral, Rodriguez said, was to never give up and remain positive.

“You’re going to experience hardship,” he said. “Do you let it drown you, or do you use it as fuel? There’s enough negativity in this world. I believe that. You’ve got to be positive. You’ve got to think the right way. You’ve got to believe. And, for me, believing was just the first part. At 6 years old, I wrote down my goals on a piece of paper. I pledged to be the best, be in the Army, jump out of airplanes, and, lastly, play in the NFL. And I worked my butt off to be where I’m at right now in my life. Every day, I put myself out there, put my pads on, and went out there and played. I never expected anything. I always tried to stay positive because I did put myself out there. I tried, and I gave it everything I had. You have to stay positive and go after what you want.”


During the Residential Contractors Forum, Brigham Dickinson, president and founder of Power Selling Pros, discussed, “The Power of Selling an Experience,” and how businesses must work to wow their customers or lose them to the lowest bidder.

Dickinson used some of the top brands in customer service, as ranked by Consumer Reports, including Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Chick-Fil-A, and Amazon, to illustrate his narrative.

“What do two online retailers, a fast food restaurant, and an airline have in common?” he asked. “It’s phenomenal customer service. It’s about being awesome. When people walk away, they go, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’”

Dickinson noted that many big-box stores and internet giants, like Amazon, are moving into the HVAC world.

“Amazon has smart thermostats as well as heating and cooling systems. They’re selling our stuff. And they’re talking to Dan in a van or Chuck in a truck and saying, ‘Hey, all I want is 25 percent of your margin.’ And those guys are replying, ‘Fantastic!’ I know many of you are thinking, ‘I’m good, I have my customers, this isn’t going to impact me, and they’re not going to scare me.’ But, the first step to a solution is recognizing there is a problem. This can happen to you.”

He offered up companies like Blockbuster, Circuit City, and Blackberry as prime examples.  “What beat them? It was innovation, phenomenal customer service, and ease of use. HVAC contractors can no longer compete on price. The big-box stores are Goliath. We are David — we have to get innovative. The average Chick-Fil-A revenue per location is $4.7 million. Why? Because of phenomenal customer service. When everybody implemented a dollar menu, they didn’t feel pressure to follow the pack. Instead, they started ‘Daddy-Daughter Days’ on Tuesdays for half-price. They crushed it. They created a new experience. This country is built on small business, and, as an industry, we have to own it and work to maintain it.”

Mounir El Asmar, co-director of the National Center of Excellence, Arizona State University, led a session called, “Making Decisions About New Market Opportunities.” The program presented a first look at decision-making framework for new market opportunities, which was the culmination of two years of research conducted by Arizona State in conjunction with the New Horizons Foundation, an initiative of HVAC and sheet metal contractors, industry partners, and researchers.

“There’s a lot of literature out describing things you should do and some things you shouldn’t do,”Asmar said. “We tried to actually learn from that and also learn how successful and unsuccessful contractors are doing and merge all of that in a decision-making framework. It’s going to take you through 10 different steps. First, do this; second, do that; third, make sure you evaluate these specific factors. Bam, bam, bam, and then you have go or no-go decisions at each one of these phases in order to help you make that decision. We also rolled up two years of work into 20 pages. Contractors are only going to make this decision two or three times in their careers. Instead of relying on their own experiences, or lack thereof, they can rely on 30 different experiences to learn from others’ mistakes.”


Angela Simon, president of Western Allied Mechanical, Menlo Park, California, received SMACNA’s Contractor of the Year Award for her longstanding involvement in the association, dedication toward mentoring young people, and support on behalf of women’s involvement in the construction industry. Simon is the first woman to be honored with the award. She was also the first woman to serve as president of the Bay Area SMACNA chapter and the first woman to serve on SMACNA’s Board of Directors.

John Sickle Jr., owner and president of Duct Fabricators Inc. and Ohio Fabricators Inc., was recognized as the Legislative Contractor of the Year; Tony Adolfs, executive director of the SMACNA Greater Chicago chapter, was named Chapter Executive Legislative Advocate of the Year; and Kevin O’Dorisio, executive director of the SMACNA Southern California chapter, received the Petersen-Dunn Award as Chapter Executive of the Year.

Additionally, SMACNA elected its new board of directors during the convention. Joseph Lansdell, president of Poynter Sheet Metal Inc., Greenwood, Indiana, was named president while Simon was named vice president. The newly elected directors are Brian Fluetsch, president and CEO of Sunset Air Inc., Lacey, Washington; Ken Groeschel Jr., project manager of Butters-Fetting Co. Inc., Milwaukee; John Raught, vice president and treasurer of Northstar Environmental Ltd., Beaver, Pennsylvania; and Scott Vidimos, president of Vidimos Inc., East Chicago, Indiana.

“As a first vice president, one of my ultimate goals is teamwork,” Simon said. “It’s very important that our labor partners are our team members, and I’m looking forward to establishing a relationship with them and helping to grow that partnership.”

SMACNA’s 74th Annual Convention and Product Show will be held Oct. 22-25, 2017 at the Grand Wailea and Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Maui, Hawaii. For more information, visit

Publication date: 12/12/2016

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!