David Allen of Seattle mechanical contractor McKinstry Co. said sheet metal contractors need to burnish their public image.


LAS VEGAS - Anybody attending the 2010 Partners in Progress conference here March 18-20 would probably acknowledge the sheet metal industry has seen better days.

In his welcoming speech, Mike Sullivan, president of the Sheet Metal Workers union that co-sponsors the biennial event with the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, praised those who attended for coming during rough times for the industry. He added that attendance was the best ever for the conference.

The slogan for this year’s meeting was “Driving change, creating opportunities,” reflecting the reality that things are markedly different for the construction industry than they were just a few years ago. That theme was echoed in many of the event’s seminars, including “The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be - Adjusting to Meet a Changing Industry.”

Marketing consultant John Garofalo told Partners in Progress attendees March 18 the most successful sheet metal contractors recognize the need for change.

Study

In the March 18 panel presentation, based in part on a SMACNA-funded New Horizons Foundation study from a few years ago, David Allen of McKinstry Co., Dennis Canevari of Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 and marketing consultant John Garofalo talked about the changes enveloping the HVAC industry.

Allen, a principal and executive vice president at Seattle-based McKinstry, said sheet metal contractors should be proud of their jobs and the benefits they receive, but the industry needs to polish its image.

“We have got to look better to the public,” he said.

Garofalo, formerly of the firm Callahan/Roach and Garofalo, said the changes under way in the HVAC industry are “unprecedented.”

“We’re at the point now that there are some scary things going on,” Garofalo said.

He started his presentation showing a collage of logos of well-known, now-defunct companies: Circuit City and Aloha Airlines among them.

Garofalo said there is a 95 percent failure rate for HVAC businesses within five years of opening - a rate he said could go higher. Only restaurants have a higher closure rate, he added.

And profit margins in HVAC are still, averaging 3 percent.

Part of the solution, Garofalo said, is effective leadership.

‘Integrity'

Marketing consultant John Garofalo told Partners in Progress attendees March 18 the most successful sheet metal contractors recognize the need for change.“I’m terrified for our young people that the message that is being broadcast today is a lack of integrity,” he said.

Leaders understand that business disruptions and difficulties create opportunities.

“If you’re a leader, you need to be changing,” Garofalo said. Hold people accountable, starting with yourself.

“You’ve got to change. You’ve got to rock the boat,” he said, adding that the message of change is what propelled Barack Obama into the White House.

One thing that must change, he said, was the industry’s image. In much of the public’s mind, an HVAC technician looks like “Butt-crack Willie.”

One of the first things Garofalo recommends to companies he consults with is they invest in clean uniforms, shoe covers and demand workers smell good and wear gloves before they touch anything in customers’ homes.

Despite the industry’s challenges, there are opportunities.

“The demand for retrofit work will grow at an unprecedented pace,” Garofalo said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com. 

Brandy Wilson of Shawnee, Kan., works on a project as part of the sheet metal apprentice contest. Wilson is employed by Cates Sheet Metal Industries. Image courtesy of Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.

Institute name contest winners

Students from Massachusetts, Washington and Missouri were among the winners of the annual sheet metal apprenticeship contest held in conjunction with the Partners in Progress meeting.

Sponsor the International Training Institute invited 325 top North American students studying at joint apprenticeship training centers funded by the Sheet Metal Workers union and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association to compete for a prize package that included tools and equipment. First-place winners received up to $1,800 and products from Smith Welding Supplies, Lincoln Electric, Miller Welding, and Milwaukee Tools.

All contests included written tests, sketching, studying blueprints and a shop project.

“The competition is challenging because those who make it in are the United States’ and Canada’s top apprentices,” said James Shoulders, executive administrator for the ITI. “These men and women are dedicated to perfecting their craft.”

Categories included service; architectural; industrial/welding; HVAC; and testing, adjusting and balancing.

“The apprentices participating in the competition are the United States’ and Canada’s best,” said Dan Andrews, coordinator of the Local 36 joint apprenticeship training program in St. Louis.

The first place winners in each category were:

Architectural: Douglas Posey of Gig Harbor, Wash. Posey is employed by McKinstry Co. in Seattle.

HVAC: Michael Collins of Weymouth, Mass. Collins works for Bryant Sheet Metal in Hanover, Mass.

Industrial/welding: Ryan Burton of Kansas City, Mo. He works at P1 Group in Lenexa, Mo.

Service: Dustin Walker of Fredericktown, Mo. Walker is employed at Sheet Metal Contractors in DeSoto, Mo.

TAB: Casey Wilson-Williams of Tacoma, Wash. Wilson-Williams works for MacDonald Miller Facility Solutions of Seattle.