Rheem’s Innovation Center exhibit was located front and center inside the show hall at ACCA’s Indoor Air Expo.
NEW ORLEANS - Paul Stalknecht had every reason to have a spring in his step as he approached the stage to make his opening general session speech at the 2004 Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Conference. He was about to address the largest conference turnout ever - 1,454 attendees, to be exact.

"Truly, we come to this conference - the largest conference we've ever had - riding the cusp of a wave made possible by only one thing: you and your commitment to the HVAC industry," said Stalknecht, who was hired as the association's president and CEO immediately prior to the opening of the 2001 conference in Las Vegas. "Three years ago, the ACCA board of directors invited me to join in their plan to re-create ACCA. I took a look at the plan they laid out - and then I looked at the organization that existed - and I thought: ‘Wow.' Actually, I said, ‘Oh ...'"

After the remark drew a laugh or two from the crowded room at the New Orleans Marriott, Stalknecht quickly added, "It's a good thing I love challenges."

In a three-year time span, plenty has changed under Stalknecht's direction. And, judging from the overwhelming manufacturer and membership support shown in New Orleans this year, it's safe to say the congregation approves.

ACCA President and CEO Paul Stalknecht had plenty of good news to share at the association’s 2004 conference. “It’s been a terrific year,” he said.

Backing From Manufacturers

Rheem Manufacturing, Air Conditioning Division, may have supplied the highest vote of confidence. Not only did it have the largest exhibit, front and center, at the annual Indoor Air Expo, it supplied a surprise announcement. The company is partnering with the association to provide full ACCA membership to its top contractor network of more than 400 Rheem Team and Ruud Reliable contractors. (See "Rheem, ACCA Make Historic Partnership," March 8.)

"We have enthusiastically supported the innovative ideas, bold industry initiatives, and strong leadership from today's ACCA leadership," said J.R. Jones, president of Rheem Air Conditioning Division. "ACCA, like NATE [North American Technician Excellence], ARI [Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute], GAMA [Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association], and others are providing the visionary leadership and partnership necessary to move our industry successfully forward.

"Our increased support of ACCA in recent years is due largely to the focused, vigorous leadership of ACCA's president, Paul Stalknecht, the vibrant ACCA board, and its exciting newly federated member chapters. The mission of our Rheem Team and Ruud Reliable Top Contractors Program is in 100 percent agreement with ACCA's mission to raise the bar of excellence and customer-focused professionalism. That is why we have taken the unprecedented action to financially support the ACCA membership of qualifying Rheem Team and Ruud Reliable members."

Newly elected ACCA chairman Skip Snyder urged members to get involved with the association, become NATE certified, and mentor less-experienced contractors.
Rheem also showed support by repeating as a "Platinum Elite" sponsor, along with Carrier, York, and Trane. In fact, this year the association added another strong financial contributor, One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating, a wholly held subsidiary of VenVest Inc.

"One Hour Air Conditioning was pleased to announce its ‘Platinum Elite' sponsorship of ACCA's conference for several reasons," explained Jim Abrams, co-founder of VenVest and its director of Planning and Strategic Development. "Perhaps the most important of those is the fact that most of our holdings within the HVAC industry are somewhat exclusive. One Hour Air Conditioning and AirTime 500 are both limited by geographical licenses and yet both benefit by a strong national organization.

"We believe that ACCA's most critical contributions to the industry are political lobbying and facilitating open discussion among various industry groups, i.e., independents, manufacturers, franchisors, and consolidators. We definitely believe an informed industry, whose primary participants [independent contractors] understand their options and their combined power to influence manufacturers, wholesalers, and politicians is in every contractor's best interest."

Many exhibitors set aside this show to introduce new products. Luxaire Heating and Air Conditioning, for instance, introduced its all-new Acclimateâ„¢ 12- and 13-SEER air conditioners and heat pumps. Displaying the new units at ACCA made sense in the eyes of Brandon Parker, Luxaire brand marketing manager.

