One of the things I like to do when visiting contractor groups is to poll members on what they believe are their biggest business concerns. I usually conduct my poll by handing out a multiple-choice sheet and asking them to rank their top three concerns based on the list. They are also free to include any write-in


Here are the nine concerns on my current list (I leave number 10 open to suggestions):

1. Economy

2. Worker shortage

3. Competition

4. Utilities

5. Price cutting

6. Training

7. Refrigerants

8. Marketing/advertising

9. Government (regulatory)

10. Other

My latest audience was made up of attendees at the seminar I gave at the ISH North America Conference/Expo in Toronto in early November. The title of the seminar was “Finding, Hiring, and Retaining Service Technicians.” That title alone might give you a hint about the contractors’ number one concern.


I wasn’t surprised that 38 out of the 48 respondents listed the worker shortage as one of their top three concerns. But this small sampling also told me another thing — that contractors have been frequently listing other concerns that were not as important to them a few years ago, when I first began my sampling.

For example, the worker shortage used to be far and away the most frequent response to this poll. But a few things have changed recently. Other concerns are getting more votes as contractors are seeing the value of all of the tools that are now available to them. Number two on my informal ISH poll was training, with 31 responses. The next closest tally was competition, with 18 responses.

I have been watching the steady rise of training on my recent polls, and, in some ways, that surprises me. The availability of top-notch training is, in many cases, only a mouse-click away. The surge in Internet training programs and customized modules has increased dramatically. Online hosts like and are broadcasting training sessions for companies like Lennox and Honeywell.

Is everyone taking advantage of Internet training? It doesn’t look that way. I think there are three main reasons:

1. The fear of the unknown (the shadowy Web);

2. Fear of change (the old way is the best way); and

3. No time for sitting in front of a computer screen (that’s why training events are taped and archived).

Maybe there are other reasons. If you are aware of them, please let me know.


One of the hot topics of “yesteryear” was refrigerants, but not a single vote was cast for this category. I’ll probably drop it off my next ballot and replace it with mold/IAQ.

There are the usual concerns about competition (18 responses), economy (15 responses), and price cutting (12 responses). Thirteen respondents listed marketing/advertising among their biggest concerns.

At ISH North America, there were no less than 23 seminars designed to help business owners understand the “business” of HVACR contracting, including marketing and advertising seminars. The information was there for the taking, and many of the seminars were overflowing with attendees.

I believe our trade has turned the corner towards recognizing the importance of good, basic business management skills. The next big step is acting on that recognition. If our trade is failing to keep up with good business practices, it certainly isn’t for lack of available resources.

Now, if only we could get more service technicians. But we’re working on that, too.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 11/11/2002