ACCA members walk the trade show floor during the 2010 ACCA conference and Indoor Air Expo. Photos courtesy of ACCA.

While the U.S. economy continues to falter, the ACCA’s annual conference is expanding.

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America is expecting its largest conference yet for the Feb. 15-17 event in San Antonio. With a conference slogan of “Take a stand,” the ACCA says it will show attendees how to battle negative market conditions.

For its 43rd annual offering, the ACCA has teamed up once again with the Indoor Air Quality Association. This year, the ACCA and the IAQA will partner with the Radiant Panel Association. All three organizations will hold simultaneous meetings for its members, but will join forces for one large trade show.

When members aren’t walking the trade show floor for the latest innovations, they will be taking part in 30 different “learning labs” - seminars designed to help contractors succeed despite the economy.

Author and business expert Ross Shafer will open the ACCA general session Feb. 15.

Positive direction

Early registration for the ACCA’s conference ended Dec. 1. The outcome was the largest early registration in the 43-year history of the ACCA conference, and up 20 percent over the previous year.

ACCA members who agreed to attend by the deadline will get a DVD of all the learning labs presented over the conference’s three days. According to John Sedine, the ACCA national chairman, the educational sessions will cast a wide net.

“The economy, political issues, and the move to ‘green’ renewable energy are forcing us to think out of the box,” he said. “When times are good, contractors don’t think they need as much help, but when things change they realize they do. ACCA has always been the place to go for technical information as well as contractor networking opportunities, and now co-locating with IAQA and RPA makes this conference bigger and better than ever.”

The labs will be separated by seven educational tracks: residential excellence, commercial excellence, business fundamentals, contracting leadership, technical excellence, quality assurance and refrigeration excellence.

To get members motivated for the educational sessions, author and entrepreneur Ross Shafer will present “Are You Ready?” during the ACCA’s Feb. 15 general session. Shafer has written several popular business books, including Nobody Moved Your Cheese, and his latest, Are You Relevant? 12 Reasons Smart Organizations Thrive in Any Economy.

Before becoming a business guru, Shafer was a popular talk show host, and took over “The Late Show” on the Fox television network in 1988. The ACCA said that Shafer will share with members the warning signs of when a company is in decline, and how other companies are bucking the trend and staying profitable during a down economy.

The three-day event will wrap up with a presentation from Bruce Wilkinson called “Great Conference. Now What?” Wilkinson will tell ACCA members how they can take everything they have learned and implement it when they get back to their businesses. Wilkinson’s prior presentations have been popular with ACCA members. Before becoming a professional speaker, Wilkinson was a reserve police officer in Louisiana. He also has degrees in safety engineering and occupational safety and health.

Here is a list of the learning labs that members can expect over the three-day show. 

Members network during the 2010 ACCA Indoor Air Expo.

Lab tests

From 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Feb. 15, members can choose from these educational sessions:

• “You Are Not a Contractor.” This session will have a panel discussion on how contractors can get into the mindset of a business owner. Procedures, planning and marketing are topics that will be discussed. Panel members will include Theo Etzel of Conditioned Air Corp., Louis Hobaica of Hobaica Services Inc., and Stan Johnson of Stan’s Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.

• “Why Do 80 Percent of Good Ad Campaigns Fail? And More Search Engine Secrets to Get You Homeowner Leads.” Internet expert Brian Kraff of Market Hardware returns to ACCA’s convention to show contractors how to successfully use online marketing. He will also explain how they can harness search engines to increase business.

• “Solar Power and the HVACR Contractor” will be presented by Greg Gill of Action Air Conditioning and Heating. Gill will share his experiences with starting a solar division at his company.

• “Small Business, Big Money: Landing Government Contracts” will help contractors understand the steps they need to take to bid on a government project. Dave Kyle of Trademasters will provide examples of what to do and what to avoid when bidding on U.S. government work.

• “Recruiting, Hiring and - Sometimes - Firing” will be presented by Mark Swepston and Greg Benua of Atlas Butler Heating and Cooling. The men will discuss how Atlas Butler grew to a company of 100 employees.

Also offered Feb. 15 will be “Improving Your Quality Processes Through QC (Quality Control)” and “Commercial Refrigeration Retrofits.”

The ACCA will offer over 30 learning labs during its Feb. 15-17 conference in San Antonio.

Marketing tips

On Feb. 16 from 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the ACCA will offer:

• “The Web Marketing Avalanche Formula.” Adams Hudson of Hudson Ink will show members how to convert online traffic to sales leads.

• “Pricing for Profit” will offer pricing strategies that will allow business owners to stay out of the red. Members will learn about cash flow, overhead, commissions and other topics necessary for profits.

• “Picking Your Successor” from Randy Stutzman of FMI Corp. will share information on how to create a legacy in your company. Members will learn the strategies of turning the company over to new hands.

• “Net-Zero: Building Zero or Building Max” will be offered by Ellis Guiles of Tag Mechanical. Guiles will show attendees how they can start designing net-zero projects.

Attendees can also participate in “BIM in Action: Building Information Modeling” and “Q&As for the QA (Quality Assured) and ES (Energy Star).”

At 2:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 16, educational sessions will include:

• “Social Media in the Real World.” Chris Isaac of BirdBathBuzz will explain how contractors can be successful with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. He will provide examples of how it is being used as a marketing tool.

• “Listening for Leadership” will offer the common traits of a leader. Steve Coscia of Coscia Communications will explain the different leadership styles and how leaders are successful.

• “Cash flow: Understanding It and Building It” will help ensure contractors get paid for the work they do. Bobby Ring of Meyer & Depew Co. Inc. will explain how contractors can ask and receive down payments for their work, and how they can continue to increase their cash flow.

Other Learning Labs will include “Working With Third-Party Energy Raters,” “Residential Zoning With Central Equipment” and “Energy Services for Building Owners.”

ACCA President Paul Stalknect welcomes members to last year’s ACCA conference.

Risk management

At 8:30 a.m. Feb. 17, the ACCA will present:

• “Managing Risks in Small Business.” Dave Cameron of Federated Insurance will help contractors understand how to keep insurance costs down.

• “Lessons from the Campaign Trail.” Tommy Castellano of Castellano Air Conditioning and Heating Inc. will share what he learned when running for Congress. He will show contractors how they can get involved in politics at all levels.

• “Getting Maximum Replacements From Your Customer Base.” This session from Matt Maleske of SBC Global will aim to help contractors turn current customers into sales leads.

• “Six Steps to Selling Commercial Service.” Bill Bernick of Daimler Management will walk attendees through a six-step process to strengthen the commercial aspects of a business.

Other sessions at this time will include “QA Resources-Implementation Tools and Template,” “Geothermal Project Management” and “Finding Profits Amidst Refrigeration Regulations.”

At 11:15 a.m. Feb. 17, these sessions will be available:

• “What Makes a Good Commercial Contractor?” Randy Stutzman of FMI Corp. will show contractors what they need to know to become a better commercial contractor. Topics will include marketing, cash management and business planning.

• “How to Build a Million-Dollar Brand in a Hundred-Dollar Market.” This session from Greg McAfee of McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning is all about branding. Contractors will learn how they can be viewed as a market leader by customers.

• “Creating a Service Department That Works.” Rick Hutcherson of RHI Training will share tips and strategies on building the best service department your company can have.

Also available Feb 17: “Supermarket Refrigeration Systems,” “New HVAC Business Opportunities - Teaming for Comprehensive Retrofits,” “Energy Codes, Green Codes and Mechanical Systems” and “10 Easy Steps for Handling the Poor Performer.”

For more information on the ACCA conference or to register, call (703) 575-4477 or