Susan Cook (left) holds a Smart Filter Seal and her husband, Dale Cook, shows off the SmartFlow Elbow at Hart & Cooley’s trade show booth.

SAN ANTONIO - Optimism was as easy to find as condensers - or the Alamo - at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s 43rd annual convention.

Many of the attendees who came to the city’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Feb. 15-17 were upbeat about 2011 and expecting increased business after more than a few lean years.

An estimated 2,400 attended the event. Organizers said attendance was up 30 percent over the 2010 conference, which took place in Tampa, Fla. Joining the HVAC contractors were members of the Indoor Air Quality Association and the Radiant Professionals Alliance.

“I have nothing but great things too say about this year’s conference,” said Rhett Prosser of Waccamaw Heating and Cooling LLC in Pawleys Island, S.C. “Both keynote speakers were great, as were all the workshops I attended.”

The speakers Prosser was referring to were author and entrepreneur Ross Shafer and professional speaker Bruce Wilkinson.

Shafer presented “Are You Ready?” during the ACCA’s Feb. 15 general session. Shafer has written several popular business books, including Nobody Moved Your Cheese.

Shafer was a popular TV talk show host, and was even courted to take over “The Late Show” on the Fox television network in 1988.

The convention ended with a presentation from Wilkinson called “Great Conference. Now What?” Wilkinson told ACCA members how to implement what they learned at the show at their businesses.

In addition to Wilkinson and Shafer, ACCA officials scheduled numerous educational sessions, which they called learning labs. Topics ranged from Internet marketing to profiting from solar energy. Many attendees said the sessions were very informative.

“I loved the variety and the ability to choose workshops that pertain to me and my company’s current status, and I didn’t have to be in the things that don’t relate to my company,” said Robbie Negron of Pacific Air Systems in Lakewood, Wash.

Attendees walk the floor at the ACCA’s Indoor Air Expo. Image courtesy of ACCA.

Social activities

One of the most popular topics at this year’s convention was social media. This fast-changing subject was discussed at three seminars, including sessions hosted by Brian Kraff of Market Hardware and Chris Isaac from BirdbathBuzz.

Internet marketing expert Kraff, whose company has more than 500 HVAC clients, has appeared several times at ACCA conventions (See “Into thin air,” April 2008; and “Contractors Storm the Bay,” June 2010). But with the Web changing constantly, his seminars are always new and usually well-attended. This year was no different.

During Feb. 15’s “Why Do 80 Percent of Google Ad Campaigns Fail,” Kraff said companies have a very limited opening to capture the interest of potential customers.

“Website visitors have an attention span of about 10 seconds - 15 seconds max,” he said. “The Web marketing landscape is changing all the time.”

But the time where HVAC companies could get away with skipping the Internet as an advertising medium has long passed, Kraff said.

“Whether it’s Google ads or some other type of online ads, we all need to be invested in online marketing,” he said.

Kraff pointed out the latest surveys say consumers are five times as likely to go online and use a search engine like Google to find a company rather than dig out the Yellow Pages. But 20 percent of small businesses still don’t have a website, keeping them from being found by many potential customers. 

Internet marketing expert Brian Kraff, a frequent speaker at ACCA conventions, said paid search engine listings are a valid choice for spending advertising dollars.

‘Organic' products

When a consumer uses a search engine to look up companies under a heading such as “HVAC service,” two types of listings typically come up: the paid results and the so-called “organic” or free results.

Companies purchase the right to be found at the top of the page with paid results, just like a classified advertisement or newspaper space ad. With organic results, companies have no direct control over where they appear, although Kraff said “search engine optimization” can sometimes improve results.

For a while, many experts said organic listings were better than paid ones. Some online marketing companies claimed they could ensure companies land near the top of search results on sites such as Yahoo and Google.

But Kraff said he no longer believes that.

“Just because it is advertising doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing,” he said.

Kraff listed some of the most common “myths” of paid online search listings. None of these are true, he said.

1. Online advertising is not for local businesses.

2. If your business is already found through a Google search, ads won’t help you.

3. Search engine optimization is better than paid listings.

4. Being first is always best with search results.

5. You need to be an expert to do online marketing correctly.

“Whether you need a marketing manager or not is up to you,” Kraff said. “A lot of people do this on their own”

If you do decide to hire a professional, “Don’t go all in,” he cautioned. “Don’t sign a long-term contract.”

Make a company provide its value before you commit to it.

As for why so much Google advertising fails, Kraff said many companies don’t ensure their websites are updated for today’s online browsing habits. The way people access the Internet is changing, he said, and you have to make sure your website is ready. Smart phones and Internet-capable cell phones are overtaking desktop computers for the preferred way to search the Web.

“(By) this time next year, I’ll bet you $100 more people will be searching for your website on their mobile phone,” he said. Your company’s site needs to be “conversion friendly” to mobile viewing and include “calls to action.”

