ORLANDO, Fla. — HARDI says its 2012 conference was one with plenty of surprises — from the guest speakers to the winners of awards handed out by the wholesalers group.
The appearance of four-term Congressman Artur Davis — a former Democrat who spoke at this summer’s GOP convention praising presidential candidate Mitt Romney — was something Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International members kept very quiet. Only followers of its Twitter account had any inkling that a “big surprise” guest was on the way.
Davis accepted HARDI’s Small Business Champion Award on behalf of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
Another surprise guest at the Oct. 6-9 convention was Bryant Jacobs, a U.S. Army specialist, who received a standing ovation — perhaps to his surprise — when he talked about the charity Homes For Our Troops, which is supported by HARDI’s Helping All Live On.
“This sounds really cheesy, but it’s 100 percent true: Once you start working with (Homes for Our Troops), it’s almost like you have a second family,” Jacobs said. “You get to know vets who have homes. You build that relationship and it really is like having another family. My house was built three years ago and I still talk to people from HFOT on a regular basis.”
Among the best-attended conference sessions was Alan Beaulieu’s Oct. 9 lunchtime keynote speech on the recovering U.S. economy.
Beaulieu, of the Institute for Trend Research, is HARDI’s chief economist and has spoken to the group several times in recent years. He wasted no time in giving his opinion.
“I want you to know the forecast before we go any further,” he said. “The forecast is that we will see this recovery in the U.S. extend for several more quarters.”
Until June 2013 the economy will continue to expand, but in the second half of that year, the economy will slow and become sluggish.
“You’re going to see your year-over-year (sales) begin to weaken,” he said, adding that by 2014 the country will be in a mild recession. And there is a chance it could be a more severe contraction.
But from 2015-2017, the economy will be expanding.
“I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that’s the economic reality,” Beaulieu told the audience. “It is what it is.”
Right now, Beaulieu said, the U.S. economy is doing pretty well overall — despite what some political pundits are saying.
“The U.S. economy … is still angling higher overall,” he said. “We’re in a recovery. We’ve been in a recovery for years, and yet there are people out there who tell us we’re in a depression. I don’t know how you can have jobs being created, people spending more, record-high levels of spending, a housing starts recovery going on, disposable person income going up and still call it a depression.”
And yet, 60 percent of Americans still think the country is still in a recession, Beaulieu said.
He recommended HARDI members take advantage of the still record-low interest rates and borrow as much money as possible to expand their businesses.
“Until you can’t sleep at night anymore,” he said to laughter from the audience. “You just want to plan on growing your business: driving efficiencies, upgrading facilities. Whatever it is that will make you more efficient, whatever it is that will add to your bottom line.”
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Brian Cobble is HARDI’s new president.
Indiana wholesaler to lead HARDI in 2013
If you go to G.W. Berkheimer Inc. Co.’s website, you won’t find a lot of company history, even though the Indiana-based wholesaler is 75 years old.
And if you ask company President Brian Cobble anything about him or his business, he is quick to suggest another subject. And that’s the way they like it.
“You won’t find a lot about us, and that’s by design,” he said. “One thing you need to understand about us: We don’t toot our own horn. We’re very low key, we fly under the radar. Generally speaking, we do not do interviews. When we do, the focus is not on me the individual, because as individuals, we really don’t matter. It’s the company, our ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) shareholders, our customers and our vendors who make us, collectively, who we are.”
Officials at HARDI may disagree somewhat, because the 56-year-old Cobble will serve as the association’s 2012-2013 president. It’s a role that Cobble said he is looking forward to, with a bit of trepidation.
“I think (outgoing president) Bud Mingledorff probably said it best,” Cobble said. “I don’t want to mess it up. I think that’s a good goal. I think that’s one of my goals, too. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s keep forward progress going here.”
Forward progress has certainly been a theme at Berkheimer, where Cobble has worked continuously since 1994 – and for a while before then.
“I was born and raised in the industry,” he said. “Growing up, this is where my brother and I worked.”
And Cobble’s 83-year-old father, Dale, still does. He is board chairman, and has worked at Berkheimer since 1953.
The company itself dates back to 1919, when George W. Berkheimer opened a retail stove repair business. By 1937, it had become a wholesale parts supplier. During the next seven decades, the company grew with the nation’s appetite for new heating and air-conditioning products, adding branches throughout Indiana, Illinois and eventually, Kentucky.
Today, Berkheimer and South Central, a wholly owned subsidiary, have 27 locations serving more than 7,000 HVAC contractors. Longtime vendors include Honeywell, White-Rodgers, Genetron, Reznor, Burnham, Aprilaire, Allied Air Enterprises, State Water Heaters, Milwaukee Tools, Williams, Malco, Little Giant, Bell & Gossett, and Nu-Calgon among others.
Brian Cobble’s professional history with the company doesn’t go back quite that far, but it’s still lengthy. After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in industrial management, he spent 15 years in distribution for a health care company before “coming home” to Berkheimer in 1994.
It wasn’t hard fitting back in, he recalled.
“Distribution was what I knew,” he said. “(HVAC) is a good, basic industry. People need heating and cooling. A lot of good, hardworking people are in this industry.”
And he’ll spend a good part of the next year meeting with them, as HARDI sends him across the country to visit with members and speak on behalf of the association.
“I have a heavy travel schedule,” Cobble said. “I can’t believe the number of meetings that are already on my calendar for next year. I suspect the year is going to fly by.”’