ORLANDO, Fla. - From the first-timer session to the closing ceremonies, HARDI's 2012 Annual Conference united its membership under one theme, "Develop Demand, Success is Deliberate." The four days of activity, sandwiched in between the opening and closing, focused on preparing distributors for what possibly lies ahead through education, networking, and more.
BREAKFAST BRIEFINGSAfter an evening reception to welcome attendees and the coinciding HALO silent auction, breakfast the next day brought participants to the table to continue their networking over coffee. Each morning featured special business items from HARDI, announcements, awards, and special speakers.
Jon Melchi, HARDI's director of government affairs, was the first breakfast speaker at the conference. He provided a government affairs briefing that covered R-22, regional efficiency standards, illegal import of R-22, and multiple other legislative issues that distributors are facing. Melchi predicted that 2013 circumstances pertaining to R-22 will likely be the same as they were in 2012. He doesn't expect this to change until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finishes its ruling. According to Melchi, as things currently stand, if the R-22 rules change, distributors should still be able to sell through their inventory.
That is not the case, however, when it comes to regional efficiency standards. These become effective on May 1, 2013 and Melchi told attendees that with this legislation comes an unprecedented installation ban. Distributors will not be allowed to sell through their legislatively disqualified inventory.
"You want to be at zero inventory on May 1," he explained. "There are some potential delays, but you need to prepare because it is going to happen. You can't plan on delays; that is not a preparation."
As for the illegal import of R-22, Melchi cautioned distributors that they are responsible for knowing the source of their refrigerant.
"If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said. "If the label is in another language, you should question it."
Other morning happenings included a surprise visit from former Congressman Artur Davis, HARDI's supplier awards, and special report on the HVAC industry from Stephen Tusa, CFA, analyst at J.P. Morgan. Although most of his presentation was proprietary for HARDI members, Tusa did say there seemed to be a pickup in housing starts that could have a positive effect on the overall HVAC industry.
KEYNOTE IDEASAfter breakfast sessions, HARDI committees met to give progress reports, present new initiatives, and garner feedback from distributor and supplier attendees. Each afternoon presented a new speaker during lunch - Alan Beaulieu, Nina Easton, and Sam Richter.
Beaulieu is president of ITR Economics and chief economist for HARDI. His session centered on the economic outlook and forecasts in the short and long terms. He encouraged businesses to continue to do more with less citing that taxes will likely increase over the next few years, probably beginning in mid 2013. "Business will be most challenging in the next 10 years," said Beaulieu. "There really isn't going to be a fiscal cliff, but an increase of taxes will reduce cash flow."
Easton shared her view from Washington, D.C., as a political analyst, journalist, and author. Her insight into the election showed that this highly-charged political atmosphere would likely have long-term effects on businesses nationally. Easton could only surmise what those effects may be.
Moving away from the economy and politics, Richter, corporate inside sales speaker, trainer, and author, revealed the power of knowledge in business relationships.
"Could your distributor relationships be better with better business information?" he asked the audience. "Perhaps instead of always worrying about what you want to say, you should focus on what the customer wants to hear."
To do this, Richter relies heavily on the free information available to the public via the visible and the invisible web. Google combs and searches through the visible web - those sites that are seen by search engine bots, spiders, etc. - but according to Richter, Google only searches 4.8 percent of the public web. The sites that must be registered for are all a part of the invisible web and equally as searchable if accessed via the correct portals such as insideview.com or guidestar.com.
Not only do distributors need to know where to look for information, but they need to know how. An overwhelming majority of attendees agreed that Google was an important part of their business, but few had been through formal training as to how to use this tool optimally. Putting attendees through a Google school session of his own; Richter gave brief instructions on how to use Boolean searches on Google to find better and more relevant business information.
"Pick a half hour a week and put it on your schedule as research time," he said. "Do your homework on who you are going to see and who your customers are. There are no excuses not to have information."
The information access wasn't the main point of his presentation. Richter showed that the information was just a tool in creating, fostering, and continuing some of the best and most profitable business relationships.
"Take the information and turn it into knowledge and take that knowledge and turn it into action," he explained. "It is very important, however, to be genuine and genuinely interested in your customers so as to avoid using your information and knowledge as manipulation."
NETWORKING AND CELEBRATIONThroughout the conference, attendees found time to network with each other as well as those who came in to assist them in their business endeavors. To aid in this networking, HARDI set up a Solutions Center as well as a Conference Booth Program. The Solutions Center featured approximately 14 of HARDI's service vendors and purchasing and marketing group members. The center was segmented by service categories to help ease navigation. The Conference Booth Program was designed to provide a forum for meaningful talks between distributors and policy-level executives of supplier member firms. There were almost 200 exhibitors.
The final networking opportunity was the closing celebration featuring Cirque Dreams. Attendees dined and were entertained by the acrobatic and imaginative acts of the special performance that was sponsored by Distribution Center Magazine. Members were also given the opportunity to have their photos taken with the Cirque performers that evening.
In the midst of the closing celebration, presidential procedures brought a farewell and a new beginning to HARDI leadership. Though gaveled into session under Bud Mingledorff, the HARDI Annual Conference closed with Brian Cobble as its new president. Cobble is currently the president of G.W. Berkheimer Co. Inc., a wholesale supplier based in Portage, Ind. He is looking forward to focusing on the issues of the industry and continuing the work of HARDI.
For more information, go to www.hardinet.org.
SIDEBAR: HALO ActivitiesWhile HARDI members participated in education and networking sessions, the Helping All Live On (HALO) organization was busy raising money and awareness for Homes For Our Troops. They hosted a silent auction during the opening reception, as well as sponsored a charity walk later in the week. Homes For Our Troops is a nonprofit organization that helps build homes for returning military service members who have suffered major limb amputation or spinal cord injuries. The homes built are designed specifically to help compensate for the handicaps of the injured soldier.
A representative from Homes For Our Troops, Army specialist and Iraqi War veteran Bryant Jacobs, gaveled open the HARDI Annual Conference and was there to say thank you to those who had helped put together a home that he could navigate without falling. Jacobs also encouraged others to get involved, noting that their donations of money, time, and supplies mean the world to those who are adjusting to a new life with physical limitations.
For more information on Homes For Our Troops, go to www.homesforourtroops.org.