After a largely disappointing 2011, January was a good month for many members of the Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International.

Average sales were up 6.2 percent overall, according to the group’s monthly “Targeted and Regional Economic News for Distribution Strategies” report. Six of the association's seven U.S. regions showed gains - three reaching into double digits. Canadian distributors saw a small drop, but its annual growth rate still improved. U.S.-only distributors saw a 6.3 percent sales increase.

Inventory for all regions were higher than year-ago levels.

Andrew Duguay, HARDI economist, warned members to not get overly excited.

“Distributor sales recovered moderately in January,” he said. “On average, sales improved 6.2 percent from last January, but the actual results were quite varied, with just over one third of distributors showing a negative January comparison to last year.”

HARDI Executive Vice President and COO Talbot Gee said regulatory issues concerning R-22 refrigerant could still slow business for many members.

“We just completed a very optimistic 2012 HVACR market forecast, but I fear uncertainties caused by refrigerant and equipment regulation are stymieing our growth potential,” Gee said. “Any questions on what you can buy, stock, and sell will obviously slow sales and marketing efforts, and make business owners lock down when they usually would be expanding and being aggressive.”

But some industry sectors are doing very well, he added.

“Interestingly, we continue to see extremely strong ductless unit sales despite some of these winter headwinds, and continued movement away from mid-level efficiencies to either 13 SEER (seasonal energy-efficiency rating) or 16 SEER,” Gee said.