Another "Oeil Noir" for the HVAC Industry

Pardon my French.

My sources inform me oeil noir is French for "black eye", and, in any language, that's what the HVAC industry has received once again.

The source this time is a French film called Travail D'Arabe, shown under the English title of "The Heat's On." The Contracting Business staff got together to see this film when it came through town as part of the annual Cleveland International Film Festival.

I always enjoy the film festival. It gives movie lovers an opportunity to see films from overseas, or U.S. films that couldn't make it into the multiplexes. The films can be compelling, thought-provoking, funny, sad, good, or bad. But they're rarely as aggravating as this one was.

To give you a brief synopsis of the plot, Momo is released from prison and hooks up with Gutti Brothers, a heating and air conditioning company. Momo doesn't have any real HVAC-related skills (he “knows a little electrical”), but he's a warm body and that's all that matters to the general manager. The GM throws Momo into the field, where he meets his partner — asleep on a job after drinking his lunch.

All the worst clichés of the HVAC industry are here: the unqualified tech; his lazy, alcoholic partner; the fast-talking,-lying GM, whose main job seems to be stalling customers for weeks while they wait for their jobs to be completed; and the unscrupulous company owners, who bribe code officials and intimidate Momo with death threats when he threatens to blow the whistle on their corrupt operation.

In the end (not a happy one here) an elderly customer dies from carbon monoxide poisoning thanks to a shoddy heating installation. The Gutti Brothers are arrested, the GM runs for the hills, and Momo finds himself back on the streets, looking for work.

And U.S. contractors thought the Dateline sting presented a bad image of our industry!

The good news is that not many Americans will ever see Travail D'Arabe. Yet the question begs to be asked: How did our industry get such a bad rap — apparently worldwide?

August 2004 marks my 10th anniversary with Contracting Business. In those 10 years, I've had the good fortune of meeting and working with people at every level of the HVAC industry. From the CEO of the largest manufacturer to the summer apprentice at the smallest rural shop, the people in this industry are among the finest I've ever met. They're smart, they work hard, they're helpful, and they really care about doing the right thing. There hasn't been a Gutti brother in the bunch.

Yet there they are, on the big screen, scoundrels every one.

What can we do? We're not going to change the public's perception overnight. Providing a positive experience to each customer is a start. And while you don't want to brag every time that you don't kill a customer, take a few minutes to let your local newspapers, television, and radio stations know about all the good things that are happening at your company.

Take advantage of programs such as our Quality Home Comfort Awards and Design/Build Awards, which allow you to showcase your company's best work. Let your customers know that you participate in these programs.

Get the word out about your company, its quality people, and its high ethical standards. One community at a time, we can change the public's perception of this great industry, and put the Gutti Brothers away for good.

Thanks for a great 10 years, and vive le HVAC!

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