ACCA is upping the ante this year with the return of its Annual Conference and IE3 Show, which will be held Feb. 12-14 at the Gaylord National Harbor in Washington, D.C.

“We hope this year will be bigger and better,” said Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO, ACCA. “We continually retool the annual conference, and this year our slogan is ‘Up the Ante’ because we recognize that 2018 is going to be a promising year for contractors and the industry.”

The organization is expecting a large turnout this year because of the location, according to Stalknecht.

“It’s somewhat rare that we hold our annual conference in the northern part of the country,” he noted. “So we’re expecting a very large regional presence from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. We’re also expecting a pretty good delegation from the U.S. government simply because it is the nation’s largest purchaser of HVAC equipment and services. We’re also expecting to have a lot of military and government purchasers, as well as those who regulate the industry in attendance because we’re right in their backyard. We’re really excited about it. That’s why we have the slogan ‘Up the Ante,’ because it’s upping the ante for everyone.”

ACCA developed a new schedule this year that includes high power keynote and learning lab speakers to help attendees break through plateaus and improve their businesses.

“We’ve tried to provide a stellar lineup of speakers,” Stalknecht said. “These speakers and programs have been developed by contractors for contractors.”

The all-new series of MainStage events will include: Jay Baer, a certified speaking professional who has spent 23 years in digital marketing and customer experience, consulting for more than 700 companies, who will present “Turn Your Customers into More Customers;” Connor Lokar, senior economist for Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), who will present “A Look Into the Crystal Ball: the Future of HVAC” and share his expertise in the construction industry, understanding economic trends, and implementation into business planning to give attendees a realistic look at the future of the industry; and “Evolve: Go Forward,” a presentation given by ACCA Chairman, Don Langston, and Chairman-elect, Steve Schmidt.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, will also be addressing the Trump administration’s efforts to improve association health plans, apprenticeship programs, and workforce development issues.

In addition to the MainStage events, the IE3 Show is bringing back the social events attendees love, including the Industry Party, sponsored by Emerson, and The Big Bang. The Festival Marketplace and IE3 Expo Theater will also be returning this year.

“It’s a show floor event full of vendors and manufacturers who offer the latest technologies, tools, and products for business owners,” Stalknecht said. “It’s also where we’re going to have the leaders of the manufacturing industry take the stage, so contractors can hear directly from the OEMs, and they, in turn, can hear directly from the contractors. We recognize that not every contractor, especially if they’re smaller with few technicians, can have direct access to the OEM CEOs. This gives them the platform to listen to them and hopefully go up and introduce themselves and get to know some of the OEMs on a first name basis. We’re excited about that. It gives a forum for contractors, vendors, and manufacturers to gather, recognizing the three-legged stool in the industry, to talk about the issues of the industry and how they can better work together.”


This year, the IE3 Show Learning Labs will cover six different business areas, including building performance, residential, leadership, plumbing and hydronics, commercial, and business operations.

“We’re having some amazing sessions,” Stalknecht said. “The program is a lot different. In the past, we used to have tracks just for residential contractors and tracks for commercial contractors. We sort of eliminated those and went back to more generic sessions for contractors, some with a unique flavor for commercial contractors, some for residential. We’re doing what we do best, and that is having the contractors lead these discussions and develop and formulate what they want to hear.

“That’s the strength of ACCA and our annual conference — contractors leading the program itself with what they want and need to hear,” he added.

Edward McFarlane, vice president of learning and development, Haller Enterprises Inc., Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will present a session on innovative training techniques.

“Everybody does training because they know they need to, but when you attend a conference, you’re very focused on the technical stuff, and you don’t spend a lot of time developing skills to help your team,” McFarlane said. “This is a workshop about how to put together training that your team will actually like. We keep hearing from the people who give the training — the managers, the owners — that their people don’t enjoy it. I have a T-shirt that I wear that says, ‘I survived a meeting that should have been an email.’ And, well, it’s true. When someone picks up a PowerPoint and reads it to you for an hour — that’s not training.”

