Cops and the donut shop. I don’t often see police hanging out at local donut shops, though I’m sure the historical basis for such lore is founded upon once frequent sightings. I am more likely to witness gatherings of state troopers along interstate highway emergency crossovers. They are probably discussing matters they deem relevant at the time - personnel cutbacks or monthly ticket quotas. Whatever their purpose, I’m always glad to see them there because that means the crosshairs of at least two fewer radar guns are fixed on a Honda Civic doing 80 on a stretch of fast pavement.

Steamfitters and the union hall. Office workers and the break room. Newspaper reporters and the local pub.

Everyone has a place that they occasionally meet to discuss the important and not-so-important matters of the day. One morning it could be the banter of world politics or the big game. The next it could be about changes to the 401(k) benefit package or the latest sales report. The topics range from the funny and mundane to the innovative and insightful. All businesses have that one location where its members gather to exchange ideas or experiences.

There are approximately 600,000-plus HVAC installers and technicians. Generally, they make up the majority of the various professions represented in the contracting portion of this industry. Where do they go to talk? And, what do they talk about?


Like any good bartender who becomes part facilitator of a means to an end and part confidant, the counter person at the local parts or supply house sees and hears a lot of activity. Every guy or gal in a truck eventually makes their way to the counter to pick up a needed part or piece of equipment. While there, these people know that they might also pick up a piece of needed advice, if not from the counterman himself, then from the wealth of experience walking in and out of the front door.

Occasionally, I still make an early morning visit to a loading dock or the aisle of a supply house. It’s a bit of a walk down memory lane. For a few years, the coffee pot next to an HVAC counter was the first stop of my typical day. Carlos was an early-morning fixture. His patented greeting went something like this: ‘Hey, Murphy-man, how you doing?’ He always had the wrap-up of the previous day’s customer visits. He knew what projects they were working on, and what was going on in their companies. A line from an old television show’s theme song says that “you like to go where everybody knows your name.” Carlos knew every customer by name, and he knew which parts were universal fits and which ones were not.

At such counters as these, across the nation, you’ll hear competitors sharing knowledge about furnace recalls, and co-workers comparing job assignments. Sometimes, activity at the loading docks will look like a team preparing for game day. Trucks are backed up, waiting for fork lifts to make a drop, while the respective drivers huddle together at the front of one vehicle like quarterbacks and coaches calling a play.


I don’t get the opportunity to diagram plays at the hood of a pickup truck. Likewise, I’m not at the counter every morning listening to the banter, so I can only speculate as to what is going on. Perhaps it is something like the chatter around the coffee pot on the seventh floor at the BNP Media building:

“Hey, how did the party go on Saturday at your house?”

“Let’s just say that Sunday was a sleeper.”

“Did you hear about the new integration plan they were talking about last Thursday? Everybody has to start cross-training and then we have to begin offering a full slate of options to every customer.”

“How are we supposed to find time to do that?”

“I dunno. But it does make sense so that the customers get a glimpse of everything that we can do. Did you see that yellow ’Vette in the parking lot?’”

That is how things are communicated in companies, and how things get done. Somewhere between the mundane and the insightful, is the simple discussion that every company thrives upon. Some people will call it gossip; some will call it idea incubation. Employees may find it in the office, or they may seek it elsewhere.

The counter at the supply house has long been the watering hole of the HVAC industry. A lot of good work goes on there.

Publication date:05/28/2007