Orlando is pretty popular in the winter. The key is knowing where to go. Many people come down because at least half of the country is covered in snow or otherwise miserable. They come down for a few days of fun rides, fireworks, and/or breakfast with real-life versions of animated characters.

This February, however, thousands more will come to central Florida for the 2020 AHR Expo and winter ASHRAE meeting. They will trade (or at least postpone) all that other stuff for quality time at the Orange County Convention Center, where most will stroll around the aisles, looking for new HVAC offerings and old acquaintances.

A little-known fact: They are also missing out on a real value of AHR. Attendees who want something more focused and more organized — and seated, even! — maximize their visit by carving out time for some of the Expo’s no-charge educational sessions.

Attendees can scout out the full schedule at www.ahrexpo.com, selecting the Education tab, and then selecting the Free Industry Sessions logo. Here are Distribution Trends’ 2020 picks, led by a couple of presenters from the distribution ranks themselves.

Traditional HVAC parts are going nowhere, but as all major manufacturers switch to IP-based products, there is no question that IT-competent groups, departments, companies, and distributors will have an edge on supporting the deployment of these devices.”
- Scott Cochrane,
Cochrane Supply & Engineering


“Traditional HVAC parts are going nowhere,” Scott Cochrane told The ACHR NEWS. Cochrane is president and CEO of Cochrane Supply & Engineering, headquartered in Madison Heights, Michigan.

“But,” he added, “as all major manufacturers switch to IP-based products, there is no question that IT-competent groups, departments, companies, and distributors will have an edge on supporting the deployment of these devices.”

Cochrane will discuss what “systems integration” is in the context of a large building. This includes looking at how digitized systems provide comfort, safety, and security for building occupants, and how integration is used to improve the occupant experience while increasing the capabilities of these systems.

On the surface, the primary target audience may be contractors and engineers. However, the relevance is apparent for distributors whose customers work in traditional controls, or distributors who may be considering expanding the scope of their services.

“It’s imperative that standard HVAC controls professionals evolve alongside the industry’s evolving intelligence and offer the necessary tools accordingly,” Cochrane said. “This will be how to maximize your success when making this transition as the market continues its shift towards greater integration.”

Cochrane will present his session, “Building Systems Integration 101 — Welcome To The Jungle — Becoming An Integrator,” on Monday (10:30 a.m., Room W311C), along with Kimberly Brown, technical services manager at the company.



Karine Leblanc will present “Applying Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) to Strengthen Your Business” on Monday (10:30 a.m., Room W310A). Leblanc is a sales engineer with US Air Conditioning Distributors, operating over 50 branches in the western U.S. Leblanc spoke with Distribution Trends and outlined the business case for E.Q.

“EBN reports that it cost 33 percent of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement if that worker leaves,” she said. “And a study showed that 75 percent of the causes of employee turnover are preventable. This is not accounting for productivity and indirect cost of the loss of transfer of knowledge.”

As for why people leave their jobs, the top responses were career progress, work-life balance, manager’s behavior, compensation and benefits, and well-being. Leblanc noted that four of those five are directly related to emotional intelligence. She will explore how E.Q. can serve as a recruitment, retention, and mentorship tool across multiple demographics.

Facing the other direction, Leblanc asserts that E.Q. is “at the base of the customer experience.”

Businesses pursue lasting relationships. Recent industry data has illustrated that a customer’s individual relationship with a single company contact can, for better or worse, determine a lot about the account’s loyalty.

In a business where time-related pressures can be critical, that relationship develops in part through “your ability to recognize moods, to think before you act, how you express your emotions, and how you show empathy.”

Connecting through common ground, using simple communication, inspiring others, and staying authentic in relationships will be the focus on this one-hour session.



Not much in the HVAC industry serves up the big picture quite like the AHR Expo, well suited to host a session titled “Global Trends in the HVACR Market.”

Likewise, BSRIA stands better equipped than most to present on the subject. It is a not-for-profit UK-based testing, research, and consultancy organization that specializes in global studies serving several markets. Its Monday session (9 a.m., W312AB) will investigate key drivers in today’s market with the help of the latest information. Expect a good look at the pace of smart technologies and renewable tech, too.

