PHOTOS BY JAESON LOKATYS
The spirit of St. Louis: is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, this time, it’s Comfortech. For three grand days, the show where the HVACR industry most loves to meet took some of the attention away from Mr. Lindbergh’s famous plane. This time, the “spirit” at work at the St. Louis, Mo. America’s Center, was the spirit of educational excellence that’s at the center of Comfortech’s legendary reputation.
Once again, the show did not disappoint. From the educational seminars, to the trade show floor — with the most innovative products, services and technology in the industry — to the Emerson after party and the annual Comfortech "Extravaganza."
The premier contractor-focused conference and exposition, powered by Contracting Business.com and CONTRACTOR magazines, brought together 1,700 mechanical and electrical contracting professionals and nearly 150 exhibiting companies, growing event attendance 21% September 15-17, 2015 in St. Louis, MO. Comfortech was co-located with association events, including Service Roundtable/Service Nation Alliance, Quality Service Contractors, National Comfort Institute, and Women in HVACR.
This year, the show added a new wrinkle: the C3 Comfortech Contractor Competition — co-sponsored by National Comfort Institute and Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors association.
During this contest, contractors competed in skill tests related to Plumbing — Branch Manifold Connection; HVAC — Airside Skills Contest; and Hydronics —The Hydronics Challenge Contest.
For the Airside Skills contest, entrants had to measure system total external static pressure, as well as a return duct airflow traverse, supply duct BTU gain, and supply register airflow delivery.
The Airside Skills Contest Winners:
- Ron McQerry, owner, 24-Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, Glencoe, MO
- Jeff Marquess, training analyst, Alabama Power Co. HVAC Training Center, Verbena, AL
Hydronic challenge contestants had to plot a pump curve, based on pump speed and operating pressures, then record flow through a flow station using a hydro-manometer. They also had to calculate the BTU delivery of a heating coil.
The Hydronic Challenge Winners:
- Kirk Freeman, Sales and Service , G.R. Freeman Co., Evansville, IN
- Joseph Hopbson, Comfort Specialist, Hunter Heat and Air, Ardmore, OK
Bob Mader, Content Director, Comfortech said, “The event covered recruiting and customer acquisition, and also showcased new industry trends such as variable refrigerant flow equipment, mergers and acquisition and landmines being laid by the Department of Labor and OSHA. We look forward to examine these topics as well as many others at next year’s conference,” Mader said. In 2016, Comfortech returns to Philadelphia.
The show kicked off with the opening keynote, “Who Do You Think You Are? Live Right, Do Right, Lead Right” presented by Jim “The Rookie” Morris. A Disney movie classic, Morris’s story was highlighted as a 35-year-old high school teacher turned Major League pitcher. Morris emphasized how to become better leaders while chasing our dreams and keeping our promises.
“Dreams come in different shapes and sizes. Surround yourself with dream makers,” he said. Another special keynote event, “Crafting the Customer Experience for People Not Like You,” was presented by Kelly McDonald, marketing and consumer trends expert and president of McDonald Marketing, showed contractors, manufacturers, brands and products struggling to differentiate themselves in a “sea of sameness” can grow sales, and foster long-term loyalty and brand preference with exceptional and customized customer experiences.
Attendees and exhibitors alike were pleased with the Comfortech turnout, as ideas were exchanged, new products and technology were on display, and feedback was shared.
“Comfortech offers the opportunity for us to meet and speak with HVAC contractors of all sizes,” said Brian Fenske, specialty channel sales manager at Navien Inc. “With varied locations each year we get to meet new contractors both young and old, along with veterans and new technicians to the industry from throughout North America.”
“While on the show floor, I get to meet with vendors I already use to find out about how to get the most out of their products or services, learn more about what is on the horizon, and provide feedback to help them make my investment in their products more valuable to me,” said Tim Bruce, president, General Air Conditioning, San Antonio, Texas.
“I am a hands-on person; I learn quicker when there is some sort of personal interaction, so I can say, ‘When you go, you learn more,’” Bruce said.
In his presentation, “How to Make a Fortune by Recruiting and Training New Techs” by Dr. Kerry Webb, Business Coach, Service Roundtable, who emphasized hiring based on a candidate’s attitude. “Hire for attitude and train for skill,” said Webb. A candidates beliefs, values and skills are also important in the hiring process is.