You cannot just “set it and forget it” when it comes to your company’s website and online marketing.

Former HVAC contractor Chris Isaac of the marketing firm BirdbathBuzz said companies can no longer wait to become engaged in social media.

Twitter is the real world

Former HVAC contractor Chris Isaac’s Feb. 16 session, “Social Media in the Real World,” was designed for business owners just getting into the mobile networking world as well as people who had been experimenting with websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn for some time.

But regardless of your level of comfort in social media, Isaac said, you cannot stand still.

“Things have changed out there,” the owner of marketing firm BirdbathBuzz said. “Have you?”

He started his presentation explaining exactly what “social media” is. Isaac defined social media as accessible, inactive platforms for interaction. But a good shorthand way to think of it is “word-of-mouth 2.0.”

“It takes word-of-mouth and puts it in the digital arena,” he said. It’s about online, conversational interactions.

He then gave some insights into some of the most popular social media websites: YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Facebook. This is the No. 2 most visited website in the world - just behind Google, Isaac said. It has 500 million users - and counting. Popular with individuals and businesses it offers advertising rates currently a quarter of what Google charges for similar services.

YouTube. Google owns this, the third most popular site on the Internet. It offers an endless variety of homemade and professionally produced videos. Twenty-four hours worth of videos are put on the website every minute, Isaac said.

Twitter. Known for its short, 140-character updates, Twitter is the 10th most visited website, Isaac said, adding that it is No. 7 in the United States. There are 190 million people “tweeting” 65 million times a day. This is a “micro-blogging” platform, and the fastest growing such website in the world. It is great way to establish yourself as an expert.

“A lot of it is nonsense. A lot of it is not,” he said.

Flickr. He called this site a YouTube for still images, and said it is a great way to showcase your company’s work.

LinkedIn. This a social network site for professionals. Used by people to network, search for jobs and interact with peers.

Do it now

If you want your company to be relevant, now and in the future, you must invest in social media, Isaac said. It makes your company easier to find through search engines as well as increasing your influence and profile.

Today, if your company is doing almost anything with social media, you’re probably ahead of many competitors, he said. But as more companies become proficient at it, that advantage won’t last.

“It’s not going away, so deal with it,” he said.

In addition to the seminars, the ACCA again scheduled its Indoor Air Expo, a three-day trade show that featured 200 exhibitors taking up 30,000 square feet of floor space.

ACquotePro was a new exhibitor this year.

“We had an enormous response,” said DeWayne Gibson of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company. “We are really looking forward to attending next year’s conference in Las Vegas.”

Many attendees said they were also pleased with this year’s trade show.

“It was the best Indoor Air Expo ever,” said Ken Bodwell, a contractor with Innovative Service Solutions in Orlando, Fla. 

Officers elected

At the end of this year’s convention, the association announced that Joe Nichter of Comfort Systems USA Southwest in Chandler, Ariz., was the 2011-2012 board chairman, replacing John Sedine. Also on the board are: Senior Vice Chairwoman Laura DiFilippo of DiFilippo Service Co. Inc.; Secretary-Treasurer Bobby Ring of Meyer & DePew Co. Inc.; and vice chairmen Rich Imfeld of IC Refrigeration; Dave Kyle of Trademasters Service Corp.; and Phil London of Thermal Concepts Inc. Sedine will serve as immediate past chairman.

Nichter said he wants the association’s industry and public profile to rise in 2011.

“My goal for ACCA this year is to be recognized as the national solution and resource provider for mechanical expertise,” said Nichter. “We will pursue excellence at every level; the results will produce the type of association that is recognized for providing solutions and respected by all. These solutions will contribute to the implementation of our strategic plan and will always have the interests of our members as the top priority. This is my commitment to you as chairman.”

The ACCA’s 2012 conference is scheduled for March 5-8 in Las Vegas.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail

Association hands out awards

Companies from Virginia and California were named the ACCA’s Contractors of the Year during the association’s 2011 conference.

CroppMetcalfe Services of Fairfax, Va., was residential winner in the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s competition. Monrovia, Calif.’s Air-Tro Inc. was the commercial category winner.

Officials with both companies said they were deeply honored by the awards.

“It’s an amazing privilege to be named ACCA Commercial Contractor of the Year,” said Robert Helbing, president of Air-Tro. “This is the greatest honor an HVAC contractor can hope for; it’s like a baseball player being named Most Valuable Player, or an actor receiving an Oscar. Everyone in the HVAC industry knows we work in a field with a low profile; we find job satisfaction in work done well rather than in public acclaim. That makes it even more exciting for us at Air-Tro to have been chosen for this award.”

Tim Cropp of CroppMetcalfe said his workers deserve the most credit.

“This award really goes to our employees,” he said. “CroppMetcalfe would not be where we are today without our loyal employees.”