’Tis the season. The holidays have certainly passed us by. Even MLK and Valentine’s Day are history, and President’s Day may be gone by the time you open this week’s copy ofThe NEWS. The season I refer to is the busy travel time for the HVAC industry’s many organizations and associations.

Thousands of contractors showed up for the 77th Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) in January; several hundred attended the first-ever Honeywell Momentum Conference in Phoenix, Feb. 4–7; and the International Builder’s Show attracted a few HVAC aficionados. The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) will host more than 2,000 people in Orlando, Feb. 25 to March 1, and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) will boast nearly as many attendees in Orlando March 6-8.

By the time April rolls around, most of the big meetings go into hibernation. Then the entire cycle begins again in late September. I know a few contractors that often attend between four and six of such major events each year. I also know more than a few hundred that show up for at least one major program. Many thousands don’t bother with becoming involved in anything at all. Why?


You could justifiably ask the question, “How does anybody have time to run a business while bouncing around to meetings all over the country?”

Then, there are those who would ask, “How can you run a business without continually educating yourself about your business?”

So, the dilemma begins. Should you attend any of the variety of trade shows that are available or join a contractor organization? If you join the “club,” should you attend the meetings? Yes, it’s true; many contractors join national organizations in name only, pay the dues, and don’t make time for some of the important things that go with membership. Attending meetings is only one of them.

This year, Chris Fitzgerald, president of Fitzgerald Mechanical Inc., Shreveport, La., will present a session for the second time in two years at the national MCAA Conference, that informs contractors about organizing peer groups. Such groups are known as MIX® Groups within ACCA, and other associations have similar formats. Fitzgerald has said that his peer group has played a huge role in the success of his company. Many contractors claim the same to be true for their companies.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough contractors available to fill some holes that currently exist. I get a few calls every year from people who ask if I know about a company that would be a good match for their particular group. Also, there simply are not enough peer groups in existence.

There are probably many of you who would welcome the opportunity to become a part of an ACCA MIX Group or a MCAA Peer Group, or just start one yourself with good contractors you have met in your career. If only there were some type of clearinghouse that could readily identify potential companies that had similar business goals and traits. It’s just too difficult to find the right people to develop such a group, or add members when someone might drop out.

Of course, if you were a member of one or more of the major contractor associations, you may be able to get some help from the national offices. And, if they aren’t providing enough help, complain about it.

If you are not a member already, and you haven’t already organized some type of contractor advisory group, then you are on your own - literally. Going it alone can work for a while, and maybe even work forever. But, at some point in the evolution of many HVAC businesses, getting some good advice from about six to nine of your peers seems to pay some big dividends. I’ve been invited to sit in on a few MIX Group meetings and can attest that the quality of discourse among contractors is amazingly enlightening. When it got down to the real nitty-gritty, the discussion of financial performance, I was asked to step outside the room. You can’t ask for a better dose of medicine than to bring your peers into your company for a two- to three-day extensive business review.

So, this year, attend some meetings, join an association, or build an advisory board. You’ll be glad you did.

Publication date:02/19/2007