It probably started with a one-person booth or even as a product “hawked” on the show floor. You know what I’m talking about — a company that can’t afford a booth but is ambitious enough to promote a product, so the “hawkers” stand on their feet for 8 hours a day on a crowded show floor.

There were a few hawkers at this year’s IAHR Expo in Dallas, TX. Harmless, usually unobtrusive, and with a few new products to promote, they tirelessly walked the floor, lugging samples and literature in hopes that enough people would share their enthusiasm for their products.

This enthusiasm might eventually lead to a permanent booth between the likes of duct-cleaning equipment suppliers and air filter manufacturers.

It’s unlikely that this scenario was played out by the newest members to the show floor — they had success written all over them before they even hit the ground running. This group of merchants came from relative obscurity to a position of prominence at the expo.

I’m talking about the software companies and the “dot commers.” What was once a virtual unknown in the hvac market has become a necessity for contractors who want to take their business to the next level: communications on the fly via cyberspace.

The “Aisle 200” gang, as I call them, were out in full force in Dallas. It was impossible to walk down the middle of Aisle 200 and take in the attractions on the left and right in a single pass. It took me several.

On the one side, companies were marketing their wireless communication devices and field service software. On the other side, companies promoted their websites and all of the related services that contractors could access via a simple click of the mouse.

Combine both sides and one sees cyberspace business as the only reasonable way to compete in the future.

I happen to like these burgeoning industries that will take hvac contractors into every customer’s home in the blink of an eye. I’m impressed by the companies that are making it easier for contractors to manage customer accounts and track field service calls.

I enjoyed talking to “regulars” like Judy Johnson of Field Centrix, who demonstrated how service techs can add hundreds of dollars in add-on repairs with little or no extra selling.

Field service software is accurate and comprehensive, identifying all types of equipment and tracking necessary service calls and parts needed to maintain proper operating levels. Customers can be shown exactly what has been done and what needs to be done.

Add this to the simplicity of scheduling service or repair visits via a contractor’s Web site and voila — we have a world where service via the Internet and add-ons via a hand-held computer notebook are the norm.

Can it get any better? Sure.

Thanks to Aisle 200, we are experiencing the beginning of an exciting new age of communication, leading to higher productivity and the one phrase we all enjoy hearing over and over again: higher profits.

Next year when the IAHR Expo shifts to Atlanta, we may see a further expansion of Aisle 200. I’m already looking forward to it.