There seems to be an increasing number of meetings that contractors feel they should and must attend each year to keep up-to-date on industry trends and to keep in touch with manufacturers and fellow contractors. In some cases, the meetings are mandatory and must be attended despite any inconvenience or expense.
This month, The News explored how our contractor consultants cope with the necessity of attending meetings. We also asked them to assess how much these meetings benefit their businesses.
“Frankly, I think it is healthy to get away,” said Jim Hussey of Marina Mechanical (San Leandro, CA). “Attending these conferences gets me out of my rut.
“My employees always look forward to my return. I’m usually refreshed, easier to work with, and filled with great ideas. We seem to be more productive after my return.”
On the other hand, Charlie Klapperich of Western Building Services/Comfort Systems USA (Denver, CO), noted, “I feel the effectiveness of sending people to a number of these regional and national shows continues to erode as the years pass. The seminars do not appear as attractive or groundbreaking in nature.”
The News’ asked its panel the following questions:
HOW MANY MEETINGS?“Generally, I attend three or four meetings during a year that take me away from work for one day or more,” said Tom Lawson of Advanced Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. (Bossier City, LA). “We have very few regional meetings except for the ones by our manufacturer, Trane. I feel that the meetings I attend have been very helpful in running my business.”
Steve Miles of Jerry Kelly Heating & A/C (St. Charles, MO) said, “I’ll be away from the business at least four times between now and the end of February, and I feel that each one is necessary.
“I consider every event I attend as an opportunity to learn, and I consider it an investment. I feel that the events I invest in can teach me the skills that are necessary for the success of our company.”
“We will attend one fall show,” said Hank Bloom of Environmental Conditioning Systems (Mentor, OH). “We focus more on different management and sales schools. Workers’ comp and safety seminars are at the top of our list, too.
“The shows become redundant, although there is always something new that we find to improve our way of doing business.”
A new member of the consultant panel, Arthur Pickett of Royal Air Systems (North Reading, MA), stated, “I have three scheduled for this fall, including my ACCA Mix“ Group at two different times and two different locations. All meetings will be four days each. I love getting away from the office, both to share ideas and to give my company breathing room to exercise control without me.
“The information I gather is necessary for me as a business owner and the time away is necessary for the opportunity for growth for middle management. Some of these meetings are a necessary evil to keep up with the industry changes.”
“I find benefit in attending conferences on several fronts,” added Hussey. “First is education. I constantly learn at these conferences. I learn about new products, techniques, business opportunities, and strategies. I learn these things on many fronts: from manufacturers at the trade show, from speakers and presenters in the education series, and from other contractors.
“If I were to rank them, I would say that meeting and talking to fellow contractors is the most important benefit and source of cutting-edge information. Next are the seminars and speakers. A very close third is the trade show. All three are important.”
Aaron York of Aaron York’s Quality A/C (Indianapolis, IN) said that meeting attendance is a necessary evil, adding, “The new and most up-to-date information is not available anywhere else. Information exchange between participants, especially other contractors, is vital. Relationships are established that last a lifetime.”
Another new consultant is Russ Donnici, president of Mechanical Air Service Inc. (San Jose, CA). He said, “Since time is limited, I try to focus on the trade shows and meetings that provide the largest return on my time investment. We have a fall Plant Engineering show coming up that I typically attend to see equipment offerings as well as what the competition is doing.”
REGIONAL VS. NATIONAL“I think the regional would be less expensive and we could send more lower-level folks to start a training process of gathering information from these meeting,” said Larry Taylor of Air Rite Air Conditioning Co. (Fort Worth, TX). “Most of the meetings have so much information that you have to develop a method of sorting out what you can apply and not apply when you get back home.”
Dave Dombrowski of Metro Services/ARS-ServiceMaster (Raleigh, NC) noted, “We are attempting to find high-quality local meetings where we can improve our skills rather than have an excuse to get away. We are cutting expenses and staying focused at home where possible. This is a year where we need to pay close attention to the needs of the field and to the customers and any ‘party atmosphere’ meetings are being discouraged.”
“I believe both regional and national meetings are always important for the networking and learning experiences they provide,” said Ann Kahn of Kahn Mechanical (Dallas, TX). “I’ve never attended a meeting that did not give me at least one good idea for improving my business.
“Nevertheless, as time passes, I find myself attending fewer and fewer meetings and leaving that up to others in my organization.”