"You always want to reach qualified contractors, and they are right here," said Parker. "Installers and technicians will appreciate a demand defrost board that features service analyzer capabilities, integrated control, fault code retention, hot heat pump and fossil fuel jumpers, high and low pressure switch connections, and a pipe freeze protection timer. Together these features offer increased flexibility and functionality as well as improved diagnostics."

In truth, ACCA could have used more exhibitor floor space this year.

"What surprised us was how quickly the tradeshow floor sold out," said Kevin Holland, vice president, Communications and Membership Services, ACCA. "We were into a long waiting list a full three months before the conference."

Just a few years ago, such was not the case. "Three years ago, we couldn't get manufacturers like this to return our calls," Stalknecht confessed in his opening speech. "They'd written off ACCA. Now, many of their chief executives make a point of attending ACCA's annual meeting, and are here with us today."

In addition to Abrams and Jones, Halsey Cook of Carrier and Dave Pannier of Trane participated in the CEO Roundtable Forum, sponsored by The News.

Participants in the CEO Roundtable Forum included (from left) Dave Pannier of Trane, J.R. Jones of Rheem, Halsey Cook of Carrier, and Jim Abrams of VenVest. The session was moderated by John Conrad (far right), publisher of The News.

Forging Ahead

Prior to Stalknecht stepping in, ACCA had been losing members for years, living off its reserve funds, and falling behind in its technical expertise. As Stalknecht admitted in his opening speech, "It wasn't a pretty picture."

"This year," he was happy to report, "I didn't give our board a four-hour verbal report. I sent them a 23-page written report on our progress instead. ... Oh, what a difference three years can make."

Just last year, ACCA completed its federation process, bringing together ACCA at all levels. ACCA expanded its staff, adding expertise in HVAC technology and financial management.

"2003 was truly the first operating year of the new ACCA - a year in which our membership grew for the first time in nearly a decade," he said. "A year in which new programs were launched to help contractors with everything from understanding legal issues to learning how to better market their business.

"It was the year in which we restored the trust between ACCA and the contractors we serve."

When he stepped up to the stage, outgoing chairman John Saucier told the audience he felt "like the luckiest contractor in the world."

The Joe Simon Jazz Trio drew a lot of attention at the Benchmark booth when the band serenaded Ronee Swafford.
"One year ago, you handed me the keys to ACCA and told me to take it out on the open road. And, as I told you then, ‘I love to drive,'" said Saucier. "The keys you gave me started the ignition of a car that had been carefully refurbished and rebuilt over a three-year process. In fact, it was like getting behind the wheels of a brand new car. ... It wasn't your father's ACCA."

Saucier was thankful for the cooperation he received in handling the federation process.

"As of last week, for the first time in ACCA's history, we have contractor members in all 50 states. Folks, we're no longer the largest national HVACR contractor organization. We're the only nationwide HVACR contractor organization. And that's all because of your support and commitment, and I thank you."

Before the conference concluded, newly elected chairman Skip Snyder, president of Snyder Company, Upper Darby, Pa., vowed to keep the momentum rolling. Skilled in karate, Snyder asked that members reach Pyong Ahn, the ultimate goal of martial arts.

"It's the feeling that you are in such control of your immediate environment that no harm can come to you," he said. "Do you have Pyong Ahn in your business? I'll tell you three ways you can attain it."

He asked that members first get involved, then ensure their technicians become NATE certified, and, finally, help guide young contractors to ACCA through a new association mentoring program.

"Mentoring is the best answer," said Snyder. "We'll take contractors with less than five years of experience, and pair them with non-competing successful contractors of broad experience. We'll give these contractors a chance to learn, one-on-one, from contractors who've been there, who know the ins and outs, and who know how to succeed. It's a chance for contracting business owners to give back personally to this industry - to share their wisdom and their strengths - and to make a difference in someone else's life and business."

Publication date: 03/29/2004