NEW YORK - The company has been doing it for 24 years, and each year it gets better and attendance figures continue to rise. "It" is the ABCO Refrigeration Supply Corp. Trade Show. The venue is the Terrace on the Park in Flushing, N.Y.

For one day, thousands of contractors, distributors, and HVACR students from locations along the East Coast stop what they are doing and attend the 7-1/2-hour trade show. They mingle with the 200 exhibitors, talk to peers and competitors, attend training classes, and break bread with industry professionals from the HVACR trade.

Michael Senter (left) enjoys a laugh with customer Walter Oest, owner of Elm Air Conditioning.
Michael Senter, chief executive officer of ABCO, presides over the event each year, and he said that each year the show offers "a different flavor."

"This year, the city of New York is waiting for changes to finally take hold after 9/11 and the presidential election," Senter stated. "Now we can get on with rebuilding New York City. There has been a lot of caution up until now, people concerned about terrorism, as well as who would lead the country."

Senter said that the mood of the city has also been reflected in the flat commercial real estate market. "There has been a good deal of residential new construction, but the commercial new construction market has been very slow to recover from 9/11. The Manhattan economy suffered. New York is very Wall Street-driven, and as the market has suffered, so too has the city.

"We are now seeing more activity in the commercial market. However, we don't know the value of the commercial market in areas around the former Trade Center buildings. Once the new Trade Center has been constructed, it will set the tone for real estate values of commercial buildings."

The ICOR International booth was a busy place for Wayne Schmidt (center) and Mark Minter (right).

Record Attendance

In its 24th year, the trade show enjoyed its highest attendance figures ever. Senter estimated that 3,800 people walked the show floor, up 10 percent from record attendance figures in 2003.

Attendees took advantage of 10 complimentary ABCO University Quick Tech classes, which included presentations sponsored by Bohn, Scotsman, Luxaire, Copeland, Johnson Controls, Mitsubishi, Sporlan, Honeywell, and Nu-Calgon. Many students from nearby Lincoln Tech attended the event.

"Classroom training began three years ago and is now an integral part of the show," said Senter. "It adds an educational aspect to the show in a noncompetitive environment."

Senter is proud of the fact that rival businesses can take time out to visit the show. "What is unique about this show is that there is a consolidation of contractors who are taking one day out of intense competition to come together to learn," he commented.

One of the beneficiaries of the show is the Make-A-Wish foundation. This year, attendees purchased raffle tickets throughout the day to help raise money for the New York City chapter of Make-A-Wish.

"I believe we raised close to $4,000 for Make-A-Wish at the trade show, just from donations from customers who shared the day with us," said Senter, who is a member of the board of directors of the New York City chapter of Make-A-Wish.

Despite The Odds, ABCO Moves Ahead

In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, the presidential elections, and following one of the coldest summers in recent memory, it would be logical to expect sales figures to be down at ABCO.

After all, many of its customers were suffering through a slowdown of new commercial construction and renovation. But Senter noted that sales numbers were still in positive territory.

"Sales figures have continued to rise after 9/11, but the increases have been only in the 2 to 5 percent range," said Senter. "Considering the economy and the cold summer, that is still an accomplishment. Residential sales have helped boost us up."

Senter projects ABCO revenues to be $120 million in 2004. The company has been in business for 55 years and has almost 20 locations in the New York City and Connecticut markets. The business mix is fairly evenly divided, with HVAC, commercial refrigeration, and parts and equipment each accounting for approximately one-third of revenues.

Senter is hopeful that New Yorkers have turned the corner and can now turn to his company and his customers to help rebuild the community.

"The recovery - economically, socially, and spiritually - has been challenging as we need to not only overcome fears of another attack, which fears reignite each time a major terrorism incident happens anywhere in the world, but also convince others to invest their faith and trust in New York as a home for businesses and families," Senter said.

Publication date: 11/22/2004