As 2005 comes to an end, I believe it's appropriate to look back and see how we as contractors have progressed during this year and even the last few years. I may seem paranoid about this, but I am extremely determined to see the image of our industry continue to improve.

Many years ago we were looked down upon as just "furnace men." Now there is a tremendous amount of technical knowledge and business expertise required to run a heating and air conditioning company. And, in turn, the image of our industry has improved immensely. A lot of hard work has been required to make this transition.

Help From Within

Industry associations made up of contractors, like the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) and Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), have done an excellent job of promoting the quality of their contractors and the work they do. Both associations are responsible for developing standards which are required by most codes and are universally used by design professionals.

In addition, the associations provide regular educational programs to assist their contractors in improving themselves in all facets of the industry. They also represent their contractors in Washington, D.C., leaving an impression with our elected officials that we are in fact a group of professionals.

This newsmagazine (and other industry publications) have done a great deal to bring positive publicity to our industry by regularly honoring "The Best Contractor to Work For," "HVACR Instructor of the Year," and the recently introduced new feature "Dealer Design Awards."

The equipment manufacturers also provide educational sessions to upgrade the quality and image of their contractor base. There has been significant improvement in the professionalism exhibited in the dealer advertising programs provided by manufacturers through the years. However, this is one area where more improvement could be made.

But There Is Still A Ways To Go

As I was putting this piece together, to mostly praise the industry for the improvements made, I coincidentally received at my home one of those envelope packets of coupons. I make it a habit to go through the coupons to not only see what my competitors are doing, but to see if I can learn any new ideas from the other industry's advertising. In the packet, there was a coupon for a heating and air conditioning contractor. I'm embarrassed to tell you about the impression the coupon made. There was a picture of the contractor in an old T-shirt (dirty), and dirty jeans. He was next to his wife who also had on an old T-shirt, although a different color than her husband's, and equally dirty jeans. To make the picture even worse, they had taken it in what I hope was the dirtiest corner of their shop.

I looked at it in disbelief. Here I was writing an article to praise the industry on how far we have come in improving our industry image, and I receive this photo/coupon which reminded me of exactly the image that we have all worked so hard to overcome.

Unfortunately, the message that came to me as I thought about the photo was that we obviously still have a way to go regarding our industry image. I can assure you the coupon pictures of doctors and lawyers did not show them in jeans and T-shirts.

As another year comes to a close, we can be proud of what we have done to improve the industry image. However, we need to set a goal to improve it even more in the year and years ahead. Remember that everything you do impacts your image.

Contractor associations and equipment manufacturers need to continue to help their contractors improve. I'm sure The NEWS will continue to do its part to not only honor worthy participants in our industry, but to regularly feature articles on the positive accomplishments of the industry. Working together our industry will look even better in the future.

My best wishes for a successful and prosperous 2006.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 12/26/2005