Mike Workman says the halcyon days of 2006 are not coming back any time soon, but that doesn’t mean business can’t be good.

WAILEA, Hawaii - In the delicate work-life balance that most associations attempt with their annual conferences, it’s clear what the schedule is designed around.

Golf. Tennis. The beach. The casino. Anything but the meetings and work members ostensibly traveled to the destination to engage in.

Not true with the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International. Even though the Oct. 23-27, 2011, event was held on Hawaii’s Maui island, the group encouraged members to “work hard, play hard” - and with a packed schedule, they gave members plenty of opportunities for the “work” portion of the trip. Meetings most days started at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., with some committees gathering as late as 4 p.m.

Among the biggest announcements at this year’s conference was the unveiling of a new HARDI logo and brand. The initiative encompasses websites, social media platforms and Distribution Center, the new official publication of the association, produced by BNP Media (parent company of Snips).

Alan Beaulieu, HARDI's chief economist and president of the Institute for Trend Research in New Hampshire, told members the economy will grow in 2012.

Past is past

HARDI brought in two keynote speakers to give members some idea on where the stop-and-start economy is going.

The first to appear was Mike Workman, a distribution expert and college professor who holds a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. The title of his Oct. 24 presentation was “Realizing 2006 Profitability With a 2012 Mindset.”

Workman said that title could be misleading.

“You got to be kidding me,” he said. “It will never be like it was in 2006.”

Too many companies are still making decisions based on the way things were in those heady days, he added. A full economic recovery is still 16 to 18 months away.

This recession has battered profit margins, Workman added. For many wholesalers, it now takes 30 percent to 40 percent more sales to reach the same revenue levels.

The changes the distribution business is experiencing now are profound and long lasting.

“I believe that the market you serve has changes more in the last three years than it did in the last 30 years,” he said. “Take the past out of the future.”

The other keynote speaker, Alan Beaulieu, the association’s chief economist and president of the Institute for Trend Research in New Hampshire, told members the economy will grow in 2012. Maybe not as much as they’d like, but it will get bigger. Banks are starting to lend again. There will not be a so-called double-dip recession.

Tim Quinn of Majestic Steel told HARDI members the steel market is still volatile.

Steel nerves

And with the world economy still in flux, predicting where steel prices are headed isn’t easy. But Tim Quinn of Majestic Steel did his best Oct. 24 for members of HARDI’s Sheet Metal/Air Handling Products Committee.

His presentation was titled “Steel Made Simple,” but figuring out this commodity’s market is anything but. Quinn, an account manager at Majestic, said scrap metal is rising in price, in part due to the declines in American steel manufacturing and the rise of Asian producers. The United States controls 6 percent of the world’s steel production; China has 45 percent.

Since the economic downturn, Quinn said, inventory levels and prices have experienced wide swings.

“Many companies are now mitigating the risk by carrying less inventory,” he said. “We can’t predict the future. It’s very difficult.”

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

“Bud” Mingledorff is HARDI’s 2011-2012 president.

Ga. company chairman new association president

The Mingledorff name might be a mouthful, but it’s one that’s spoken often by HVAC contractors in Georgia and much of the southern U.S.

Mingledorff’s Inc., the 73-year-old Norcross, Ga.-based wholesaler, distributes products such as Bryant, Carrier and Payne through more than 30 locations in six states, earning the company more than $280 million in revenue.

And now, the name Lindly “Bud” Mingledorff will be familiar to HARDI members as the company chairman at Mingledorff’s Inc. takes over as the association’s 2011-2012 president.

It’s an added responsibility the 65-year-old said he is excited about.

“I’m looking forward to meeting a whole lot more people as president,” Mingledorff said.

The coming months will give him plenty of opportunity, as he attends numerous meetings on behalf of the association, talking with members of HARDI and other industry groups. It will take him away physically from the company that has operated under his family name since 1939 but it is always on his mind.

“It’s a great business,” he said. “The state of Georgia has been a great place to sell air conditioners.”

Mingledorff’s was founded by Walter Lee Mingledorff - Bud’s father - as a contracting firm when he was 25 years old. Based in Savannah, Ga., its customers were spread throughout the eastern lower half of the state and into Florida. World War II forced Mingledorff’s out of the HVAC business as Carrier Corp., its main brand, built tank components for the U.S. war effort.

After the end of the war, the company was restarted as a direct contractor-distributor, again with Carrier. It also ventured into appliance sales and boat refrigeration equipment. But by the end of the 1950s, the boating division, along with the appliance division, were closed or sold off. The contracting business was sold as well, and Mingledorff’s became strictly a wholesale distributor for Carrier.

By this time, Lee Mingledorff had become mayor of Savannah and decided to step back from day-to-day company operations (he remained as chairman) as President Ed Eckles moved the company to the fast-growing New South city of Atlanta.

In 1961, Bud Mingledorff started working in the family business at age 15, after receiving “a push from my father and a pull from Ed Eckles.” And except for a few brief odd jobs and a stint in the U.S. Army, it’s where he stayed.

From the beginning of the 1970s through the mid-1990s, Mingledorff’s grew from $5 million to $97 million in annual sales. The company also relocated its headquarters to the Atlanta suburb of Norcross. Bud Mingledorff became company president in 1995. As Georgia’s economy and population boomed, he expanded the company into more markets, adding locations throughout the state.

“There really is no substitute for being in a great market,” he said. “We’re doing fairly well.”

In 2008, Bud Mingledorff retired as president, remaining as board chairman.

Things have cooled some for Mingledorff’s as Georgia’s economy has tumbled, but Bud Mingledorff said he still believes there’s a great future in HVACR distribution, especially in a state like Georgia, known for its hot and sticky summers.

“We have a large installed base of air-conditioning systems,” he said. “We’re going to get to replace everything we ever sold. Plus we get to upgrade it.”

That’s why HVAC remains one of the best career options - something Mingledorff said he often points out to new employees.

“I challenge them to find an industry better than the air-conditioning industry,” he said.

As for the rest of HARDI, he said most members are doing OK, although he acknowledged that “none of us saw the width and depth of this recession.”

The members doing the best, Mingledorff said, are fortunate to be in strong markets.

“There is no substitute for being lucky,” he said.