It was a mere two weeks ago that I talked about the biggest concerns of HVACR contractors. I mentioned then, as I have many times in the past, that the No. 1 problem among HVACR contractors is, and has been, finding and retaining service technicians.

While that still may be the No. 1 problem recognized by the majority of our contractors across the U.S., I was presented with a slightly different perspective at a recent meeting of a contractor group.

I met with a few dozen members of The Unified Group, an organization of independent HVACR contractors, this past week in New Orleans, LA. The group was holding its annual member meeting; 40 member companies were represented.


As usual, I asked the attendees if they would take a moment to fill out my informal poll, where I ask which are their three biggest concerns. In my November 11 column, I listed the top nine concerns, which included a change that I had made to the list before the Unified meeting. I replaced “Refrigerants” with “IAQ/mold.”

I got a total of 35 responses (some contractors were represented by more than one person), and when the results of this poll were tabulated, the “worker shortage” concern was not at the top of the list. In fact, it finished third with 16 votes.

The top vote-getter was the economy, with 23 votes, followed by training at 17. Percentage-wise, this means that almost two-thirds of the attendees listed the economy as one of their top three concerns.

Here is the final tally (including three write-in answers):

  • Economy — 23

  • Training — 17

  • Worker shortage — 16

  • Pricing — 15

  • Competition — 10

  • IAQ/mold — 10

  • Marketing/advertising — 5

  • Utilities — 2

  • Big Box/Sears — 2

  • Government/regulatory — 1

  • Insurance (write-in)

  • Customers buying direct (write-in)

  • Management software (write-in)

    To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I have known that training was right near the top of contractor concerns, and it only makes sense that the economy is right at the top. The U.S. economy has been one of the hottest topics since 9/11.

    The results also show that perhaps, just perhaps, some contractors have accepted the fact that a shortage of good, experienced workers will always be a part of their business landscape.

    Frankly, for many contractors, worker shortages are not among their biggest concerns. That is especially true of union contractors, who can often find more experienced journeymen through their local union hall. It is also true in pockets of the country where unemployment rates are stable and there is an adequate amount of votech training.

    If the economy gains strength and begins to show signs of pre-9/11 confidence, I predict training will soon move back into the No. 1 slot.


    It was recently suggested to me that the next time I conduct one of my informal polls, I don’t list any of the concerns — to let the respondents give unbiased, uncoached answers. I like that idea and may run it by a group of contractors at my next stop.

    Giving a choice of answers often steers a person into one direction, but it also provides a framework from which an independent decision can be made.

    In any event, I welcome all suggestions and feedback from you, especially regarding your top business concerns. The next time you have a meeting of your contractor group, do me a favor and ask each member about his or her top concerns. Then total the results up and drop me a line. I’d love to share them with our other readers.

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

    Publication date: 11/25/2002