Wholesalers took a positive look at 2005 during the HARDI annual convention in Chicago.

CHICAGO - If the number and mood of attendees at HARDI's annual convention are any indication, 2005 will be a very good year for wholesalers.

About 1,400 members of the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International came to the Hyatt Regency Oct. 16-19 in Chicago for the group's second annual meeting. They were upbeat about business prospects for the coming year, and a number of the speakers booked for the event gave them reason to be hopeful.

Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., president of Philadelphia-based Pembroke Consulting, gave a presentation Oct. 18 based on his new report, "Facing the Forces of Change: The Road to Opportunity," where he said wholesaling - a huge industry that employs 350,000 people in the United States - is booming.

Overall, Fein said, the distribution business is up 13.5 percent in 2004, with HVAC industries up 9 percent.

"Business has been pretty good," he said, asking how many wholesalers in the audience agreed. Many did. Fein said he expects it to get even better.

"You're in probably one of the best distribution businesses out there," he said.

Howard E. Hyden, president of the Center for Customer Focus in Colorado Springs, Colo., encouraged members to make business plans with their customers in mind.

An ‘awesome' presentation

Howard E. Hyden's favorite word is "awesome." He used it often during his Oct. 18 presentation to HARDI members, "Standing in the Customer's Moccasins."

"I have no interest in being average," he explained.

Hyden is president of the Center for Customer Focus in Colorado Springs, Colo., which provides nationwide customer-service training and consulting. Before becoming a speaker, Hyden says he was often hired by corporations to help turn around what he called a company's "dogs." In one case, Hyden was hired by a computer company division that fared poorly in internal surveys, was being sued by customers and audited by the federal government - all facts they neglected to tell him, Hyden says.

Fourteen months later, the division's satisfaction scores had shot up, the lawsuits were dropped and the government was no longer investigating.

The key to such success, Hyden says, is promoting an "Outside-In" corporate culture, which is his trademarked phrase for a customer-focused business plan. That means considering how everything your company does impacts your customers. Focus on your customers' costs, not your costs, and you'll be more profitable, he says.

"Companies are too focused on the products themselves," he says. But "focusing" on customers is not as simple as "customer service," he adds. When he meets with many corporations, too often, officials list their customer service department as what sets them apart from the competition. Wrong answer, Hyden says.

"Customer service is not a competitive advantage" because everybody offers it, he says. Instead of talking about customer service, talk about customer "focus."

Hyden says a company needs to stand out. Web sites are a classic example of a way to differentiate your company from the competition, although many squander it, he says.

"A Web site is not an electronic brochure," he says. "They are an opportunity to add value."

Another way to stand out: Instead of sending out Christmas cards, send Thanksgiving cards. Few people do this, and it will make an impression.

And when talking to customers, always know what you're going to say.

"Never wing it," Hyden says.

At HARDI’s Oct. 19 trade show, Duro Dyne Corp.’s Paul Thompson (left), Roger Rondeau, Randy Hinden and William Watman show off an award from HARDI recognizing 50 years of involvement with the group.

New leader

Also at the convention, HARDI named Randy Tice the group's 2005 president. Tice is the chief operating officer of Lebanon, Pa.-based APR Supply Co. Tice said he hopes to help HARDI increase membership by 10 percent and will work to encourage industry-wide standards on hydrofluorocarbon refrigerant conservation. He also wants to strengthen the group's ties with other HVACR and wholesaling organizations.