While there might have been more than a few tears shed at the craps tables, when you arrived at the convention center floor, there was nothing but great moods from both the exhibitors and attendees. I have not seen that many guys with smiles on their faces since Janet Jackson was the Super Bowl halftime entertainment about a decade ago.
In booth after booth, manufacturers were not only excited about where their company was headed, but also greatly enjoying the feedback they were hearing from the contractors who were popping into their booths. It was very refreshing to see such a raw energy about this industry. There was an inescapable buzz going on at the expo, and I am not just talking about the cocktail parties.
THE REAL DEALNow I know you are thinking that the show floor is not the best place to get honest feedback, and if you gave these exhibitors and contractors truth serum they might be singing a different tune.
Trust me, I know all about putting on a happy smile in the face of an avalanche of bad news. “Sure, honey, going to the art museum today sounds like a fantastic idea. Of course we can stop at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on the way home. They play football every weekend, and this might be the only time we can see this exhibit.”
You see, I am well-versed in people telling others what they want to hear. That was not the case at the expo this year. People were genuinely excited about the future. The theory goes that there will be a pent-up demand for replacement systems. This demand is said to come from the amount of repairs that took place the last couple of years as the economic uncertainty and downturn prevented the public from paying the upfront cost of replacing an HVAC system. It makes complete sense to me.
While this was not a complete 180-degree turn from last year’s expo in Orlando, I would say it was about a 90-degree turn. Last year people were preaching recovery, but much like the MGM Grand casino floor, it reeked of desperation. When terms like “cautiously optimistic” are thrown around, you know the person you are talking with is trying hard to get that lipstick on the pig.
LET'S NOT GET SKY HIGHNow, I am not ready to go all Timbuk 3 on you and proclaim that “the future is so bright, you gotta wear shades.”
For instance, I talked with Talbot Gee, vice president and COO of the Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), during a recent podcast. (You can find our podcasts on iTunes. We were recently voted the most entertaining HVAC podcast for a weekly HVAC trade journal based in Metro Detroit). Gee and HARDI predict growth for 2011, but he was not as bullish on the market as some.
“Basic economic indicators show a stronger environment and a better environment for growth in 2011,” Gee said. “So if you end up in that 5 percent growth range for 2011, then that is going to be a pretty good year in my opinion.”
Still, it is great when everyone is pointing in the same positive direction. It makes sense that people will disagree on how much of an improvement the industry will see, but if a great majority are saying it will be a better year, then that should help the general mood of the industry. And that is definitely what I was hearing in the aisles of the AHR Expo.
So to paraphrase Costanza again: I proclaim this the summer of HVAC!