Wholesaler group gives business tips at convention

In his Dec. 8 keynote speech, Larry Winget railed against poor communication and negative thinking.
SAN FRANCISCO - Want to improve your business? Then you need to stop whining, listen more and serve your customers better.

That was the consensus of business experts at the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International's Dec. 7-9 convention.

The group, which includes members of the former Airconditioning & Refrigeration Wholesalers International and the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration and Airconditioning Wholesalers, was created in January 2003 when the two longtime associations combined their memberships and operations. This was the first meeting for HARDI, as the distributors group is now known.

Not a leisurely convention, organizers packed more than 30 committee meetings and workshops into the two-day event.

Although the meeting was for wholesalers, the topics of business seminars and workshops could have easily applied to contractors, and a few attended.

Joanne Sujansky, Ph.D., said companies need to plan to be “employers of choice” if they want to attract and keep good workers.

Hard-core help

Perhaps the need to get a lot done in a little time is why HARDI booked Larry Winget as the convention's keynote speaker. Winget claims to talk up to 225 words per minute, "with gusts up to 500 words per minute."

Although Winget talked fast, his message was simple; in fact, much simpler than the purple, gold and black sports jacket he wore: "Shut up, stop whining and get a life."

Winget said his philosophy is the result of reading thousands of books on business and life and discovering there are only 18 good ideas, which he said he didn't have time to discuss. However, he said they can be summed up with:

· Take responsibility. If your business is bad, it's because you're a bad business owner, Winget said.

· Be flexible with customers. Deal with change. "People hate change," he said. "Most people would just as soon stay bad than deal with the change needed to make them good again." They need to remember "the best advertising in the world is a satisfied customer with a big mouth."

Stop complaining. "People love to whine. For some people, whining is their best friend."

Winget makes no apologies for his get-tough attitude.

"If you all haven't figured, I'm not a real good motivational speaker," he said, allowing more of his Oklahoma drawl to come into his voice.

It appears the HARDI members disagreed: They gave him a standing ovation.

In his talk about poor customer service, Rick Grandinetti criticized the airline industry and retail stores as two of the worst offenders.

Attracting, motivating workers

Many companies and business owners don't have any idea how to find or keep good employees, according to Joanne Sujansky, Ph.D. There's more to it than just offering a big salary or generous benefits package, she says. In many cases, you have to change the way you think about employees and interact with them.

During "The Keys to Motivating and Attracting Talent," Sujansky said business owners should start focusing on this very important task.

"Most of us talk about (employee) retention, but we don't have a plan in place to hang on to people," she said.

It needs to be a real priority, she said. She acknowledged that's difficult when there are so many things competing for a company's attention and most people tend to "go in the direction of the distraction," like a car will go wherever the driver looks, whether the driver wants it to or not.

You must learn to focus and not let that happen. To demonstrate the power of focusing, she asked the audience to write with their opposite hands, once very quickly and then again slowly, this time concentrating on the task. Her point: concentrating makes anything better.

"There are things we have to stop doing to start doing what we need to," Sujansky said. "Look at certain situations to find what you need to stop doing to make some of your business goals happen."

And when it comes to new employees, some companies need to change what they do in the first interview, she said. Too often, hiring managers think about "filling a position" rather than finding the right person for a job or the right job for a person.

"Sometimes, you need someone for a position so bad, you sell it to them in the interview," she said. "I've done it too."

And then you're disappointed when they don't perform as you expected, she said. Sujansky suggested showing potential hires the performance-review form during the interview so they know what's expected.

Be sure to encourage your employees, she said, and make sure they - and you - have fun at work. If employees do not enjoy their work, they'll leave.

Consultant D. Bruce Merrifield spoke about how to change “loser” customers into profitable ones.

‘Leading for Excellence'

Rick Grandinetti certainly seemed to have fun during his workshop, "Leading for Excellence." Grandinetti's loud, in-your-face style was slightly reminiscent of the late comedian Sam Kinison, without the profanity. He told the audience that he wasn't going to talk about "best practices," the often-repeated phrase about the way companies should function. No, Grandinetti said he wanted to describe "best failures," because he learned lessons the hard way.

"Desire to be exceptional," he said, " don't look for the exception."

To be excellent in any business, you have to provide excellent service, Grandinetti said. That's the only way you'll stand out, he said. You can't count on the product you sell - to most consumers, all products look alike.

"Ask the contractors," he said, adding that it's not about "outselling" the competition, but "out-servicing" them. "You'll spend more where you feel welcome and wanted."

And most customers today don't feel wanted, he said, launching into a rant against electronics retailers and the airline industry.

"Service is so poor, if (employees) do just average, they stand out," he said.

And don't think that expensive investments in new machines or computers will make up for poor service, he added.

"Technology has never increased productivity; people increase productivity," he said. Make sure your people are performing properly before adding new technology.

To prove his point about the state of customer service in America, he gave the example of walking into an electronics store a few years ago to purchase a big-screen television. The first salesman he talked to was arrogant, arguing with Grandinetti when he said the TV was expensive. He walked out of the store, fuming. Grandinetti went to a competitor, again complaining that the TV he was considering cost a lot of money. This time, the salesman agreed. Grandinetti bought the TV from the salesman just because he was empathetic.

"Never, ever overcome objections," he said.

American Standard regional manager Richard Specht said contractors need to embrace new technology.

Contractors, suppliers predict more technology, computers in industry's future

In addition to business-oriented seminars, HARDI held several association committee and council meetings on the state of refrigeration, controls and other facets of the HVAC industry. The HVAC Systems and Equipment Council invited suppliers and contractors to give their perspectives on where the industry is headed in the next five years.

Richard Specht, a regional manager with American Standard, said the last five years were "pretty easy" compared to the changes facing the industry in the near future, with increasing seasonal energy-efficiency-ratio standards.

"We're seeing a major shift to 12 (SEER) already," Specht said, adding that manufacturers and contractors will need to be able to back up their efficiency claims.

Another change, and one that Specht said not enough sales staffs are embracing, is the use of portable computers outside the office.

"One thing I don't see out there right now is all field-sales personnel using laptops," he said. "It's (the work) going to be paperless. If you're not there, get there. It's going to be a competitive disadvantage" if you don't.

Larry Taylor, former president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and owner of Texas-based Air Rite Air-Conditioning Co., said consumers are becoming more interested in safety, health and energy efficiency.

For commercial contractors, similar changes are occurring, Taylor said.

"The focus is slowly changing from ‘indoor air quality' to ‘indoor environmental quality,' " Taylor said, adding that health and productivity will become as important as comfort. The contractors of the future will need to expand their skills."

More building owners are becoming less concerned with purchasing the lowest-initial-cost system and more concerned with what it will cost to operate during its lifetime, he said. He predicts utility companies will eventually market air-conditioning as a "service," and homeowners will rent their HVAC systems.