The theme "25 Years of Leadership" combined with a Maui resort locale to draw more than 400 attendees.
"Twenty-five years ago, Mitsubishi Electric entered the U.S. HVAC market with a small group of products that were new to America," said Akira Tasaki, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA Inc.
"Many of our competitors did not take us seriously, and believed there would never be a great demand for our products. Even as some of our competitors left the market, we stayed the course. We made good products better, increased production, improved delivery, and lowered prices.
"But most important, we created a network of dealers and distributors who shared our vision, who recognized the opportunities our products created, and who were willing to move ahead of the crowd."
Tasaki told distributors, "Mitsubishi Electric is more committed to you than ever before. Our factories in Japan are ramping up for one of our biggest years ever, and our engineers have the U.S. in mind as they develop new products.
"Our goal is to take the lead you helped create and make it even bigger."
The ContractorThe role of the contractor in the equation was a recurring theme during the four days of meetings and presentations.
"We are here to make news and make history," William Rau, senior vice president and general manager for the HVAC Advanced Products Division, said in his opening comments. He described an aggressive national advertising program that aims for consumers and requires the commitment of distributors and contractors.
He said, "This depends on you and your customers [contractors]." He called on distributors to work with the manufacturer "to get the contractor to understand the reality of the opportunity in front of us."
Why The Consumer?Targeting consumers is key, according to company officials who said consumers are ready and willing to purchase the kinds of products Mitsubishi Electric offers.
"Consumers want a product that is able to provide excellent temperature and humidity control; is quiet, reliable, energy efficient, and able to eliminate hot and cold spots," said Lorie Quillin-Bell, director of marketing. "We think that sounds a lot like Mr. SlimÂ®," which is the company's brand name for a wide range of its ductless products.
Again, the contractor aspect was discussed. Quillin-Bell cited a study showing that 95 percent of consumers say quality of work is very important in selecting a contractor.
Citing Mitsubishi Electric consumer research, she said one study showed more than half of those surveyed to be in the market for HVAC equipment and 93 percent of those "likely purchasers" are considering ductless technology.
She also asked attendees to help the manufacturer make sure that contractors respond to leads provided them. "Contractor follow-up is critical," she said.
She cited a study conducted by the The News for Mitsubishi that showed close to 60 percent of the contractor responders seeing an increase in ductless installations over the next two years. She noted that product availability remains important to contractors.
To generate further consumer interest, she and Bud Nardello, national director of sales, reported on the advertising campaign including national cable during the summer.
Nardello told distributors about efforts the company has made to get contractor feedback, such as a recent Contractor Leadership Summit that drew 30 top contractors. He said that those contractors expected advertising support, qualified leads, strong branding, and a frequently asked question section on the company's Web site.
"We are committed to serving these areas," he said.
From distributors, he said the contractors wanted product and parts in stock, more than one person available at the distributorship to answer product questions, assistance in sizing systems, and training at distributorship locations.
"We need your commitment in these areas," he told distributors.
A Contractor SpeaksThe wholesalers also heard from a contractor, Jon Sherrill of Key Heating & Air Conditioning in Rockingham, N.H. In his talk, he took the letters in the brand name Mr. Slim as aspects a contractor focuses on. "M" relates to the multi-zoning aspect of Mitsubishi technology and he asked that the company's territory managers "help us sell the benefits of zoning."
"R" stands for reliability and the fact that the units "do the job they were designed for."
"S" relates to small unobtrusive indoor air handlers with great flexibility.
"L" equates to limited liability; "I" to innovation; and "M" to marketing, which Sherrill equated to "working together as a team."
The contractor told his audience, "With your support, we will be successful."
A Wholesaler SpeaksMichael Senter, chief executive officer of ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp., Long Island City, N.Y., spoke to his peers on the goal, challenge, and motivation of "winning in tough times." He noted the core values in his company are intelligence, initiative, intensity, and integrity.
"We are competing to win customers and to develop long-term, mutually beneficial manufacturer/distributor/contractor relationships," he said. "What does value and quality mean in that relationship? It means the ability to work with the customer to increase profitability for them, us, and the manufacturer."
The Product LineBrand manager Paul Doppel focused on the product line with attention to the City MultiÂ® technology designed for commercial applications. "Ductless split, variable refrigerant flow systems and innovative control options have helped open up new market opportunities," he said. He described the inverter technology as providing "powerful, quiet, and energy-efficient cooling and heating, keeping homes and offices pleasant year round."
He said that Mitsubishi Electric has a three-day course available "to train commercial-grade contractors to correctly quote, install, and service City Multi systems." He urged distributors to help the manufacturer locate potential attendees for these classes.
Doppel also told distributors about efforts to have the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) create a ductless product section. He said the present ARI Standard 210/240 was developed before ductless split systems entered the U.S. market.
He said, "Ductless split systems are used for spot cooling applications while the rest of the equipment under ARI Standard 210/240 is for ducted applications for multiple rooms. The result is the ductless split systems were forced into a testing standard that penalizes their performance."
He said the process to create a separate standard for ductless systems is continuing.
Also in the product mix are energy recovery ventilators, which were described by product manager Chuck Applebee as "strategic additions to City Multi and Mr. Slim."
"In the past few years, there have been significant changes in the marketplace. Indoor environmental issues now drive much of the HVAC market in the U.S. It is no longer necessary to explain the why and the issues to engineers and business owners. They ask first."
Service AssistanceNational service manager Tony Hayes told attendees about three ways to obtain service assistance from the manufacturer. A new live Atlanta call center operates 11 hours a day with a toll-free number (877-391-5550). A 24/7 automated troubleshooting hotline (866-840-4822) prompts callers through diagnostics.
At any time, the caller can request info to be faxed or can hang up and later return to the same place in the prompts. Technical manuals can be downloaded at www.mehvac.com or www.mrslim.com.
Also ready to open in the spring is a state-of-the-art training center at its headquarters in Atlanta, he said.
John Gabilondo, director of operations and logistics, and Ravi Shahani, operations group analyst, reported on the pending move from Lawrenceville, Ga., to new corporate offices and distribution center in Suwanee, Ga., still in the Atlanta area.
The move, they said, was to accommodate growth, maintain service, and reduce overall operating costs. They promised no downtime and no disruption of service.
In SupportMike Smith, marketing manager, showed a range of new marketing tools including a full line mini-catalog geared to the consumer. He also highlighted updates in the company Web site, including what he said was a softer, more eye-appealing redesign.
Agency representatives Cary Griffin and Joy Brotherton highlighted recent segments on "The Today Show" and "Bob Vila's Home Again." Agency representatives Patrick Scullin and Tony O'Haire of Ames Scullin O'Haire reviewed its recent advertising campaigns.
In SummaryRau said of the event, "Our customers left the 2005 Distributors Conference with the enthusiasm needed to achieve the goals we set in motion 25 years ago. With the technical and marketing support we've outlined in the upcoming year, and the addition of several new products, our customers also have the tools needed to reach our goals."
Publication date: 03/07/2005