My oldest became a teenager recently, so you can imagine how cool I am in my house. Certainly, what dad does for work is of no interest whatsoever.

That did change a bit last week when Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary presented at the HARDI virtual conference. The boy loves that show and was interested in what the businessman was going to say. HVAC contractor readers should be even more excited about the presentation from O’Leary and what he calls “America 2.0.”

The year 2020 has been a crazy and challenging one. Many of these challenges are being highlighted in this Best of The NEWS edition. However, as we look ahead to 2021, it is time for HVAC contractors to figure out what they learned during this COVID pandemic and what changes will become permanent.

There are a lot of questions to be answered. Will you allow some of your workforce to continue working from home? Will your interactions with customers still be taking place over Zoom, or will you be back into their homes and businesses? How will you get employees trained?

“You cannot wait until the vaccine has (hopefully) made the COVID concern a thing of the past. By then, you will already be behind your competition.”

These are issues contractors need to be thinking about right now. You cannot wait until the vaccine has (hopefully) made the COVID concern a thing of the past. By then, you will already be behind your competition.

My favorite shark from Shark Tank predicts that about 15% of the workforce will continue to work from home. And all that work travel … O’Leary sees about 80% of that coming back.

These two items alone translate into significant cost savings on the bottom line of a business. That is why O’Leary is so bullish on the U.S. economy in 2021.

“We have thousands of employees. We are cutting travel and entertainment budgets by up to 50%. That is extraordinary. And we are not losing anything in revenue,” O’Leary said. “This is reforming our economy in an incredible way. I anticipate the next three years are going to be the golden years of America. An unbelievable economy and an incredible outcome. More productivity and more growth. More profitability and more jobs. We just need to get through this pandemic.”

But the positive news did not end there. He sees a big opportunity coming for the HVAC industry. That would be retail locations.

It is sad to think about, but many of the brick and mortar businesses that had their business interrupted by COVID will not be able to weather the storm. Think of movie theatres. Because people have become accustomed to watching this entertainment in their homes, will they ever come back in the same numbers? The same can be said for big shopping malls and smaller strip malls.

“We started with 1,700 malls in America. Now we are at 1,000. By the time this is over, it will probably be 500,” O’Leary said.

What will happen with all these locations? O’Leary says three things. They will become cloud kitchens, condominiums, or — most interesting — climate-controlled robotic pick and pack locations.

“People want to order something at 10 a.m. and get it delivered by 2 p.m. The only way to do that is have these pick and pack locations within 30 miles of where the product is being delivered,” O’Leary said.

Every single one of these locations will need the requisite air conditioning and heating solutions on a project.

“It is going to be a massive multibillion dollar spend to repurpose all of this real estate that is coming into this market,” O’Leary said. “I would say your industry is in an incredibly good spot right now.”

So as you look through this issue on the top stories of 2020, make sure you are thinking about how your business will grow and adapt in 2021.