The Mechanical Town Hall featured three esteemed panelists: Steve Miles, general manager, Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning Co., St. Louis; Dave Yates, owner, F.W. Behler, York, Pa.; and Mark Eatherton, executive director for the Radiant Professionals Alliance (RPA). Topics discussed included upselling energy efficiency, running a better business by believing in your inner salesman, government policy and initiatives, and more.
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The Importance of Selling
All the panelists agreed that selling is the key to contracting businesses. Yates invests in ad dollars, where the money stays local. “We do volunteer work and charitable work,” said Yates. “This comes back tenfold.”
Miles’ philosophy is that everyone is in sales no matter what. “Installers need to sell themselves to homeowners,” explained Miles. “I consider myself a retailer. Marketing is everything and everything is marketing. We kick butt at customer service and that is what and who we are.”
The annual Comfortech Extravaganza was held at the Morgan Street Brewery, a popular nightspot in the famous "LaClede's Landing" section of town. Brews were aplenty, as were cigars, billiards, music, and good fun with friends. The Extravaganza was sponsored by Danfoss, Nortek Global HVAC, Rheem and Ruud.
Women in HVACR
The Women in HVACR professional organization held their annual meeting at Comfortech. This year is the international organization’s 12-year anniversary, and the theme of the meeting was efficiency. The three pillars of the organization are networking, education and mentoring, which were prevalent at the meeting. Besides networking and ice-breaker exercises, the women attending the event shared stories of how they have grown in their industry careers.
Attendees also heard some thoughts about efficiency and effectiveness from Mark Matteson, owner, speaker, and best-selling author of “Sparking Success.” Nancye Combs, president and CEO of HR Enterprise, Inc. was the keynote speaker and discussed the essential skills for the effective professional.
Senior director of content, Bob Mader, and ContractingBusiness.com’s executive editor/content director, Terry McIver, moderated this year’s Executive Leadership Forum, which featured panelists representing four industry sectors. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.
On Compliance with New Efficiency Standards
Randy Roberts, vp sales, Rheem: “We’ve been very pleased with the reception from our customer base. We went through the regional standard requirements, held contractor meetings, have put labeling in place. It’s been a clear dialogue between manufacturers, distributors and contractors.
Gary Michel, president, Ingersoll Rand Residential Solutions (Trane/American Standard): “It’s been probably the most orderly transition I’ve seen. We did a great job of education and communication, and the market has reacted well. Distributors also — whether company-owned or independents — have been very involved. Part of it was due to our education and training of our distributor network, and distributors taking that information into dealer meetings.”
On Greater Attention by Contractors to the ‘systems approach’ to Comfort
Gary Michel: The “system” approach is the way to look at it. There are some great opportunities. Obviously education and training of contractors is where the decision gets made. One of the things we’ve talked about in the past is using the technology, ensuring the installation is correct and operating properly, to achieve the intended comfort and efficiencies the system is designed for.”
Dick Foster, president, Zone First: “One of the bigger issues is getting homes verified by a third party. It continues to be a big issue. You can put in the most efficient system, but if the ducts leak, who is out there to verify the energy savings? Even Energy Star has had huge issues with their own resources, to try to move that along, to get quality installation manuals circulated, such as those offered by NCI and ACCA. So while it’s the right thing to do, I think the bulk of our industry has “emergency sales,” when the heat or ac are out, and not everybody is looking at going back to fix the duct system after it’s installed. So I think that continues to be a big issue. Educating code inspectors is also part of that. Very few of the inspectors understand what they should be looking for.”
On how the ‘Internet of Things’ will affect equipment design, and HVACR contractors
John Galyen, president Danfoss North America: “Many supermarkets are well-equipped with sensors and electronic controllers that monitor systems. We’re making ‘smarter’ components for a smarter grid and smarter home. IOT will bring much change.”
John Galyen On Protocols: “In the next five years, the way utilities conduct business will change significantly. They’re faced with trying to reduce their CO2 footprints, whether state- or federally-driven, the move away from coal, and they’re very concerned with how to manage peak load. You’re going to see a lot of incentives, and homeowners will have to make choices on where and when they use power.”