As the HVAC industry gears up for the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) next week, another annual trade show worth mentioning has come and gone. The 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) filled the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, Jan. 10-13, and electronic products ranging from standard to exceptional lined the aisles. Why mention CES to an audience of HVAC contractors and manufacturers? There are two reasons that can be summed up in two words — Nest and relevance.

Prepare Your Nest Response

All those currently rolling their eyes at the mention of the new Nest programmable thermostat might want to stop that before it becomes a habit. Like it or not, Nest is available, marketable, and showing preliminary success in the consumer market. Since the Nest has been called the “iPod of thermostats,” it wasn’t a big surprise to find out that it was at CES this year. Its appearance at CES got Nest a mention on; it has been featured on multiple, reputable tech websites like Mashable and Tech Crunch; and just the other day, I ran across it in my January issue of Popular Science magazine.

The makers of the product are sending a strong consumer-based message about how their thermostat learns the patterns of its user and then is able to program itself. And that message is moving across an increasing number of consumer advertising and media platforms. All of this attention is creating a buzz that arguably should no longer be ignored by the contractor.

The bottom line when it comes to this thermostat is that it is a new, competitive HVAC product that contractors should strongly consider preparing a response to. Shunning it is one response strategy that has been mentioned in discussion topics in The NEWS Network group on LinkedIn. It may be time, however, to develop a response strategy that includes the product in a contractor’s expertise. This doesn’t mean that contractors should fully embrace Nest and shout its fame every chance they get, but it does mean that contractors should take advantage of the customer trust and relationship that they have to educate consumers on the pluses and minuses of the Nest product.

The “iPod of thermostats” may not be anything more than a phasing trend, but if the product turns out to be a player in the market and contractors ignore it, they run the risk of looking foolish and possibly tarnishing the trust relationship they have earned with their customers.

Relevant Thinking Pays Off

Relevancy is another reason contractors might want to show interest in the items found at CES this year. The convention is not just for geeks and techies (not to be confused with Trekkies, many of whom will go to Comic-Con this July). It’s for those looking to engage technology with curiosity and the idea that they may be able to apply technology in a way that no one else has thought of before. This sounds lofty perhaps, but technology application is often as innovative and at times more innovative than the technology itself.

As technology in the consumer realm and the HVAC industry increases, contractors looking to remain relevant to their customers and in their field of operation will likely be required to change the way they perceive and respond to technological advances. Broadening horizons and accepting new ideas is a start, but mere acceptance will likely not be enough. Take some of the new on-board diagnostic equipment being installed from the factory on various pieces of HVAC equipment. Contractors can accept and rely on these tools to make their job easier and more efficient, but if they allow technology to do the work, instead of working with technology to do great things, then contractors may be risking their future relevance as expert technicians and resources. Feel free to let the machines remove the mundane and time-consuming tasks in life, but do not allow them to do all the thinking.

With the thoughts of Nest and relevancy at the forefront, engage new ideas and understand that investing in education and challenging thought are worth the time, money, and effort. Perhaps you could start your new way of thinking at the AHR Expo. There is still time to make plans to attend and the aisles will be full of technology — new and old — that is just waiting for someone to apply it to the HVAC industry in a revolutionary way.

I will definitely be at the AHR Expo this year and I hope to get to CES next year. As for Comic-Con, I am not sure I am geek enough yet for that, but I am keeping an open mind.

Publication date: 01/16/2012