NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The ACCA’s 2017 annual conference started with a lot of yelling. But when you hire Jon Taffer to be keynote speaker, what do you expect?

Taffer, an alcohol industry consultant and the star of the cable TV reality show “Bar Rescue,” is known for his loud, no-nonsense attitude with the owners of failing restaurants and nightclubs featured on his show.

He used a similar tone for much of his March 20 speech to Air Conditioning Contractors of America members, the event which opened the March 20-22 event at the Gaylord Opryland complex in Nashville, Tennessee. The association estimated that 1,500 attended the event.

Taffer noted that for many business owners, HVAC equipment and service is a commodity. Still, he expressed admiration for contractors and what they do.

Among the tips he offered to ACCA members:

  • You need to learn how to control customers’ responses or you will lose them to competitors
  • Contractors embrace the Internet and the fast-changing world of social media, because that’s where many people now turn
  • Stand out from competitors so your services are not viewed as a commodity

Building performance success

After Taffer’s opening remarks, organizers sponsored roundtable discussions on subjects such as hydronics, plumbing and residential service issues. Garrett Cook of Cook Heating and Air in Lafayette, Indiana, hosted a session on building performance.

A general manager at Cook Heating, Garrett Cook said his family-owned HVAC business realized a few years ago that it needed to expand beyond seeing itself as just a heating and cooling contractor.

“We lost a client because we couldn’t provide a real solution,” he said, adding that’s what led the company to embrace building performance, which encompasses duct sizing, indoor air quality and fixing duct leakage through duct sealing.

Repositioning yourself as a building performance contractor allows you to not just focus on a furnace or air conditioner. It allows you to be “something different than everybody else,” Cook said.

And the biggest improvement to HVAC system efficiency for most home and building owners, Cook said, comes from solving ductwork problems.


“Ductwork is the largest opportunity by far,” he said. “A typical ductwork (system) loses 25-40 percent of the energy” provided by a furnace or air conditioner. “Can you imagine that? I don’t care how good your equipment is — that’s major.”

When talking to customers about the problem, use simpler language, advised Cook. Don’t refer to “static pressure,” he said. When talking about airflow resistance, it may be better to compare it to blood pressure, which is an easier concept to understand: The HVAC system is like a “heart” and “the ductwork is like all the veins and arteries in your chest.”

Cook said his company has found success partnering with real estate agents, utility companies, building inspectors and homeowners associations.

“There are amazing opportunities,” he said. “They are overlooked every single day in our industry,” he said.

In between roundtable sessions, the ACCA’s annual trade show, the Indoor Environment and Energy Expo was held daily. This year, it morphed into a “festival marketplace” format, with educational seminars taking place at several spots on the trade show floor. 

The revamped format, session topics and speakers seemed to go over well with many attendees, including Dan Wood, president of Dan Wood Co. in Portage, Michigan.

"This was my first time attending the event, and I was extremely pleased with the quality of the speakers and the expo," Wood said. "I met a lot of good contractors and I got some great ideas that I can take back and implement. Plus, there was a top shelf mobile app for my smart phone and a professional team of staff ready to help. I will definitely be coming back."

Lanny Huffman, president of Hickory Sheet Metal in Hickory, North Carolina, said he liked the commercial focus that many sessions had this year.

"I was really impressed with the strong focus that the IE3 Show had on commercial contracting," Huffman said. "The high quality of speakers and the variety of topics covered made my investment in attending well worth it. It was also great to have a separate session with the CEOs for commercial contractors. All of the information was pertinent to my company, which made the session a more valuable use of my time. I'm already registered for the 2018 IE3 show and I look forward to seeing what ACCA does for that event."


The ACCA also used the conference to recognize members from Tennessee and Virginia that won the association’s residential and commercial Contractor of the Year awards.

Franklin, Tennessee-based Lee Co. was named the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s 2017 Residential Contractor of the Year.

“Each year many of the best residential contractors in the industry apply for this award, and share the unique business practices that make them so successful,” said Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA president and CEO. “It is always a difficult decision for our panel of judges to choose who they consider the 'best of the best' from the group. This year’s winner, Lee Company, is an extremely deserving company that truly exemplifies the qualities that all of the best companies in the industry share.”

Lee’s use of technology and commitment to training made it a standout, officials added.

Dan Kalman, Lee Co.’s vice president of home services, thanked the association for the award.

“Very few companies receive this honor, and we are both thrilled and humbled to now be part of that esteemed group," Kalman said. “Lee Company works hard every day to set a standard of excellence that best represents our industry and ACCA. This award reflects the value of their dedication, and truly belongs to each and every member of our team.”

Winning the commercial award was James River Air Conditioning in Richmond, Virginia.

“James River Air Conditioning thanks ACCA for this recognition and we are deeply honored to be selected for this award," said Hugh A. Joyce, president of James River Air Conditioning. “We are proud of every team member whose efforts allow us to do what we do. What a great way to start off our 50th year of doing business by being chosen as the ACCA Commercial Contractor of the Year. We are thankful and proud.”

The company’s outreach and marketing efforts to attract women and young people to the HVAC industry were among the reasons that James River was given the award, Stalknecht said.

“This year we had many innovative commercial contractors apply for this award, which made judging particularly tough," he said. “This year’s winner, James River Air Conditioning, illustrates the characteristics that all the best commercial contractors in the country have in common, and their dedication to growing and diversifying the workplace, make them an excellent choice for this award.”