Sometimes people don't like the word "small." It often conjures up something short in stature or less significant. But small can also mean smaller sales volume, smaller staff, or smaller market served. I prefer to use these definitions when describing the upcoming survey thatThe Newswill be conducting.

Beginning in a couple of weeks, some News readers will see a survey in the mail. "Some" is the operative word, since we are targeting companies with sales volumes of $750,000 or less. The purpose of the survey is to find out what the smaller HVAC contractors view as their biggest business challenges, based on a series of suggested topics, i.e., worker shortage, insurance, training, etc.

While The News is constantly striving for feedback from all segments of our trade - from the smallest "mom and pop" residential contractor to the multimillion dollar commercial/industrial mechanical contractor - we feel it is important to identify one market at a time and focus on the needs of businesses within that market. As we move forward, we plan to involve every segment in our feedback process.

Town Hall Meetings

The information that we gather from this survey will be broken down into several different topics. Once this information is tabulated, Newseditors will contact the contractors who have responded - the ones who have given us their names and contact information - and set up a series of town hall-type meetings to discuss one specific topic at a time.

The beauty of these meetings is that contractors can participate in something that will be vitally important to their business without flying across the country. Each business owner will be asked to choose a convenient time to sit in on a group conference call during which he or she can openly discuss the topic - including problems and solutions - with other contractors and with a representative from another member of the HVAC industry, be it a manufacturer, distributor, educator, or business consultant.

The News will report on the outcome of the discussions, giving our readers key insights into the business needs of the smaller contractors - and the possible solutions to these needs.

Many times a face-to-face discussion at a regional or national meeting is a daunting task for some business owners. Either they don't want to openly discuss problems or they can't take the time or spare the expense to be away from their business. But sitting in their office or home, with a cup of coffee on one side and a pad of paper on the other discussing business topics with their peers - this is an opportunity that rarely presents itself to busy HVAC contractors.

Put On Your Thinking Caps

Starting March 15 and ending on April 19, many of you will have the opportunity to take part in this unique process. You will be able to lend a hand to otherNewsreaders (and maybe a few doubting Thomases), proving that idea sharing is a valuable business tool.

Here are the topics that will be suggested in the survey. There will also be room for write-in suggestions if you feel we have missed the mark. In any case, these topics will help you prioritize the challenges that are the most important to you.

  • Competition

  • Economy

  • Government (regulatory)

  • Insurance

  • Marketing

  • New efficiency requirement

  • Price cutting

  • Profitability

  • Refrigerant changeover

  • Training

  • Utilities

  • Worker shortage

    As always, readers can contact me with other suggested topics and their thoughts. My door is always open. I hope your mind will be open when the survey arrives in the mailbox.

    John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

    Publication date: 03/14/2005