It never fails. Here I am, at a recent ACCA-St. Louis Chapter meeting, hosting a panel discussion regarding the impact of 13 SEER. Some local distributors and manufacturer branch managers - including Dan Haire, director of sales, Koch Air, St. Louis, and Dave Niedzwiecki, sales manager, Johnston Supply, Bridgeton, Mo. - are seated up front at a long table, answering probing questions raised by yours truly at the podium.

The truth be told, they are actually concerns collected from chapter members from the Show Me State prior to the meeting. The questions include:

  • What will you be doing about mismatched systems?

  • What are your 10 SEER stocking plans?

  • Is anyone considering CO2 refrigerant?

  • When will R-410A rooftop units be available?

  • What will happen to 12 SEER inventory?

  • When do you see the overall shift to 13 SEER? October? January 2006? March?

    Panel members - including Phil Templeton, branch manager, York Unitary Products Group, St. Louis, and Mark Adams, branch manager, Trane DSO, St. Louis - graciously answer the issues raised by the inquisitive emcee.

    But then, as usual, it happens. The subject of industry image crops up.

    Opening The Floor

    Maybe it was my fault. I opened the floor for questions from those in attendance, which could be seen as risky. After all, you just never know what may crop up when you prod contractors. Generally speaking, these businessmen and businesswomen do not mince words.

    The topic began to shift after Haire informed the crowd that they had to get away from selling energy efficiency, due, in part, to 13 SEER being on the horizon.

    "You have to start selling comfort, indoor air quality, value-added accessories ... The unit is only one component of the installation," he said. "You have to start selling your company on the quality of your installations and the service and satisfaction you provide. This should elevate the people in this room."

    Problem was, the entire contractor world was not packed inside Spazio's Restaurant, where this panel discussion took place. As one astute person pointed out, the ones who needed to hear these words of wisdom were not present.

    And Haire was not finished, either.

    "As an industry, we make too little money," he said. "It's deplorable what we are getting from our business, plus have the ability to grow and do the investments, and give our employees the lifestyle that they should have. We, as an industry, have to learn to get more for our jobs. Part of that is selling our companies on quality."

    Before you could say "industry image," the discussion turned to that ever-present topic.

    One by one the contractors present chimed in with their thoughts about this industry's image. It was not a pretty picture. One contractor said the industry needed a strong national marketing campaign, to let consumers know the importance of cooling and heating. He even recommended having "Today" co-hosts Matt Lauer and/or Katie Couric supply the necessary celebrity touch.

    Another contractor said it wasn't consumers who needed more education - it was contractors.

    "New construction around here puts a black eye on our industry, but it is going to put our kids through college," said another contractor sitting up front. "A lot are going to retire wealthy, thanks to the new construction being put in."

    At a recent home builders' meeting, this same contractor said he was confronted by a home construction general manager, who told him, "You can't see your air conditioner. You can't see your furnace. We don't care about you."

    "They'd rather sell the brass bathroom fixture," the contractor said. "They do not care about the comfort level. We have to educate the contractors."

    Haire, for one, was in total agreement. "We have not educated the consumer from the point of sale," he said. "We have not done a good job of marketing. We have to change the way we market to the consumer. The way we do business has to change."

    Mark Skaer is senior editor. He can be reached at 618-239-0288 or

    Publication date: 06/27/2005