Counterperson Jerry Brown (right) is often the first person to be seen when customers enter the Warren branch.
WARREN, Mich. –– Contractors who need a reality check about 13 SEER and the availability of 12-SEER products might find the best answers by visiting their local supply house.

The NEWS picked up a grass roots perspective during a visit to the Warren, Mich., branch of Behler-Young Wholesale Heating & Air-Conditioning in suburban Detroit to get a feel for what people are talking about and some of the changes coming in the HVACR trade.

Branch manager Dave Abate and counterperson Gary Zanley discussed some big issues affecting their business as well as the overall trade. They agreed that the changeover to 13 SEER is going to be very big –– for a number of reasons.

Abate said that there is still some misconception about the availability of 10- and 12-SEER products once manufacturers switch over to 13-SEER production in late January. "We just placed our last order for 10-SEER products [late September]," he added.

Zanley said he isn't too worried about the supply of 10 SEER products but added, "We'll be running out of 11- and 12-SEER products soon."

Abate said that Bryant's new line of 13-SEER products will have a different look than its current 13-SEER line, which will likely require some extra training for installers and technicians. The new products will employ TXV valve technology, which not everyone is familiar with. "It is not new technology, but some of the guys are not used to working with it [TXV]," Abate added.

But if training is needed, Behler-Young has a modern training facility about 40 miles away in New Hudson, Mich. Classroom training is available at the newer facility. Kensington is the distribution center, 5 miles away from New Hudson.

Availability and training are only two concerns surrounding 13-SEER products. There are others, too. "I look at some of these trucks with all of the shelving inside and I know that the 5-ton units will not fit in there," Abate said.

Counterperson Gary Zanley (left) jokes with customer Steve Lawrence of Denmark Heating & Cooling.

A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Supply houses are usually places where anxious service techs and installers, even business owners, pick up needed supplies or catch up on the latest sports news. These bastions of the HVAC trade may also be places to see an old friend or score big points with the customer by getting the needed parts to immediately complete a repair.

But make no mistake about it; if anyone wants to check on the pulse of the HVACR trade, there is no better place to lend an ear to some of the conversations than at a local supply house. The coffee is always hot at Behler-Young and there are always plenty of customers –– and counterpeople –– at this busy supply house. Most customers don't have time to browse through the showroom –– they know what they want and head right to the counter.

Some times of the day there may be a line at the counter and at other times, one of the four regular counterpeople will be able to help out right away. On this day the crew is made up of Gary Zanley, Harry Charland, Jerry Brown, and Erik Kuehn. Charland is the senior member of the crew, with 18 years on the job.

That's not unusual for this branch, where low turnover is the most common characteristic of the staff. "I've been here four years and we have three of the four counterpeople from when I started," said Abate, also a longtime Behler-Young employee with 19 years of loyalty to the company.

The small showroom is often filled with customers, especially during the early morning hours.
The company, primarily a Bryant distributor, had a banner summer in 2005, thanks to the hot Michigan summer. That kept the staff of 12 people and three salespeople very busy. And it appears that the remainder of 2005 and early 2006 will be good, too. Good that is, if there are normal or below-normal temperatures.

"If the weather hadn't been hot this year, it might have been a bad summer," Abate said. "The economy is still shaky around here."

Zanley noted that another concern is the eventual phaseout of R-22. "Bryant came out with an informative brochure that we give to customers," he said. "But it's like 13 SEER –– people just aren't sure about it."

Another of Abate's concerns is having enough space in the warehouse to handle some of the products that will make up Behler-Young's new line of refrigeration products. He sees a growing demand from his customers for refrigeration parts and supplies, but he wants to slowly phase in the new lines, making sure the company "does it the right way" first. "We want to get our people trained first," he noted. "And then we need to get stock on our shelves."

The 16,000-square-foot warehouse is adjacent to the office and showrooms. The building also has some rooms where training classes are held; and there are offices for its inside sales staff and residential and commercial estimators. NATE training is available at the New Hudson facility, taught by instructor Gary Kaatz.

(From left) Harry Charland, Gary Zanley, and Jerry Brown do their best to ensure that each customer’s visit is a brief one.

Give ‘Em What They Want

Abate is real big on customer service and he knows that people walking through the door don't have a lot of company time to waste waiting for supplies. "We are looking into a will-call system to get people in and out as soon as possible," he said. "We are aware that it is a problem for contractors when their people spend too much time here."

Time is important to many HVACR contractors in the area and some want parts and supplies immediately or the next day, both of which are available through Behler-Young. But Abate said that in return for prompt service he does expect some loyalty from his customers. "We expect loyalty if our customer wants us to do some labor-intensive work for them," he said.

Abate has seen a lot of technology changes in his 19 years with Behler-Young, including the emergence of the Internet as a way to give end users more product information as well as a new source for making purchases direct from online sellers. "I don't think online shopping is as big of a deal in our industry as it is in others," Abate noted. "I don't think most homeowners would feel comfortable buying HVAC equipment over the Internet as they would, say, plumbing supplies."

Abate believes that his branch gives great customer service, and he is always looking for ways to improve to "do things that other people don't do."

Zanley would agree with that. He said turnover is low because Behler-Young is a good place to work and it takes care of its customers, who often line up at 7:30 a.m. when the branch opens.

And the coffee? "That's Harry's job," he joked. "We don't serve doughnuts, but if you bring some in, we'll share them."

Publication date: 10/24/2005