LAS VEGAS — The sheet metal industry continues to struggle, but SMACNA doesn’t want its members sitting idly by waiting for a turnaround.

The Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association brought in a bevy of business experts for its Oct. 14-17 conference at the Bellagio hotel-casino. Their goal was to bring the contractors up to date on where the industry stands now and how their companies can best work to make money from the economic recovery now under way.

John Bowman hosted one such session. He says many sheet metal contractors need to do more to prepare themselves for the economic conditions the country is likely to see in the next few years.

Those that don’t may not be around.

That was among the findings Bowman, a senior consultant with FMI Corp., revealed when he updated the HVAC industry trends he first studied in 2008 with money from SMACNA’s New Horizons Foundation.

He started the Oct. 15 session by asking a question of the attendees.

“Given all that we’re looking at, who is going to buy the products and services that we sell” in the next five or 10 years, he asked.

Contractors need to sell themselves as providing the answers to problems.

“One of the trends we see is more ‘solutions’ buying,” Bowman said.

Unfortunately, a lot of contractors are not well-positioned to survive the next three to five years, he said. Too many have failed to adapt to changes within the industry that are likely permanent.

The good news is a real recovery is under way.

“I don’t think that we are going down any further,” he said. “It’s just going to be a longer slog” back up.

In 2008 alone, the amount of construction activity within the United States declined 30 percent to 40 percent. That will take time to come back. The recovery will not be the same for everyone. But issues such as the rising cost of energy and development of new technologies do create opportunities for SMACNA members.

And Bowman made a big prediction: In a decade, buildings could have federal minimum energy standards similar to the fuel-efficiency requirements automakers have worked under for decades.

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email



SMACNA hands out awards

Robert Zahner, senior vice president of A. Zahner Co. in Kansas City, Mo., was named SMACNA’s Contractor of the Year.

The award is presented annually in memory of Snips magazine founder Ed Carter and his son Nick Carter, the magazine’s longtime editor and publisher.

“The old adage ‘When you want something done, ask a busy man’ applies to this year’s recipient,” 2012 SMACNA President Richard Rivera said. “Robert continues to amaze us all with his focus and commitment and we are all grateful for his leadership and service to the industry. Despite being stretched thin by the responsibilities of his large company’s worldwide jobsite work, he agreed to take on the challenging job of management co-chair of the ITI (International Training Institute) board of trustees.”

Zahner has headed the Architectural Sheet Metal Council, and served on SMACNA’s board of directors, the Budget and Finance Committee, and the High-Performing Contractor Task Force, among others.

Also announced at the association’s conference: Bernie Brill of SMACNA’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, based in Greenbelt, Md., has been named the association’s Chapter Executive of the Year.

He received SMACNA’s Petersen-Dunn Award, which is presented annually to the chapter executive who has made the greatest contribution to his or her local association and SMACNA.

“This year’s SMACNA chapter executive is Bernie Brill, who is a dynamic fountain of ideas, and more importantly, an energetic workhorse who makes the ideas a reality,” said Rivera. “One of his most significant accomplishments has been the pursuit and successful development of fire-life safety as a new market opportunity for his members. He was also instrumental in achieving an agreement between his chapter, the local union and a regional trade school that will increase the number and quality of recruits into the apprentice program.”



Robert Zahner

Robert Zahner

Bernie Brill

Bernie Brill