Due to deadlines associated with publishing this fine periodical, I am writing this column before we know the results of the November elections. This allows me to forego taking up crucial space with a deep and engaging analysis of what happened. Don't worry, that piece will come sooner rather than later and will clearly make its way to political science departments at major universities across the nation. So instead of telling you what may or may not happen in Washington, D.C., this month, I would like to take a different path and make a suggestion that I think will benefit your business and our industry. We, as an industry, need to double down on educating our customer base.
I have had the privilege of speaking at various distributor dealer meetings and ACCA chapters across the country. I am always thrilled to attend these types of events and am generally impressed with questions and interactions I get from attendees. What does concern me is that my presentation is often the first time these attendees are hearing this type of information. Now, that is not necessarily the fault of the contractor or dealer, who is often too busy running their day-to-day business to keep track of the latest potholes laid out by the government, nor is it the fault of the distributor, who is already trying to engage their customers in various product and technical training. Rather, it is an indictment of the increasing role the government is playing in the HVACR industry - to its detriment, I would add.
Let's look at the R-22 flare-up that occurred this year. I am sure that there were some interesting, and colorful, conversations across distributor branches in this country when contractors came in one day to purchase refrigerant and then returned a week later to find the price had spiked. This of course was not something that each distributor elected to do; instead it was market reaction to government action (or inaction). It is likely that there will be another significant reduction in the amount of R-22 in 2013 and I believe we would be wise to prepare our customers in advance of this reduction.
Additionally, distributors should be active in two other areas associated with refrigeration. The first is to ensure that customers are aware if you are actively promoting refrigerant reclaim and recovery. By doing so, you will give your customer an additional reason to stop by your store, help prevent illegal reuse and help ensure that there will be a robust reclamation inventory as we move forward as the amount of virgin R-22 continues to be phased out. The second point of education should be on illegally imported inventory. The federal government has increased crackdowns on illegally imported refrigerant and if a distributor knowingly purchases them, they are breaking the law. Contractors who suspect this is occurring could be guilty as well. Plain and simple, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
Another question that I often ask at speaking engagements, especially in the soon-to-be northern region, is how many folks in the room are aware of the forthcoming regional efficiency standards. Typically, only 30 percent of the people in the room raise their hand in the affirmative. This scares me. On May 1, 2013, it will be illegal to install a nonqualified residential gas furnace in the northern region (as defined by the government); by my rough estimate, more than 60 percent of contractors are unaware that the regulation even exists. I believe that because of the unprecedented nature of this regulation, the government does have some responsibility in educating the supply chain, but I also know enough to understand you can't count on Uncle Sam to effectively disseminate this information.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon manufacturers, distributors and contractors to take the lead and inform customers, colleagues and competitors alike about what may happen. By having a supply chain that is educated about these regulations, we will hopefully avoid market confusion and level the playing field for fair commerce.
I urge distributors to continue to monitor publications such as this one for the latest information and to proactively share what you know with your customers (and your employees who interact with them on a regular basis). I do my best on a daily basis to limit the impact of government upon your business, but when it rears its head in a negative way, we are best served as an industry by staying informed and spreading the word.
Jon Melchi is HARDI's director of government affairs. Contact him at 614/345-HEAT (4328) or [email protected].