September and October are always busy traveling months for those of us in the HVAC trade press. It makes sense as most associations hold their meetings during these months to get the highest attendance since this is typically one of HVAC’s shoulder seasons.

This fall was no different as I was able to travel to numerous industry events. It is a time of year I look forward to as I am allowed to get out of the office and talk face-to-face with people in the industry. It really allows me to learn more about what is happening “on the ground.” In addition, the great speakers at these events have allowed me to get a better understanding of the economy, marketing, etc.

So instead of keeping the knowledge to myself — or sharing it with my wife who would be uninterested at best — I thought I would share a few of the nuggets with my three loyal readers. So what follows are some thumbs up and thumbs down from my recent travel.

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

Thumbs Up: The interesting marketing ideas I heard from some of the contractors who are members of the Nexstar Network. One company — Service Plus — uses their conference room as a marketing tool. The company spent a significant amount of money to build a quality, state-of-the-art conference room. When they are not using the room, they allow local groups and organizations to use it free of charge. Of course, when those groups arrive, on the desk are mugs, paper, and pens with the company logo. And the clincher is that it just so happens that in order to get to the conference room people need to walk through the company showroom. That is a great marketing idea.

Thumbs Down: The food at these conferences. I am not complaining about the quality but rather the quantity for someone already my size. The big breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are catching up with me. If you doubt me, look at this video from the ClimateMaster event at Wolff Brothers Supply in Ohio where my golf shirt barely contains me:

When I got on the scale this morning, it told me “one at a time.” I am putting this in print to motivate me to drop some excess weight before we all get together at the AHR Expo in January.

Thumbs Up: The good news from HARDI chief economist Alan Beaulieu. He told HARDI members that the U.S. housing market is improving. In fact, permit levels for new construction are up in 44 of the 50 states. Beaulieu said this is a great time to purchase investment properties if you either have the cash to do this or have the ability to get financing.

Thumbs Down: Although it feels to some people like we are still in a recession — we are not — Beaulieu is already predicting the next recession. The economist sees us flattening out in 2013 and then falling into another recession in 2013 and 2014. The silver lining is Beaulieu — who has a very successful track record in predictions — sees growth in 2015, 2016, and 2017. However don’t talk to him about the 2030s. That prediction says things are going to get uglier than a Lindsay Lohan intervention.

Thumbs Up: The timing of the HARDI conference in Orlando. A rare Saturday start allowed me to skip out on attending a brutal wedding of someone very remotely related to my wife. Big win for me!

Thumbs Up: I picked up some great branding ideas from the Unified Group meeting, which welcomed speaker David Avrin. He recommended doing a true competitive analysis of your marketplace. You can do this by taking all of your printed materials and a printed copy of everything on your website and spread it on a table. You then take your top two competitors and spread their material out since you all give away your materials for free. Avrin believes you will be stunned at how much the verbiage is identical. He believes you need to differentiate yourself. If you don’t, the customer will assume all the companies they talked to are equal, and when that occurs they make their choice based on price.

If my bosses are reading, I picked up much more information in my travels but this is as much as space allows. I encourage contractors to attend these industry events. You will be surprised how much knowledge you can pick up in a short amount of time.

Publication date: 11/5/2012