Distributors have had a rough couple of years, and continuing economic uncertainty has led many to cut costs wherever they can. However, one cost of doing business that they have not eliminated is their membership to Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). Indeed, the association recently noted that its distributor membership level reached an all-time high this year, thanks to strong retention of existing members and an influx of new members.

"We have hit a record level of distributor members, which is pretty amazing, due to the economic times," said Stephanie Lingofelter, membership development and services manager, HARDI. "What that says to me is that our members are investing in the benefits and resources that HARDI currently offers, providing a competitive advantage over their competitors."


To meet the needs of its growing membership, HARDI is continually adding or improving the benefits and resources it offers its community of distributors. For example, the association recently added a "Virtual HR" department, where members are able to access the services and resources of a fully functioning human resources department online (www.hardinet.org/virtualHR).

To implement this program, HARDI-appointed veteran HR executive, Nancye Combs, president/CEO, HR Enterprise Inc., Louisville, Ky., as HARDI's human resources and organizational management consultant. She has put hundreds of HR resources online that are affordable for members of any size company. "For the company with its own HR department, the Virtual HR department is an additional resource for both low cost products and expert advice. For members without a human resources department, they now have the adjunct services that are as sophisticated as the one the largest member has on staff," noted Combs. "The Virtual HR department is the most cost-effective way to have everything a company needs when it needs it."

Another new tool that HARDI recently rolled out is its education and training program, HEAT.U (www.hardinet.org/education), which is an online resource that contains over 4,000 e-learning courses, many of which have been carefully selected to meet the developmental needs of specific positions within wholesale distribution. The HEAT.U system has also enabled HARDI to launch its new Branch Manager Certification program, as well as enhanced versions of the Counter Certification program and the Independent Study Curriculum. Finally, HEAT.U allows members the ability to track and report on the learning activities of their employees.

"The HEAT.U system provides us with the infrastructure to help our members further their professional development strategies," said Emily Saving, director of education and research foundation, HARDI. "Furthermore, it is data-driven and results-oriented, which will not only develop members' workforces but also allow them to reap the benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, increased tenure, heightened customer service, and ultimately increased profitability."

HARDI also advocates for its members when it comes to federal and state legislative and regulatory issues. As Jonathan Melchi, director of government affairs, HARDI, noted, distributors have numerous issues that impact their businesses, from small business concerns to labor and tax issues. "As a membership organization, our goal is to look out for the best interests of our members. My job is to advance the agenda of HARDI, which means meeting with targeted members of Congress and regulatory agencies, as well as building coalitions and working with like-minded groups in the HVAC industry."

Melchi has spent more than his fair share of time in Washington, D.C. lately in order to address the onslaught of regulatory actions that have been occurring. "Not only do we have DOE's regional efficiency standards, but we also have the R-22 allocation rulemaking, as well as some issues surrounding the certification and classification of our products. Going forward, we have a lot of labor issues to deal with, and we are also coming up against 'Taxmageddon,' which is when all the tax cuts expire at the end of the year. This is an extremely big deal to members, as is the fact that the estate tax rate will be returning to its previous level if Congress does not act soon. Not only will that negatively impact our businesses and cause absolute panic among our family-owned businesses, it is going to take money out of the consumer's pocket."

Lingofelter is particularly enthusiastic about a new program that she coordinates, called the Membership On-Boarding program, which allows new as well as tenured members the understanding of the benefits that are available to HARDI members. "The purpose of HARDI's Membership On-Boarding program is to give members a full overview of HARDI's history, organizational governance, and to provide an in-depth review of HARDI's four strategic pillars - Advocacy, Benchmarking, Education, and Networking. This hour-long conference call also covers HARDI's social media platform and reviews the value of attending HARDI's networking events."

Insurance is another issue that every business owner is concerned about, which is why HARDI has teamed up with Gregory & Appel Insurance, in order to offer members several potentially cost-saving options. As Lacey Robinson, vice president - employee benefits, Gregory & Appel Insurance, noted, "We are currently developing several insurance offerings for HARDI members. For employee benefits, these services include wellness, patient advocacy, employee communications tools, pre-hire testing, employee training, and employee benefits brokering/consulting services. For property and casualty, these services include captives, workers compensation, property and fleet insurance, and full-service risk management and insurance brokering."


Both supplier and wholesaler members of HARDI appreciate the wide range of resources and benefits offered by the association. As Brad Barksdale, sales manager, Mueller Industries, noted, "HARDI is an important part of our strategic growth. As supporting members for many years, we see HARDI as more than a means of networking, but an important resource in our ongoing drive to be the best in the industry. We utilize HARDI as an insightful advisory partner for select initiatives in such areas as order fulfillment, merchandising, business technology, and product trends to name a few. Mueller Streamline Co. is proud to support such a positive and evolving association working hard to represent the industry's interests at every level."

HARDI's advocacy is also very much appreciated by supplier-member, Frank Godbout, vice president of sales and marketing, Airvector(r). "As members, we benefit - as does the whole HVAC industry - from HARDI's efforts in educating elected officials about regulatory and legislative issues. They also do a great job informing and educating us about new laws and rules."

Airvector joined HARDI last year as a premier member, because, as Godbout noted, "Most of the top-performing U.S. distributors seemed to be HARDI members." As a smaller manufacturer, the networking opportunities and access to distributors from across the country is invaluable, he added.

"Unless you're a major player in the industry or spoiled with an enormous marketing budget, getting distributors' attention isn't always easy," said Godbout. "Like suppliers, HARDI distributors talk and share information. I believe that if you're a good supplier and your customers are entirely satisfied with your products and service, the word will eventually spread in a collaborative organization like HARDI - and I pick word-of-mouth marketing over an enormous marketing budget any time without hesitation."

Besides advocacy, members benefit from the numerous educational opportunities offered by HARDI, said Matt Thompson, general manager - HVAC Division, The Palmer-Donavin Mfg. Co., Columbus, Ohio. "We are excited about HARDI's new HEAT.U program, especially the certification programs for the branch managers and counter sales. This service allows us the opportunity to further educate our employees, which leads to a better served customer."

HARDI's educational opportunities are also very exciting to Randy Boyd, president of AC Supply, Fort Worth, Texas, and chairman of HARDI's membership committee. "We live and die by education. If we can't make our people better, then they're not going to make us any better. I'm a huge advocate of education, and this new HEAT.U program has us so excited that we just don't know what to do. All my people participate in the independent study courses, and now that we have 4,000 more courses that we can offer to make them better, it just gives us a leg up over the people who don't do it. We will outperform any of our competitors who do not educate their people as much as we do."

As a long time member, Boyd credits HARDI with much of his company's success. "I don't think there's anywhere else in the industry that a distributor can have the availability of information and educational materials and networking all in one place. If you're active, you'll definitely get something out of it. Pay attention and put a little effort into it, and your membership will make your business prosper. If you're not part of HARDI, you're crazy."