Mike Murphy

Partnership is an overused and sometimes empty word - but it may be time to revisit the concept. Decades ago (unfortunately, I can now say that with accuracy, as I am in my third of this HVAC career), partnership was touted as the earth-shaking, innovative method for unbelievable success; teamwork would always trump isolationism. The gold rush began: Manufacturers wanted to partner with their distributors, distributors wanted to partner with their contractors, and contractors soon wanted people to stop partnering with them as it seemed to be more costly in the long run. Yes, skepticism ran high after a few years of some one-sided partnerships.

Two parties making money as a course of doing business with one another is great; one party making money at the expense of another is not so great.

The economy that all members of the HVAC food chain are faced with today is not lending itself to any of the overindulgences of past boom times. For the most part, no one is taking advantage of anyone in the chain, and end-user customers are certainly making sure of that. Customers, both residential and commercial, have slowed the wheels of fortune. Of course, there are signs that the economy is experiencing a recovery, but the path to riches will be slow and steady. Still, the HVACR industry, and construction in general, typically lag behind other economic indicators. It appears that the commercial boon that kept industry unitary shipments at nice levels just two years ago, while residential new construction sales plummeted, has now faded. Experts tell us that the residential new construction market may well be first to hit the comeback trail, and begin to push some air conditioner, heat pump, and furnace sales back toward appreciable levels.

What this may mean for this industry’s three-legged stool is that manufacturers, distributors, and contractors may in fact be in a prime position to truly partner with each other in ways that can reap benefits for all involved.


Here is a case in point: In late March 2009, Honeywell invited about 1,000 of their closest friends (controls contractors) to the Honeywell Momentum Convention in Dallas. Much of the manufacturer’s event was, of course, geared towards new product introductions and the typical promotional rah-rah that comes with every HVAC gathering. However, a most interesting occurrence was witnessed as controls contractors, distributors, and Honeywell put their heads together repeatedly during the multi-day event to create strategies for making the best use of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA), a.k.a. the stimulus package. ARRA was in its infant stages and no one had much of a clue as to how or when that might translate into business at the shovel-ready level.

The manufacturer brought to bear upon the discussion its massive research capabilities, distributors connected with contractors to explore local opportunities for funded projects at the local, state, and federal levels. In a sense, the partnership taking place in the meeting rooms and the hallways was all about education. Honeywell created a database that was nearly operational before the Momentum Convention dismissed, and controls contractors were thinking about the future - during a deep economic recession.

Good partnerships tend to make the cooperative parties think through dismal times toward the future. Good partnerships find alternative opportunities that help to keep everyone afloat, even when the direct business benefits may be slow in coming. Good partnerships work to help the customer get what they want first, knowing that good things will follow.

Good partners have a tendency of remembering who brought them to the dance.

Just as people will come to the aid of complete strangers in emergency situations such as natural disasters, difficult times in business may also bring out the best in people. Working toward common goals seems to make the most sense when times are tough; it is the common sense, natural thing for people to want to do.

The real measure of your partnerships will be how they’re conducted when times are easy, when the recession is over, and whether or not greed overtakes common sense.

Yes, perhaps partnering has gotten a bad rap in the past. But, times they are a changing. Sit down and talk with your favorite sales rep, or maybe it would be better to talk with your least favorite rep, and search for ways to not only wiggle your way through this recession, but to position yourself for the light at the end of the tunnel.

MURPHY’S LAW:Dance with the one who brought you.

Publication date:08/31/2009