ST. LOUIS, MO — What began as an idea two years ago is now becoming a major force in the HVACR industry. AirTime 500™, a membership of independent HVACR residential replacement/service contractors, will mark a milestone early next year, according to cofounder Jim Abrams.

Abrams sat down for an informal chat with The News during the group’s annual St. Louis meeting. He said his goal of reaching 500 members will be realized in early 2003. After that, the membership will close and contractors will go on a waiting list, which already exists for some territories across the United States.

“I estimate that 1% to 2% of all retail contractors will be represented by our membership,” Abrams said. “This year our members will purchase $400 million in HVAC equipment. That is a lot of buying power.”

Abrams cited some new services and products, which are designed to enhance members’ buying power and exclusivity. These include BuyMax, a website for online equipment/supply purchases; Xenon, a private-label brand of HVAC equipment; and the Talking Thermostat™, a unique new product available to AirTime 500 members.

In addition, Abrams said that the New Millennium Academy, the training arm for AirTime 500 contractors, will graduate over 1,000 students in 2002.

But Abrams is most proud of what his group brings to the purchasing table. “Our members purchase between $18 and $20 million from each major equipment manufacturer,” he noted. “This gives us the opportunity to make special pricing available to all of our members, from the smallest contractor to the one spending millions.”


Mike Robinson, the president of BuyMax, introduced this “Contractor’s Warehouse” concept to member contractors, stating the purpose of BuyMax is “to create an easy purchase order processing system. This is designed to build the buying power of the group and drive down the cost of doing business.”

The company describes the website ( this way: “The BuyMax website has been uniquely designed with the busy contractor in mind. What makes the site so unique is that we consulted with purchasing managers and accounting managers of HVAC and plumbing companies and let them tell us what was optimal for their day-to-day purchasing needs.”

“Preferential pricing” and rebates are also available from AirTime 500 vendor partners via BuyMax, giving all members an equal chance at getting lower pricing, regardless of the company size or geographic location.

Abrams said that subscribing to the BuyMax website is a “no-lose proposition.”

Abarams noted, “The membership will pay for itself through discounts and rebates. If it doesn’t pay for itself, we refund the membership dues.”

According to AirTime 500, BuyMax features include:

  • The ability to batch order and reuse previous purchase orders to reorder regular inventory with a new purchase order number;

  • The ability to pick up the order from a local supply house or have the items shipped direct;

  • Access to exclusive private-label Xenon products;

  • Quarterly cost of sales analyses for transactions with each vendor;

  • The convenience of a 24-hour Web-based ordering system.


    Randy Van Den Elzen is an AirTime 500 member who has hit the ground running with the new private label equipment. Van Den Elzen credits AirTime 500 with helping him return his business to its roots — residential service and replacement — and boosting company profits. He definitely sees a niche for Xenon in his community of De Pere, WI, south of Green Bay.

    “We wanted to carry a line that not everybody has,” he said. “We like the exclusivity. A lot of manufacturers are listed several times in our phone book — but not Xenon.”

    Xenon products are being offered to AirTime 500 contractors first, and then to other contractors in the near future, but only through BuyMax. The products give contractor members a pricing advantage, according to AirTime 500, because of the two-step distribution system of the private label. Xenon is being touted as a way to “provide the small to medium-size contractor with a purchase price advantage when compared to traditional ‘big box’ distributors.”

    Van Den Elzen said these aren’t the only reasons he prefers Xenon. “My techs like Xenon better than anything they have put in. We’ve only had the equipment for two months, but there have been no complaints so far.”

    He added that the equipment is shipped with care, too. The company has received two semi-trucks full of equipment, and there have been no damaged goods. He says that his customers are impressed, too.

    “We’ve installed 50 furnaces and 30 condensing units since our initial June shipment,” Van Den Elzen said.

    “We also sell Carrier, Armstrong, and Goodman. Xenon is just another product we offer — a different tier.”

    Sidebar: Meet The Talking Thermostat

    ST. LOUIS, MO — It is being touted as the virtual “Yellow Pages Eliminator.” Well, at least if a homeowner needs to look up an HVACR service contractor, that is. A new technological breakthrough involving pre-recorded, timely messaging is about to make its debut in the HVACR trade.

    The product is the Talking Thermostat™, available exclusively to AirTime 500 members — at least for now. The product description is “a programmable thermostat that ‘talks’ to your clients with easy step-by-step directions, referring them back to your business when they need service.”

    AirTime 500 member Sonny Knobloch helped to develop the thermostat, which he introduced to contractor members at the St. Louis conference.

    A prerecorded chip contains messages that homeowners can listen to by pressing a help button on the face of the thermostat. These messages include:

  • Who to call for service;

  • Reminders on filter changes;

  • Scheduled maintenance reminders; and

  • Step-by-step programming instructions.

    “The messages are recorded by a professional actor if contractors provide us with the copy,” Knobloch said. “They can also use their own voices if they send us a .wav file.”

    He added that homeowners who are sight-impaired can also press the help button and find out what the temperature readings are.

    Knobloch noted that there may be plans to market the Talking Thermostat beyond AirTime 500 members in the future.

    — John R. Hall

    Publication date: 09/16/2002