If you have not read our front-page analysis of the 2000 Inter-national Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerating Expo, stop reading this and immediately turn to Tom Mahoney’s page 1 report regarding the 70th anniversary show.

If you want a quick synopsis, let’s just say contractors did not necessarily swarm into Dallas Feb. 7-9 to walk the 314,932 sq ft of that city’s convention center exhibit space. In a sense, that’s a shame, for the first expo of the new millennium will go down in my eyes as “The Delight in Dallas.”

Yes, the people were delightful — exhibitors, non-exhibitors, and everyone in-between. (I’ll just forgive and forget that Taxi Driver from Hell, who could not find the restaurant I wanted to get to one evening.)

Yes, the city was delightful — weather-wise and in offering places to eat and things to see and do before the show floor opened and after the convention doors closed.

And, yes, as this issue will attest, there were plenty of “delightful” (and quality) products and services offered by the 1,044 exhibitors.

Soooo, where were all of the delightful contractors?

The case of the missing ...

The International Exposition Co., which produces and manages the expo, tells us that an estimated 7,640 hvac contractors of all sizes and shapes cowpoked their way through the spacious aisles. I have to believe show manager Clay Stevens, et al. I also believe him when he says that that number a) represented 30% of the 25,300 attendees and b) is the single largest category.

I am not a Doubting Thomas or Mark. However, it just seemed there were not that many present — unless I was totally blinded by the high number of celebrity look-alikes who were busy trying to lure attendees into their respective booths. (By the way, because she’s dead, I knew that really wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in MovinCool’s space. You too?)

While there may have been that many contractors who registered, did they really come inside and watch the card shark’s sharp tricks at ARI’s booth? Did they really touch the futuristic computer screens to get the sales pitch at Taco’s booth?

Following Mel Gibson’s lead in the movie Conspiracy Theory, my vicious rumor is that many — or, most? — contractors disguised themselves as engineers. And, in truth, I wouldn’t blame one, especially if s/he had any plans of attending an ASHRAE forum while in the vicinity of the expo.

Face it, some ASHRAE forums, sooner or later, turn into contractor-bashing sessions. It’s like coming to a professional hockey game, only to witness a prizefight (or two) instead. As many contractors will tell you, a contractor stepping inside an ASHRAE forum is somewhat of a marked man (or woman). Hence, the engineer disguises.

Seriously, though, where were the contractors?

What's your final answer?

Each year at least one more “big” manufacturer steps out of the IAHR ring. This year, Johnson Controls was among the missing, and Honeywell definitely had a scaled-back presence. No Tranes. No Carriers. Are contractors just following suit? I know the expo folk will be quick to point out that the numbers are translating a different trend in that more contractors are attending the expo each year.

Yes, I totally realize that expense figures into this equation. It’s not necessarily cheap for many — or, most? — contractors to drop what they are doing and take in all that the expo has to offer. And, I still say, the expo does have a lot to offer. As we all know, meeting and talking with someone in person is still the best way to begin a business relationship, get to know that person, and perhaps most importantly, establish trust.

Yet, it appears that the IAHR Expo is not creating the need or the urgency for contractors to follow its yellow brick road. Next year The Big Show is in Atlanta, but if another cold snap invades Ted Turner’s backyard in late January 2001, well, it may not be a pleasant ride. (Exhibit A: The 2000 Super Bowl.)

Therefore, I seek input from you, the contractor. Is the expo OK as is? Or, is it broken and needs to be fixed? What is keeping you, Mr. and Ms. Contractor, away from attending — if anything? Cost? Do you just hate crowds? What?

Does it need “something more” to get you there, or am I just crazy? Would some “important” contractor-only seminars or training sessions, held in conjunction with the expo, make it more-for-the-buck for you to attend? Simply, what are you thinking?

Call this a mini-survey. The opinions you send me will certainly be passed on to ASHRAE, ARI, and the International Exposition Co. Reach me by mail (Mark Skaer, The News, 755 West Big Beaver Road, Suite 1000, Troy, MI 48084), by fax (248-362-0317), or by e-mail (skaerm@bnp.com).

I believe all of the above parties are concerned with the contractor numbers. They want to know how to get more contractors aboard and how to keep them coming back, year after year.

I’m curious, too. If you talk, the above parties should listen. After all, these are good business people. And, good business people listen to their customers and prospective customers — especially if they want to stay in business, right?