I'm willing to bet that a lot of people are like me - statistics freaks. I like to make comparisons and judgments based on good, accurate statistics, but, at times, statistics can be misleading.

Take a look at the following statistics, which have been culled from the U.S. Census Bureau and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) business codes.

  • Columbus, Ohio (population 711,470) is serviced by 311 HVAC firms. That's one contractor for every 2,288 residents.

  • San Antonio, Texas (population 1,144,646) is serviced by 323 HVAC firms. That's one contractor for every 3,544 residents.

    Based on these statistics, there seems to be better opportunities for opening up a residential HVAC business in San Antonio, correct?

    Not so fast.

  • Columbus has 433,122 housing units. That's one contractor for every 1,393 units.

  • San Antonio has 327,175 housing units. That's one contractor for every 1,013 units.

    Oops, now it looks like there are better opportunities for opening up a residential HVAC business in Columbus, correct?

    Well, maybe, if you like crowds.

  • Columbus covers a physical area of 191 square miles. That equals 0.6 contractors per square mile.

  • San Antonio covers a physical area of 333 square miles. That equals 1 contractor per square mile.

    OK, how long is this ping-pong match going to go on? I think you get the point. Unless you are presented with all of the facts, you cannot get a clear picture.

    Facts And Opinions

    I presented these facts to a couple of HVACR pros who understand the business in their respective communities. I asked for and received some opinions from Frank Alexander, president of Aire-Flo Heating & Cooling in Columbus, and Lee Rosenberg of the Lee Rosenberg HVAC Consulting Group, Inc., San Antonio.

    "I don't know much about San Antonio," said Alexander. "Columbus is a known quantity to me. The strength of the market is in the eye of the beholder.

    "I believe that Columbus is surrounded by more suburbs than San Antonio [making the ratio of contractor to resident more equal to San Antonio's] and there are more people to service in the metropolitan area as a whole. Columbus is on the move and has a very bright future."

    Rosenberg had a problem with the reported number of HVAC companies in San Antonio. "I believe the number is closer to 600," he said.

    "A lot of factors go into determining the best business climate, i.e., the economy, the number of quality contractors in the area, and the mentality of the consumers - if there is a strong service agreement culture, etc. When you consider all of the factors, I don't think population size really makes a difference."

    Oh, and one more thing. Speaking of facts, did you know that Columbus and San Antonio share one thing in common? They are both saddled with very strange laws. Here's what I found out at www.dumblaws.com:

  • In Columbus it is illegal for stores to sell corn flakes on Sunday.

  • In San Antonio it is illegal for both sexes to flirt or respond to flirtation using the eyes and/or hands.

    Who said fact gathering had to be dull?

    John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

    Publication date: 03/01/2004