As a professional HVAC contractor or as any HVAC professional, you might object to these comments made by a television news anchor/reporter:

“If your furnace goes on the blink, it’s a good idea to have the utility company check it out before calling a furnace company. The utility isn’t in the business of selling you an expensive new furnace. Get an objective furnace diagnosis.”

These comments were made by Ruth Spencer, an anchor/editor for WDIV Channel 4 in Detroit on Jan. 4. Her comments are part of a daily series of online tips atThe Detroit Free PressWebsite.

Spencer’s comments were passed along to hundreds of members of the HVAC trade via e-mails and online discussion boards and the result was an outraged community of HVAC professionals. The ire drew so much attention that Spencer “relented” and changed her analysis a bit.

Here was her “clarification,” also published at the Free PressWebsite on Jan. 10:

“Attorneys general nationwide say furnace repair fraud is a top consumer scam. Yes, most heating and cooling companies are reputable, but some are not. Before you have work done, get referrals and then three written estimates from different companies.”

Obviously this is a continuation of a flawed perspective of the HVAC trade.

NOT SO FAST, RUTH

The easiest thing to have done after letting my anger simmer down was to let the issue die and move on to other things. I’m sure Spencer, WDIV, and theFree Presswould prefer to have it that way. Heck, there are HVAC contractors who told me they would prefer to let the issue go away.

Sure it would go away - until another general media reporter decided to write a not-so-rosy opinion about the HVAC trade. And another. And another. And so forth. HVAC contractors are a resilient bunch. They take the heat brought on from stories of dishonest contractors, shrug it off, and move on. I get that. There is no sense letting an issue linger when another of the same type will come along to replace it soon afterward. Don’t give it any more energy than you have to because it is a fight you cannot win.

You can’t change decades of perception that HVAC contractors are less than first-class businesspeople. After all, the trade is fractioned, full of mom and pop shops, and behind the technology curve, right? TV newsmagazines and local TV stings can’t be wrong, can they? Our trade is full of crooks, isn’t it?

By-and-large it is easy to pick on HVAC contractors during stings and exposés because, in general, other contractors in the same area either prefer to see a shady contractor get busted or prefer not to escalate the problem any more or prolong the negative exposure to the HVAC trade. That’s what can be called the “reactions of a fractioned trade.”

Well, if you continue to read accounts of our trade from people who have reached a respected level in their own media, e.g., Spencer, you start to believe that these stereotypes are true. Maybe contractors do deserve to get beat up in the general media. They don’t fight back.

Now before you read any further, let me make a clarification of my own. I know of Spencer, having lived in metro Detroit all of my life and having watched her reporting on WDIV. She is a credible journalist who hosts her own “Ruth to the Rescue” segments where she plays a watchdog reporter, looking out for people who are being ripped off by products, services, and businesses. I applaud her efforts and her sincerity.

But her characterization of the HVAC trade is simply wrong - and she won’t admit it.

WHY NOT TAKE A STAND?

I happen to think that so many people objected to her “before and after” comments that this should be a good time to take a stand on behalf of the HVAC trade. Her generalizations affect every level, from contractors to suppliers and educators to manufacturers. Even trade journalists. We all have a stake in this because of something that has been seriously lacking in the HVAC trade since day one: unity.

With no strong, unified voice, the general media can be brazen enough to continue lambasting our trade with little fear of backlash or recourse. There are many very fine contractor groups, supplier groups, manufacturer groups, and educational/training institutions that do great things for the trade. It would take up too much room to mention them all, but their names are familiar to everyone who sells or services HVAC equipment. Membership in these groups has many benefits, designed to improve the level of excellence in order to make the trade credible in the eyes of consumers and desirable as a vocation for job seekers.

Since all of these groups, including the HVAC trade press, have a common denominator, we can all benefit from standing together and taking a unified voice when issues like Spencer’s commentaries cast a jaded light on our trade. It would behoove all of us to draw a line in the sand and let the general public know how important the HVAC trade is to the quality of life for homeowners and building owners everywhere.

It is your livelihood, why not protect it?

VOICE YOUR DISPLEASURE

It is now obvious that no further clarification, retraction, or even an apology is forthcoming from Spencer or WDIV. Through the efforts of Dave Squires, HVAC contractor and founder of Online-Access, something is being done about this.

Squires has created and is hosting a new Website that is entirely designed to voice displeasure with Spencer’s reporting. The ultimate goal of the Website is its own demise. Yes, you heard me right. The goal of the Website is to generate enough hits, clicks, and links that it will climb to the top, or close to the top, of Internet search engines like Google. This means that if someone wants to learn about WDIV or Ruth Spencer, this new site will likely come up as part of the search.

What good will this serve? According to Squires, potential viewers and potential advertisers will see the negative publicity generated by Spencer’s remarks and may put a little, or a lot, of pressure on WDIV to run a retraction or an apology. If that happens, this new Website will cease to exist, taking its place in the annals of HVAC history and demonstrating that mountains can be moved with a mouse click.

If you are ready to stop sweeping abuse of this trade under the carpet, there may never be a better time to do something about it. And, if you feel strongly, tell others. It is time for a unified voice to say, in the immortal words of Peter Finch in the movieNetwork: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Click on www.shameonwdiv.com.

Publication date:01/29/2007