What is newsworthy is that this group claims to be the only organized peer HVAC contractor group in Canada. The group is named "PEP"- short for Peer Exchange Program.
While peer groups are common in U.S. contractor groups, such as the Mix Groups made up of members of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), they are a rarity in Canada. Why?
"We don't know why other contractors don't do this," said Richard Siddall of Hallmark Air Conditioning Ltd., Surrey, British Columbia.
Fellow PEP member Stewart Creaser of Halifax Heating & Air Conditioning Co. Inc., Halifax, Nova Scotia, gave an explanation. "Most contractors need help, but they are afraid to tell why they need it," he said. "It's called fear and embarrassment."
"There is a lot of apathy among contractors," added Siddall. "Sometimes you just can't get people out to attend meetings."
A legitimate concern for contractors is the time it takes to travel to meetings and leave their businesses behind for a few days.
"Being a member is somewhat difficult because of geography," said PEP member Richard Scrivener of Polar Refrigeration Service Ltd., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. "There is the cost of travel, too. It shouldn't be an issue but it is."
Those conditions existed before the PEP group was formed, according to PEP member David McMichael of Nutemp Mechanical Systems Ltd., Oakville, Ontario. "There was a lot of reservations on our behalf at first until we got to know each other,' he said. "There is also a fear of commitment."
THE ROOTS AND REASONSPEP started about 10 years ago, originating from a suggestion from HRAI's Martin Luymes. Luymes proposed the idea of HRAI contractor members starting a peer group. Four of the five current members put their names in to begin the group. "We sat down, drew up some guidelines, and have grown slowly," said Siddall. Creaser joined the group three years later.
"I tried this with another group but I got frustrated because there were so many no-shows at their meetings," said Creaser.
McMichael said that it was time for sharing common "war stories." "We needed someone we could share common experiences with," he said.
Siddall took the logic one step further. "People in business don't get a chance to sit around and talk about business," he said. "You can't talk to your best friend about something that happened in your business."
Siddall said in the group's early days, the members did some financial benchmarking and eventually helped a member dig out of financial problems. The member has since sold his company.
The fifth PEP member, Mario Asta from Multi-Temp Systems Inc., Concord, Ontario, said that the group doesn't pull punches when it comes to giving advice. "These guys are a good sounding board," he said. "They don't have to give me an answer that I want to hear.
"The group is a good resource that has helped me raise my professional level. It would be difficult to achieve the same things with someone who doesn't know our trade."
The payback for membership was immediate for Creaser. "After my first meeting, I felt that my financial commitment for the first five years was paid for," he said. "I was able to compare my costs and margins with other contractors.
"You can encounter any problem and chances are that someone else in the group has experienced the same thing."
Creaser said that he also likes the idea of being able to e-mail other group members when he needs their advice, preferring that method to "reinventing the wheel."
"I can get answers to questions that I can't get from anywhere else," said Scrivener. "The reality is there is a huge amount of ongoing knowledge in the trade and we have learned how to stay on top of it."
Creaser said that PEP wants to bring in more members over time, and are actively looking for at least one more right away.
Siddall summed up the special feeling among the group's members. "What we have here is trust."
If you are interested in learning more about the Peer Exchange Program, contact the HRAI at www.hrai.ca.
Publication date: 10/09/2006