John Saucier is absolutely correct. It is about time relationships between manufacturers and contractors improve.

“Manufacturers and contractors need each other,” he said. “But we also need to recognize that it’s time to stop talking about issues and start solving them.”

Since taking over as chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Saucier has taken the bull by the horns. The first-ever Committee on Special Talks to Advance Relations and Strategies (CO-STARS) forum will be held this week (October 3) at the Hilton Old Town in Alexandria, Va. The forum is designed to provide a neutral ground to address areas of mutual interests and concerns — and, hopefully, to reach agreements — to advance both parties’ interests.

The inaugural CO-STARS forum will feature two separate, simultaneous meetings, one for residential operations and the other for commercial. Halsey Cook, president of North American residential, Carrier Corporation, and John Conover, vice president of sales Americas, Trane Commercial Systems, are scheduled to sit down and hash things out with the contractor audience.

A total of approximately 40 contractors are scheduled to participate in the two meetings. These are contractors invited from ACCA’s Industry Relations Policy Committee, as well as some ACCA Board members, each with an existing business relationship with the specific manufacturer in question. In the end, open dialogue never hurts, does it?

This is a “closed-door” affair, meaning the trade press is not allowed. And, in truth, I am OK with that, as long as sensitive issues are really addressed and handled. I suspect the fear is that discussions could get a little heated, and that, in part, is why the trade press is not invited.

ACCA said it has been surveying contractors on a number of issues and survey responses will guide the discussions at the CO-STARS meeting. Other CO-STARS meetings will be held, said ACCA, with invitations rotating to different manufacturers.

Change Is Hard

In truth, I am tired of all the backstabbing that seems to go on in this industry. Every time I attend a contractor group meeting or an industry association convention, there is at least one contractor complaining about a manufacturer. Or, there is a manufacturing “bigwig” disgusted with a contractor or the ways and attitudes of contractors in general. For that matter, there is usually a tech moaning and groaning about a boss.

Admittedly, these are “interesting times” in this industry. Everyone is fighting for that sale. Some manufacturers are pairing up with “big box” retailers, much to the chagrin of some contractors. Utility companies and home warranty companies are coming (and have been coming) into the HVACR picture — again, much to the dismay of many contractors. No matter where a contractor turns, it seems someone is there challenging his (or her) business.

This explains, in part, much of this inner grumbling. However, I turn to Terry Nicholson, president of Contractor Services. At AirTime 500’s most recent expo in St. Louis, Nicholson had some words of wisdom for contractor members.

“The only constant in this world is change,” he said. “That is the only fact we know that will happen. We do know the HVAC side has changed over the years and it will continue to change. We have to be ready for these changes.”

If this means contractors and manufacturers should have more open dialogues, so be it. It appears contractors and their employees should have more open dialogues, too. Job Rated Almanac recently rated a construction career as No. 248 out of 250 possible careers. That statistic provides 247 reasons why contractors must change the way they deal with employees if they want to attract the best talent.

For the record, exotic dancer is rated 249 and lumberjack is rated 250. Garbage collecting, however, is rated 243. Clearly, contractors have a problem. In other words, they must change their image. And, it starts by eliminating the condemnation of today’s worker, because, in truth, management can (and does) contribute more than its fair share to the problem.

The day this industry advances, in my opinion, is the day it becomes less fragmented.

Let the dialogue(s) begin.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/29/2003