McFarlane’s session is practical, he said. Attendees will leave knowing how to set up a meeting, put an agenda together, utilize tools, and get people engaged — they will go home with takeaways they can implement immediately.

Ryan Kletz, vice president, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and one of The NEWS’ 2017 Top 40 Under 40, will be talking about navigating change.

“I’m actually someone who hates change,” Kletz said. “It’s so difficult for me. I love black and white, I eat the same thing every day, and I just don’t like new things. But, when we get outside our comfort zone, change is so important. It is the backbone of a business. We could do the same thing day after day, and this is the proverbial get the same results. If we want to grow or change cultures, we have to get outside of our comfort zone.

“So I’ll be talking about something I learned in a presentation about three years ago, and it’s called a change wheel,” he continued. “It’s very real. It talks about the stages when you first start changing — you have a fear of loss because you’re losing your security, your way of life. You almost become paralyzed by doing something different. And, by the time you circle all the way back around, once you fully embrace it, you get to the part where you’re satisfied and you’re focused, you’re fully integrated in the process. But during that entire time frame, there’s a danger zone type period right in the middle where a lot of people fall off the deep end, where they decide this isn’t for them. There are dangers in change, and that’s why you really have to stay on top of it. Having that anxiety is natural. It’s not a comment to your situation.”

And, speaking of change … there have been increasingly more women entering the industry over the last few years, and Linda Couch, COO, Parrish Services, Inc., Manassas, Virginia, and Laura DiFilippo, vice president, DiFilippo’s Service Co., Paoli, Pennsylvania, will present a session about those women and how they are changing the industry.

“To run a successful business, you need three kinds of people: an artisan (the doer), a business manager (for structure), and an entrepreneur (the visionary),” said Couch. “The owner can choose any one of these three to be, but he or she needs to make sure the other two bases are covered. Most people think men have natural abilities that help them be successful in this line of business. There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence that suggest men are better, on average, at spatial tasks that are at the very heart of mechanical contracting. But that only makes them great artisans. What about everything else that needs to get done? In general, women are better communicators, and their brains are physically better optimized for combining analytical and intuitive thinking. These abilities can be applied in every facet of a business.

“So why is it important to know about these differences?” she continued. “There’s a great new book by Scott Page called, ‘The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off In The Knowledge Economy.’ Even though our contracting businesses are not considered part of the ‘knowledge economy,’ running a successful business is something that requires the same kinds of skills upon which those knowledge economy businesses rely. One huge benefit of creating a company with ‘cognitive diversity’ (which is something you get almost automatically by bringing together men and women) is you can eliminate some blind spots. Every business owner should value that outcome.”

Couch said she wants attendees to realize different people always bring different perspectives and abilities.

“We’re talking here about gender, but we could be talking about any attribute,” she said. “Let me add it is harder to work together with people who are different from each other. But our work can be easy, or it can great. We want our attendees to walk out with more tools to be great. While we’re highlighting women’s gifts in this presentation, we’re speaking to anyone who wants to improve his or her business or management skills. We think anyone at the conference could benefit from attending.”

“I’m most looking forward to the networking opportunities,” Stalknecht added. “We have a national audience, so it gives the contractors who come the opportunity to network with contractors in other parts of the country. Let’s be honest, if you’re a contractor based in Philadelphia, it’s kind of rare or awkward for you to talk to another contractor in the same Philadelphia area about how to grow your business and how to be more competitive because you are, in fact, competitors. And so, as a result, when you have local contractors talking to local contractors, there is a hesitancy there to be engaged. ACCA offers that Philadelphia contractor the opportunity to talk to a contractor from San Francisco, let’s say, who is more than happy to open up about their business and their best practices simply because they’re not talking to direct competitors.

“I think that’s one of the strengths of ACCA,” he continued. “There is that very unique perspective of speaking to contractors of other parts of the country who are open to discussing some of the issues they face on a daily basis.”   

Publication date: 2/12/2018