BSRIA’s staff lineup includes Saziye Dickson speaking on air conditioning and refrigeration trends, with Socrates Christidis talking about heating and renewable trends. Lone Hansen tackles building automation and IoT trends, while Anette Holly gets into wellness in buildings and that area’s associated opportunities and challenges.

Not surprisingly, this is the only session featured in this article to be booked for two hours. Given the scope and possible Q&A, it may need every minute.



Women in HVACR frequently sponsors sessions at events like AHR, and this year’s event is no exception. The group brings Melissa Boutwell to the convention center on Monday (9 a.m., W311H) to talk about the elephant everyone is already talking about in the room: personnel challenges.

“Skilled Labor! Overcome the Shortage to Protect Your Business” will feature tips from Boutwell, who is president of Automation Strategy and Performance. It will not surprise any Distribution Trends readers to hear that 82 percent of CEOs list a skilled labor shortage as a “significant business issue,” and that number would seem sure to climb even higher within the HVAC industry itself.

Hear Boutwell discuss the causes and how some organizations are finding ways to survive and look ahead through a tough season for staff management.



Wait, what? HVAC as a service (HVACaaS) is a concept drawing increasing industry attention. Steve Shaw, president of FieldServer Products at MSA Safety, will discuss this subscription-based concept relying on big data, analytics, the cloud, and monitoring.

A model where the end user contracts directly with the manufacturer — not so much for equipment as for comfort itself — would seem to have significant implications for distributors and contractors alike.

The official title for the Monday session (10:30 a.m, W311F) is “HVAC as a Service — How Soon Is Now?” In some cases, the answer may be right there in the question. And if the customer’s indoor environment feels good and expenses may go down on top of that, what does a customer care about which particular model the industry used to deliver satisfaction? Consider attending this one and filing under “market intelligence, defensive.”



Purdue enjoys some esteem in the educational side of the HVAC world. Eckhard Groll, the Reilly Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue College of Engineering, will be in Orlando to deliver on that reputation and give an “Update on Refrigerants: Past, Present and Future.”

The Monday afternoon session (2 p.m., W310A) comes at a good time, given the phase-outs and phase-ins of assorted types of refrigerants that distributors and contractors must navigate these days. Eckhard proposes to take an interesting look back, examining how some alternatives considered more up-and-coming actually enjoyed use “at the dawn of the refrigeration technology in the late 1800s.”

Surveying the characteristics of different refrigerant options, Eckhard will compare them to one another and explore how subsequent choices between those sets of characteristics may drive industry trends.

Those refrigerant trends include the arrival of mildly flammable (A2L) refrigerants as mainstream options for some U.S. applications. Other countries have already built experience using these refrigerants and blends. While the practical knowledge base and current comfort levels may vary, something that customers and HVAC industry professionals all agree on is a distaste for fire when and where it isn’t expected.

That’s why Marco Buoni, secretary general of Associazione Tecnici del Freddo, joins Raluca Sisiu, project manager at Institute of Refrigeration, for this 90-minute workshop on Tuesday (1 p.m., W312AB) titled “Fundamentals of Working with Flammable Refrigerants.”

Based on established course and e-learning methods, it will include the basics of “working with flow flammables, a short theory test, and a certificate.”

Whether to use with a distributor’s own employees and/or to consider in the context of training offered to contractors, the 90-minute session could be worth a look.



Finally, don’t forget about another Women in HVACR presentation titled “What You Can Learn From 1,000 Negative Google Reviews.”

It hurts just to read the name, doesn’t it?

To be clear, this session focuses on contractors. Colleen Keyworth and Dave Squires of Online Access say they’ve pulled over 25,000 Google reviews. They will provide the foundation for talking about what the good, the bad, and the ugly can tell a company about its practices.

In this Monday afternoon presentation (4 p.m., W312C), the duo will also discuss how to collect “more great reviews, encourage tech participation, and how to craft the best responses to the ugly ones.”

Distributors might collect some advice to offer a customer having a bad online day down the road, or even garner a tip or two for protecting and projecting a good online presence themselves.

See more articles from this issue here!