Sharpen the pencils, change the typewriter ribbon, make sure the liquid paper isn't a solid block of white goo, leaf through your Rolodex file, and check your sticky notes. Time to crank up the P.R. machine and send out some mimeographed flyers.

Wait a minute. This is 2004, and all we really need is a PC and an Internet connection. I guess I get a little too excited when I see some good things written about the HVACR trade.

My mind wanders back to the days of the small mom and pop shops that kept track of employees and customers via pay phones and index cards. Those were the days when much of the general public viewed our trade as a bunch of dirty garage mechanics with a business acumen to match.

No wait, doesn't a big chunk of the population still think of us as a bunch of business Neanderthals, willing to lowball the competition and screw up enough service calls to make the 11 p.m. newscast or NBC's "Dateline"?

Yes, but now we can fight back. Now we can say "I told you so." Now we can slip our thumbs under our suspenders, snap 'em back, and grin with satisfaction, knowing that we really matter.

Now we can justify the cost of our service because it is much more important than having a copy machine that works, even though some customers are more willing to pay $125 an hour to repair a copy machine but aren't willing to pay the same to fix an air conditioner.

Still need proof? Copy machines didn't even make the top 10 list of the most important innovations of the past 75 years. What list? What in the heck am I talking about? Read on.

We've Got The Poll

Now that I've managed to pique your curiosity, I'll give you a good reason to put on your bragging shoes - and to stand up for our industry.

On Oct. 21, 2004, The Henry Ford, an educational institution in Dearborn, Mich., published the results of an online poll it conducted. The poll question, which drew 2.5 million votes, asked respondents which ideas and innovations over the last 75 years have most influenced American life.

The top answer, based on the number of votes, was air conditioning. Yes, air conditioning. Not the typewriter, personal computer, copy machine, fax machine, liquid paper, or penicillin - air conditioning. The two-week poll, also conducted by America Online (AOL), proved a point many of us in our trade have known for a long time.

Air conditioning is important for the quality of life, especially in the warm and hot regions of the United States. Yet sometimes it seems having a copy machine that works or a vending machine stocked with candy is more important than a comfortable indoor environment.

Steve Hamp, president of The Henry Ford, said something that has to be music to the ears of those in the HVACR trade. In a press release he said, "Above all else, we want to be comfortable and healthy."

Thanks, Steve - I hope they run that quote in every newspaper in the country. It sure would go a long way to raising our image in the public's eye.

We in the HVACR trade know the importance of air conditioning, and now the whole country should know it, thanks to this poll.

Show 'Em The Results

Some of my friends in the trade have already expressed their pleasure with the results of this poll. (See the story "Consumers Name Air Conditioning Top Innovation" in this issue.)

Now you can help spread the word about the poll by obtaining a copy of the results (downloadable at and sending it out to every local media outlet. If the link doesn't work, contact me and I'll send you a copy of the press release.

This historic press release has even more meaning - it can serve as a marketing tool for your business. You can cut and paste the press release into a Word document, including some quotes and some information about your business under a different subheading.

I see this as one of the few golden opportunities to show U.S. homeowners and business owners that there is now quantitative proof that Americans put air conditioning on a higher pedestal than other products. This is one more way to use the media to promote your own business. If you don't do it, your competitor might.

Maybe, just maybe, people reading the poll results in the local newspaper will take a moment to realize that the service you perform on their air conditioner is really important to their quality of life.

And next time their A/C goes out in the middle of summer, they'll call you, a quality contractor, instead of some fly-by-night garage mechanic, realizing that a comfortable way of life doesn't necessarily correlate with the lowest price in the phone book.

We may not be able to erase the stereotypes of our trade that have been perpetuated during the last 75 years, but at least we have a new tool to help us fight back and promote a positive image for the industry.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 12/06/2004