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What I Experienced at HARDI's 2008: Annual Fall Conference

I work for ECON Supply — an $18 million HVACR wholesaler with three small branches. I've worked for Sid Luckman for just over five years. Sid's philosophy is to make his company a learning organization. He has in place a structured on-the-job training activity, he offers tuition reimbursement for courses taken at the local college and he sends employees to related public seminars. He also brings up-and-coming employees to industry meetings to expand our “industry education,” as he puts it. Recently, he selected me to attend the 2008 HARDI Fall Conference in Phoenix for a few days to help broaden my horizons. Part of the deal is I have to prepare a report and make a presentation to my ECON co-workers. Here, in part, is what I reported.

I got to the hotel early Saturday morning — in plenty of time for the golf outing at the scenic Palmer Course right there on the property. The expansive fairways allowed me to stay in play even on my errant shots! Our foursome had a great time and gave me some familiar faces to seek out during the next three days.

That night, I met up with a bunch of up-and-comers at the Professional Development and Networking Mixer. Let me tell you, I'm so glad I went to this reception. I met a lot of great people there; some were in a similar position as mine, and the others had more industry experience. Again, it gave me more faces to seek out throughout the conference and contacts to call on later when I need guidance.

I ate in my room that night, since the conference events started bright and early Sunday morning.

My first order of business Sunday was to grab a cup of coffee and head to the conference orientation. The speaker explained that this session was for first-time conference attendees and new members. He described HARDI functions and offered suggestions on how we could get the most value from the conference and the association.

My next task was to choose which committee and council meetings I wanted to attend. HARDI's reputation rests on the strength of its committee and council work and how they advance the industry through this focus. Needless to say, choosing which to participate in was not an easy task.

There really is a committee or council for every aspect of the industry. I got to select from product-related council meetings for Controls Distributors, HVACR Systems & Equipment, Hydronics Heating & Cooling and Refrigeration Systems. There were more than a dozen special-interest-related committee meetings (such as Education, Government & Trade Relations, Management Methods and more) running throughout the day as well.

It was so exciting to sit in the committee meetings elbow-to-elbow with these dynamic executives, the powerhouses of the industry, and be able to contribute to the conversations at hand just like everyone else. Everyone was respectful of my opinion. It made me glad I chose to get involved and excited to do more.

Early that evening, I met up with Sid and we went to the opening reception together. This was really an amazing gathering. You know, I didn't really think this industry was classy until I met all the truly different people in the room. We discussed just about everything — from finding good people to the climate change on this industry to fuel affecting delivery costs and the decline in housing.

After a great breakfast where they recognized some vendors for their contributions, Monday morning kicked off with a very entertaining and motivating speaker, Steve Rizzo. His talk was on attitude — specifically how the power of positive thinking, the power of choice and the power of humor can help us adjust our attitudes so we can overcome the obstacles that keep us from the success and happiness we desire both professionally and personally. He really set the tone for the rest of the conference!

A quick cup of coffee and I was off to a product council program. Since ECON is big in equipment sales, I picked the HVACR Systems Council. A lot is going on, and Chairman Tom Roberts provided a terrific overview of the impact of the 410A transition and possible new energy laws. Then I heard about the new ACCA installation and maintenance standards that may really shake up marginal dealers. I'll have a lot to tell my customers when I get back.

After a delicious sit-down lunch, I had the tough decision of choosing between five educational sessions: Peter Land spoke about Motivation; Joe Ellers spoke on Strategy Planning; Grant Howard discussed Inventory Management; Phil Garrett talked on HVACR Marketing; and Alan Beaulieu spoke about Economic Strategy. Fortunately, all sessions repeated so I could choose two to attend.

First, I went to the session by Peter Land. The people I met at the Saturday night mixer were raving about him. A bunch of them had seen him in Vail during HARDI's Professional Development Retreat. Man, were they right! Land helped me to identify some of the things I'm doing and not doing as the leader of my branch team. He gave me practical concepts of motivation and goal-setting that I know will improve my branch's performance.

The second session I chose was on Inventory with Grant Howard. Howard pointed out ways that distributors need to understand and balance the short-term objectives of profits with the long-term objectives of customer service and the longevity of the company. And how now more than ever we must understand the difference between just buying and selling inventory and managing inventory for profit and service. This session was another priceless workshop with fast actions I can put in place now.

I had some time, so I went to the Solutions Center and browsed around. Prashubh Batham from Computer Pundits Corp. (a HARDITek® technology partner) gave me a brief demo on his really cool Catalog Builder® software. It works for big and small companies because they have the industry's largest centralized database of catalog-ready content. This is just what we've been looking for to bring our catalog design and maintenance in-house.

I was exhausted Monday evening — but not too tired to visit some of the Supplier Member hospitality suites. I wanted to save some energy for the Tuesday Conference Booth program. Sid wanted me to see some of our current manufacturers about a couple of common issues on shipping direct to our branch locations while he talks to a potentially new supplier to add to our instruments and tools offerings.

During the Tuesday Booth program, I got to talk face-to-face with our suppliers, and some were the big guys, not just the regional sales rep we're used to seeing. It took longer than I thought, but it was nice to meet people in a booth atmosphere. I knew some of the manufacturers in the room already, but there were companies that were new to me. I also have a bunch of literature to read over.

My feet were a bit tired from walking the booth floor, which was great because the last formal session was a Roundtable Expertise Exchange among about 300 members. The moderator was Phil Garrett, a former distributor who now has a consulting business. Each table was given a scenario appropriate to their business and shared with the others ideas of how to tackle the issue. This was a great way to learn first-hand from the successes and failures of others.

That night closed the conference with a very impressive banquet. They served filet for dinner and some of the best crème brule I've ever had in my life.

All good things must come to an end, but believe me, I have had my industry horizons greatly expanded by attending the conference.

When I left, my head was swimming with thoughts of what an incredible mix of technology was represented in the Solutions Center and how the councils presented real-life wholesaler discussions around getting products to market — controls, refrigerants, equipment and everything — it was all very useful to me. These guys really speak my language. I think I can improve my branch in a number of ways. I also know a few more useful contacts when I need help.

You know, this conference stuff isn't just golf and being wined and dined. I could probably argue that it's more tiring than a regular day at work, but I'm so glad that Sid invested in taking me. I know that the people that I met and the lessons that I learned will be invaluable to the company and to my success.

*This is a fictitious character and company using real 2008 conference highlights designed to promote and encourage members to consider bringing others in their respective organizations to the annual HARDI conference. The 2008 HARDI Annual Fall Conference will be held Oct. 25-28 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. You can find more details and register at

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