Shhhh…HARDI members know a secret. Actually, the nearly 1,300 attendees at HARDI's recent 2008 Annual Fall Conference Oct. 25-28 learned a lot of secrets to HVACR distribution industry success.
With the Sonoran desert backdrop, daytime temperatures in the sunny 90s to evenings in the comfortably cool 50s, top industry executives gathered at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge, Phoenix, AZ. This conference is the HVACR distribution industry's biggest annual gathering — the only one of its kind.
Setting off the theme for the conference, “Economic Climate Control,” keynoter Steve Rizzo established the tone with his session titled “Rizzo's Secrets — Inspirational Keys to Achieving Success with an Unstoppable Attitude for Life.” Rizzo spilled his secrets on new ways of thinking that transform obstacles into opportunities; laughing off your fears and taking control of your emotions are the are the best ways to find success and happiness. All are secrets to the power of permanent change and a lasting positive attitude.
Council & Committee Recap
Economic Forecasts, Profitability, Regulation and “Green” Anchor Meetings
Perhaps symbolic of the recent HARDI 2008 Fall Conference, the first two committee meetings framed the heart of the association's key product council and committee meetings. The Future Studies Committee featured economic and credit market outlooks by Steve Ramel of GE Capital Solutions and Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trends Research, HARDI's retained economic forecasting partner. Overall, the expectations of continued tightening credit markets indicate that distributors will need to focus more than ever on accounts receivable and disciplined credit management. Banking relationships will also be at a premium in 2009 for HARDI distributors.
The Government Relations Committee touched on issues that provided the focus for several of the product councils. Ongoing EPA and DOE rulemakings figure to significantly affect HVACR equipment and refrigerants. Opportunities exist, as do many trapdoors, for HARDI distributors (and their customers). The overriding theme, however, was uncertainty. The HVAC Systems & Equipment Council wrestled with continued ambiguity regarding how unitary equipment manufacturers were approaching the pending refrigerant transition, all while unitary sales and commodity prices are falling. The Refrigeration Council continues to wait for EPA's opinion of the use of R-22 beyond 2009, and what kind of equipment and components are acceptable for installation regarding California's proposed regulations on refrigerant management dominated the rest of the Council's discussions. All agreed that California's proposal to mandate tighter management of refrigerant systems and leaks, as well as encourage the use of refillable cylinders, figured to have major national implications if enacted.
The Controls Council's continued evolution of its Vendor Review Tool could be the most significant outcome of this conference for HARDI distributors. Controls distributors are growing the tool into a true supplier relationship benchmarking methodology that will hopefully soon be available to members of all HARDI product councils. Setting the stage for much of the “green” discussions, the Hydronic Heating & Cooling Council intends to expand on the explosion of geothermal and solar hydronic systems as well as indications that support is growing for radiant cooling systems, especially in large commercial applications.
The Distribution Logistics and Management Methods committees shared an intense focus on bolstering distributor profitability in their separate meetings. Improving distributor shipping and logistics terms is Distribution Logistic's highest priority, but they will use time at next year's conference to address importation problems and solutions. Management Methods delved deeper into bank relationships and the immediate value in the uncertain economic times of HARDI's new T.R.E.N.D.S. program. Combined with profitability benchmarking, the Committee stressed the need for HARDI distributors to maximize every dollar by fully utilizing these tools.
Also, in what could be the single greatest cost-saver for HARDI distributors from this conference, the Insurance & Risk Management Committee agreed to endorse NAW's innovative new Health Insurance Trust program. The Committee believes this could be the most significant cost-saving solution to skyrocketing health insurance costs ever available to HARDI distributors.
The Education Committee's directive was clear: Get the new HARDI learning network online yesterday! The value is obvious, and its potential is limitless, asserted the Committee, so its availability should proceed immediately.
Finally, HARDI welcomed the formation of two new committees and the potential for a third. The Sheet Metal/Air Handling Products Committee was developed and expanded from the former Steel Interest Group. This Committee will focus on the latest trends in the steel markets and supplies business as well as best practices and quality control processes. There was unanimous consensus to form a tentatively named Sustainable Buildings Committee that will focus on two major avenues: increasing the sustainability of existing and new distributor operations/facilities and helping HARDI distributors be more effective marketers of green building products and systems. HARDI's reclaimer members unanimously agreed to pursue the potential formation of a reclaim committee.
Educational sessions were among the best the association has ever offered, both in topic and content. On Monday afternoon, meeting attendees chose from five commanding educational topics dealing with subjects timely to all HARDI members. Authoritative speakers presented sessions on HVACR Marketing; Motivating Yourself and Others; Strategically Planning Your Business; Economic Strategy and Improving Profits; and Offering Stellar Customer Service by Best Practice in Inventory Management. Sessions were repeated to reach a greater audience, but even so, they experienced full participation.
Randy Boyd, HARDI's 2008 president, addressed the assembly with his annual President Plenary Report. In his address, Boyd said that as president, “the job of promoting HARDI has become very easy. A lot of it has developed from our elevated exposure within the industry that has been growing over the past five years. I am proud to say HARDI is a part of an industry alliance that is represented by 17 other HVACR industry associations representing such groups as equipment manufacturers, duct cleaning, air filtration, contracting, technician certification, radiant heat and indoor air quality, many of which are represented at this conference.”
He went on to promote the importance of membership involvement in government relations. “I know I am a recent convert to being involved in the legislative process, but I am also a believer. Here's a smattering of a few of the pending legislative issues that lie ahead. Our representatives need to know we have strong positions and opinions as we face:
A federal greenhouse gas reduction bill, which will probably raise all utility costs and impose a cap and trade program that will seriously affect our future supplies and cost of refrigerants.
The Employee Free Choice Act, which will allow the unions to organize our warehouse operation without a secret ballot by our employees.
Dramatic changes to the estate tax, which will affect all independent business owners for many years to come.
Repeal of the LIFO tax, which will financially burden many of our members.
Refrigerant management with accelerated HCFC phaseout.”
He concluded by thanking his wife, Kitty, and his family for their support, the AC Supply family for all their hard work while he was absent from the business, and all of the HARDI membership for making his presidency a memorable and rewarding year.
Taking the gavel during the Tuesday closing banquet, 2009 President David McIlwaine expressed his desire to focus his presidency on attracting talent to our industry and cultivating the promising employees we have now. To do this, we need to insist on supporting them through continuing education and training. He encouraged members to get involved with the association, to become active with the committees and councils, and to reach out to the great resources offered by involvement with regional meetings, peer networking and utilizing the expertise of the HARDI staff in Columbus.
McIlwaine, who has been very active in HARDI, expects his presidency to also be dynamic. Here are just a few of the many HARDI events at which you will probably see him: Professional Development Retreat (Vail, CO, Jan. 11-13, 2009), regional meetings (beginning with the Southeastern Region, Greensboro, NC, April 19-21), the Congressional Fly-In (Washington, DC, April 29-30) and many other national and international industry events throughout the year. His term will culminate with the 2009 HARDI Annual Fall Conference, Oct. 31-Nov. 4, at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grand Lakes, Orlando, FL. Mark your calendar now and plan to join your fellow HARDI members in Orlando next fall. Watch for details on HARDI's website at www.hardinet.org. Only by becoming actively involved will you fully understand the secrets that successful conference-attending members hold.
Kimberly G. O'Neal is communications and projects director for HARDI. Contact her at 614/345-4328 or [email protected].
Editor's note: You can view a slideshow of attendees at HARDI's annual conference by visiting www.hardinet.org.