Klapperich added, “I send a few individuals every year to the ASHRAE show, more as a reward than anything else. I leave it up to their own ingenuity to make the most of the shows they do attend.
“I do believe that smaller regional shows are more effective for all involved. Much to my chagrin, this area has very few quality shows for us to attend. I personally, rarely attend any of these shows unless they are local.”
“I believe that the national meetings are very good and feel they are necessary to gain valuable information and network with people to learn as much as you can from both good and bad experiences,” said Jeff Somers of Monsen Engineering Co. (Fairfield, NJ). “Attendance demand has increased with the addition of the alliances and our membership in the MSCA, so choosing the meetings has become more difficult, and the agendas are closely scrutinized to make sure the value is there.”
Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal/Service Experts (Fremont, NE), said, “At this point, the national meetings have been reduced, which is definitely a positive cost-cutting measure, and in most cases this information can be covered through e-mails or calls.
“We have district meetings quarterly. We cover lots of business with conference calls, which are considerably less expensive than meetings and travel costs. At this point, any conference we attend we want to make sure we get a return on our investment. We don’t want to take money from our budget if it’s not going to pay back over time.”
THE BOTTOM LINEMiles said that contractors should use a simple calculation to determine if it is “worth their while” to attend a show or meeting. “The most common excuse that I hear for not attending these conventions is the cost of attending,” he said.
“Yes, it will cost to attend, but what does it cost not to attend? For the sake of argument, let’s say the investment is $2,000. Let’s also assume that you have about $500,000 a year in sales.
“If you get just one idea that makes your operation just one percent more efficient, or makes you just one percent more profitable, you will more than double your two thousand dollar investment,” he explained, noting that $500,000 x 0.01 = $5,000.
“Or let’s say that you attend a workshop that encourages you to try to sell a deluxe system to someone you would normally recommend the 10 SEER builders’ grade, and they purchase it with all the bells and whistles,” he continued. “That will return your investment, plus some.”
Donnici, who like Miles is a member of an ACCA Mix Group, said his face-to-face meetings with fellow contractors are very important to him. “It’s not often you have the opportunity to meet with others in your industry that share the same focus and goals you do, and with which you can share the intimate knowledge of your business practices, etc.,” he said. “Our members are professional contractors and care not only about their clients but also about our industry.”
Taylor said each travel decision should be based on the type of business and the knowledge that owners seek. “I feel each of the individual contractors have different requirements,” he said. “Contractors whose work is mainly in construction can get most of their information at manufacturer and dealer meetings.
“Contractors in service and replacement must attend more meetings due to mold, duct cleaning, loads, service, technology, customer relations, marketing, etc. Contractors in commercial also have a different need, too.”
Lawson summed it up this way: “Through the years I have learned the importance of attending these meetings to continue learning new ways of helping my business grow. Not only should you attend, but when you return to work you should implement what you learned.
“The key to success is putting your knowledge into action.”
Pickett concurred. “I don’t believe you can run a business today without getting out to see what’s going on, and to listen and share ideas with other people in your industry,” he said.
Publication date: 08/12/2002
Sidebar: Two New Faces Join News Contractor ConsultantsThe News is pleased to welcome two new members to its panel of contractor consultants.
ARTHUR PICKETTArthur Pickett is the owner of Royal Air Systems Inc. in North Reading, MA. He founded the company 27 years ago. His company began in new construction and eventually changed to residential retrofit. The $2 million business features a retail operation and showroom alongside a busy highway in this Boston suburb. He is proud of his service record and offers extended hours on Saturdays to keep up with demand. Pickett employs 20 people and primarily sells Trane and Lennox equipment. His goal is to move into the IAQ market soon, a field in which his son is very interested.
RUSS DONNICIRuss Donnici is president of Mechanical Air Service Inc. in San Jose, CA, a company he founded in 1977. Donnici is proud of his 10-member crew, which did just under $2 million in commercial service last year. He is also the founder of Indoor Air Diagnostics Inc., which provides IAQ assessments for customers. In addition, he founded Outreach Heating and Cooling Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501(c)3 charitable organization that provides free and reduced-cost heating and cooling services to low-income families, individuals, and nonprofit organizations. Donnici is one of The News’ 2001 “Best Contractor to Work For” winners.
— John R. Hall
Publication date: 08/12/2002