A member of Congress asked me a pretty standard question recently: “What is it that your members do and are there any in my district?” As it was the end of what had been a long day, I decided to forgo my detail-oriented breakdown of the HVACR supply chain, replete with graphics from Texas A&M and anecdotes that Mike Marks has been trotting out for 20 years (they’re good anecdotes, otherwise I wouldn’t be stealing …err borrowing them), and instead cut to the chase. “When your air-conditioner breaks down, the guy who comes to your house to fix it, if he’s any good, he buys his stuff from a HARDI distributor, and yes, we have locations within your district, as we have a HARDI member in every single congressional district.”
I’ve had multiple versions of the aforementioned conversation during my 4½ years representing HARDI on Capitol Hill, but recently I’ve begun to think, “Why aren’t we as an industry more aggressive about promoting what we do to our elected officials?”
Now, I know many of you are reading this and thinking, “I don’t want the government knowing what I do. I want to fly under the radar.” For those who hold that view, I hate to break it to you, but you are not flying under the radar. Look at that tax bill that was due April 15 and ask yourself if you are flying under the radar. Look at EPA regulations and new requirements from the Department of Energy and ask yourself if you are flying under the radar. Have a visit from your friendly neighborhood OSHA inspector and ask yourself if you are flying under the radar. You’re not, and we should stop acting like we are.
So let’s take a different path. With a HARDI member in every single congressional district and every state, we have an opportunity to engage all 535 members of Congress. Engagement can occur in a variety of ways, but for this column, I want to focus on a simple and effective act: inviting a member of Congress to visit your facility.
Every congressman and senator has a district office. These offices are located across the state and district, and the main purpose of the people who staff them is to keep the elected official connected with the people who they represent. You can very easily contact the office via email, phone or even by dropping in. All you need is to be prepared to talk about your business and if there is an issue of particular concern (for help with this, feel free to visit www. hardiadvocacy.org).
After making an initial contact with an office, you probably will talk first to a staff member. Don’t be insulted or feel that you’re being brushed aside: This is all part of the vetting process that any good office does. Invite the staff person to come for a visit and explain your business, what you do and what issues are impacting your business. This probably will pave the way for a member visit. In reality, treat the visit the same as you would if a potential customer was coming to visit, minus the promise of an incentive trip.
You may be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t like my member of Congress.” That’s fine, too, but I’m sure you don’t like 100 percent of the people you do business with either and you still do it because it’s a necessary evil. You may disagree with an elected official on 95 percent of the issues, but there may be one time that you need action, and having a respectful relationship with your member of Congress can only be an asset.
If having a member visit is something that you would like to do, but you’re still a little hesitant, feel free to let me know, and I can help schedule and walk you through the do’s (make sure the office is clean, remove the pinup calendars from the warehouse, etc.) and the don’ts (not a good idea to try to pass a check to them during the visit, refrain from that go-to off-color joke that works so well at the counter).
The most important thing to remember is that what we do is important. The people who work in our industry are important. We owe it to our industry to show our elected leaders first-hand the contribution we make to their communities and our country.