ST. LOUIS, MO — Members of St. Louis-based AirTime 500, a marketing and management consulting firm, recently met for their 2001 Expo. They learned that, among other things, they’ll enjoy tremendous buying clout as the largest group of independent contractors in the country if Jim Abrams has his way.

Abrams, cofounder of AirTime 500 and its sister association, Plum-bers’ Success International (PSI), announced that two new business ventures will be formed to increase the strength of independent contractors in the hvac industry.

The first group (which is currently unnamed) will be a broad-based association that, when combined with the 700 contractors who are currently members of AirTime 500 and PSI, will expand their collective buying power.

“Our goal is to add another 2,000 contractors that will join us in group buying and will get us the very best pricing possible in the industry,” said Abrams.

Members of the new group won’t receive rebates or marketing services like AirTime 500 and PSI members, but they will enjoy preferential pricing and negotiated buyouts.

Ultimately, Abram’s goal is to “establish relationships with 3,500 contractors across the United States and Canada by the end of 2004.

“If we’re successful, we’ll have the largest independent buying clout ever put together in this industry,” said Abrams. “We already have it, but we’re going to expand it dramatically.”

The new group will accommodate those contractors who want pricing discounts but don’t necessarily need the marketing consultation and other services that AirTime 500 provides.

The second group to be launched, called The Masters, will enlist exceptional businessmen and businesswomen from all industries to coach those contractors who truly want to excel.

“Some clients have gotten so sophisticated and so professional at what they do that having them in AirTime 500 or PSI doesn’t serve them as well,” said Abrams. “The Masters will reach outside the air conditioning industry; we’re looking at employing the very best business minds available today. We’ve already started talking to people that head up business departments in some of the major colleges of the United States.”

The Masters is intended to provide business savvy to those contractors who want to become “the dominant players in the marketplace, and who want the expertise above and beyond what just the air conditioning world will give them.”

Although a definite launch date has not been established, Abrams expected the new group to be formed during 2002 or 03.

Vendor Partners

AirTime 500’s network of manufacturers and distributors who offer discounts and rebates to members has also grown, according to Theresa Agee, and 17 new companies have joined the Vendor Incentive Program (VIP) since January 2001. Included in that list is York, which recently joined the group.

Two new vendor partners gave presentations during the expo. W.W. Grainger Industrial Supply will offer members top brand names of equipment in more than 380 branches across the U.S., according to national account manager Bill Kemper.

In addition to enjoying significant price discounts, AirTime 500 contractors can place orders online through Grainger’s website,,and build personal lists of frequently used items.

The company’s goals, said Kemper, include emphasizing well-stocked local inventory and developing consistent and specific price points.

Another new vendor partner, Mailnet Services, Inc., unveiled an Internet-based marketing program that allows contractors to quickly initiate marketing campaigns online.

MailnetExpress offers contractors the marketing pieces, mailing lists, and fulfillment services necessary to easily launch direct mail, fax, and e-mail campaigns, according to Jay McCroskey, a sales executive for Mailnet Express. Contractors can access an online library of marketing pieces, customize a template for a specific campaign, and then select their preferred method of fulfillment — all through the website.

Although contractors can save a tremendous amount of money in postage by using e-mail, McCroskey recommended that they use direct mail to initially target prospective clients and reserve e-mail pieces for those customers who’ve given permission to be contacted that way.

Contractors can also purchase mailing lists based on a variety of demographic parameters, such as the age of a home or how long someone has lived there. Or, they can provide their own mailing lists and take advantage of Mailnet’s list management feature, which identifies and removes duplicate and invalid addresses.

Profit Platoons

The winners of AirTime 500’s Profit Platoon Program were also announced during the expo. The idea behind Profit Platoon is for contractors to help one another improve their marketing and customer service programs.

Contractors are divided into six-member platoons and must do three things:

1. Exchange information openly.

2. Visit each other’s businesses.

3. Call each other’s businesses and record how the phone is answered.

Members of the winning platoon are refunded one year’s worth of membership dues.

For the top-two platoons, results were phenomenal. One member of the runner-up platoon improved his profits by 370% during one year.

The platoon members decreased their marketing expenditures, but increased sales by working their existing client base and, in some cases, increasing prices.

The winning platoon’s net profit (as a group) increased 41% over the previous year, and one member increased sales by 119%.

The most important aspects of the program, the winners noted, were that they held each other accountable, shared marketing ideas, and experienced how other businesses operated.