A record number of attendees recently converged in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International’s (HARDI) 2016 annual conference. Attendees honed relevant skills by attending sessions in three training tracks: Actions, Analytics, and Assets.

Numerous featured speakers offered insights and knowledge.

Jeff Ma, blackjack expert and inspiration for the 2008 movie “21,” discussed the power of analytics; political scholar Marc Dunkelman offered insights into the roots of the political gridlock in Washington; and human resources expert Nancye Combs helped attendees get a handle on the rapidly changing landscape of employment regulations and related challenges.

In addition, three keynote speakers captivated attendees. Aron Ralston, mountain climber and subject of the film “127 Hours,” spoke of overcoming adversity; Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush, discussed the economic climate after the 2016 presidential election; and Alan Beaulieu, HARDI’s chief economist, delivered economic projections, noting that strengthening consumer confidence, growing retail sales, favorable interest rates, rising employment and wages, and an increase in nonresidential construction are all factors impacting economic recovery in the U.S. and worldwide.

“The running joke is we proclaim this our annual Super Bowl,” said Talbot Gee, CEO, HARDI. “We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ve grown to a very complex and exciting level. Attendance is up. This will be our largest annual conference in terms of total bodies in attendance. It’s a beautiful location, but the education, programs, and energy are world class. Our incredible staff and amazing volunteers put together programs you’re just not going to find anywhere else for wholesale distributors.

“Our theme was Elevate 16, and of course, we’re playing off the topography of the great mountains, but really it was about elevating the game of wholesale distribution,” Gee continued. “Our new vision statement is making wholesale distributors the channel of choice for HVACR manufacturers and contractors. We acknowledge that, in some instances, we are not, and we need to figure out how to be. So, this whole program was about how distributors can be that channel of choice moving forward. It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to be small, incremental steps, like climbing Mt. Everest, to get there, but we can do it. It’s achievable, and I hope they’re motivated and excited to get started.”

David McIlwaine, president, HVAC Distributors Inc., Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been a HARDI member, and annual conference attendee, for the past 25 years.

“There’s a mix of reasons why I go,” he said. “There’s always good content between the speakers and the meetings, and the networking is great. I enjoy seeing people I know and have known for those 25 years. It’s fun to catch up and share best practices and the other things going on in our lives.”

José Loubet, of Loubet in Tijuana, Mexico, a HARDI member for the past three years, said he attends the event because of all the training opportunities. “It’s the networking with people and training programs that give information and data on how to run your business. It really helps us train our people and give new information to contractors about how the industry is going.”


During the four-day event, HARDI announced the re-launch of one of its four strategic pillars, Education, which will serve as the new Talent pillar and provide a broader scope of services and resources to members as it relates to their employees and workforce development. The Talent pillar includes two new resources, HR Consulting Services and the Predictive Index (PI) Small Business Plan. HARDI partnered with HR consultant Pam Krivda to provide unlimited phone consulting, educational materials, and policy and document templates to members who subscribe to the service. The PI Small Business plan is a behavioral assessment that identifies workplace behaviors and motivations and aims to predict on-the-job performance. It is administered as an online survey that takes only a few minutes to complete.

“The two biggest expense items and assets for any wholesale distributor are its inventory and people,” Gee said. “For way too many years, we’ve only helped distributors with just a small aspect of people. We’ve helped them train, educate, and develop, but we never really helped in the full life cycle of their employees. For them to truly be world-class, to keep up with the growth of our industry, and to stay the channel of choice for the manufacturers and contractors in our industry, they need to be able to recruit, develop, and retain the best talent and then grow them into bigger positions as they go throughout their careers — and that’s what the HARDI Talent pillar is now intending to do.”

HARDI’s Education pillar was established in 2009 and has grown tremendously. The organization recently completed a recent strategic planning process in 2016, which is when the Talent pillar was created.

“We realized we were only capturing a piece of the pie,” Gee added. “We were only helping a percentage of the issues that are out there. That’s when we made the decision that we needed to go bigger, and we needed to be bolder and all-encompassing for all of our members.”


In addition to launching a new strategic pillar, HARDI recognized four champions for their outstanding contributions to one of HARDI’s pillars.

The Advocacy Pillar Champion was shared by Coastal HVAC Supply in Houston, and Gustave A. Larson Co. in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. G.W. Berkheimer in Portage, Indiana, was named Benchmarking Pillar Champion, and ACR Supply Co. in Durham, North Carolina, was named Education Pillar Champion.

HARDI also recognized eight key members for sponsoring at least one new HARDI member in 2016. The honorees included Luke Bloodworth Jr., Cain Mfg. Co. Inc.; Rovert Engel Jr., API of New Hampshire; Steve Good, Pepco Sales Co.; Keith Holland, Leone-Green & Associates Inc.; Oscar Lopez, JB Industries; Brandon Mate, Knauf Insulation; Bryan Wallace, Bridgeton Plumbing & Heating Supply; and Rhonda Wight, Refrigeration Sales Corp.


Following tradition, Michael Meier, president of Meier Supply Co. Inc. in Conklin, New York, passed HARDI’s presidential gavel to Tom Roberts, president, cfm Distributors Inc., Kansas City, Missouri, at the closing ceremonies.

Meier’s presidency brought changes in all of HARDI’s strategic pillars. Advocacy held what is considered the most successful Congressional Fly-In to date; Benchmarking added Dan Vida as Unitary Market Analyst and launched the Product Data Syndication project with partner company Codifyd; Education relaunched and expanded as the robust Talent pillar; and Networking enjoyed the most well-attended Annual Conference ever and revamped the Focus Conference program for 2017.

Roberts, who has been involved with HARDI for more than 15 years, said he has spent a lot of time investing in HARDI and getting returns on that invested time.

“Over the last few years, I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “Our board of directors at HARDI has had a single focus, led by the presidents, that began with a focus on finding and developing the right people. In 2016, Mike [Meier] focused on education. And, really, we’re just extending that into the complete development of the Talent Pillar in 2017. I like to call this organizational engagement, which is nothing more than having your entire team engaged in the parts of HARDI that will most benefit the team’s strategic plan as an HVAC distributor.

“We used to send people to a conference and expect one person to cover 24 different seminars, come home, and teach 50-60 people all that exciting news,” Roberts continued. “It loses a lot in translation. Also, you don’t get the benefit of establishing personal relationships. With organizational engagement, we take all the resources of HARDI and all the resource needs of the distributors and blend them together web-centrically rather than in that old linear model that’s brittle and thin. That web-centric development leads to lifelong learners and people who can truly develop careers within their companies to adopt best practices of the industry and become leaders themselves in their own companies and in our organization.”

Meier moved to the role of past-president on HARDI’s executive committee. Additionally, Troy Meachum, president of ACR Supply Co., was elected as the new president-elect; Brian Peirce, CEO, Peirce-Phelps, vice president; and Tom Boutette, president and CEO, B & B Trade Distribution, secretary/treasurer.

Publication date: 2/20/2017

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