ORLANDO, Fla. — Ask ACCA staff where their members like to stay and many will say that sunny central Florida is near the top. It’s a regular part of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s convention rotation. Warm weather and numerous family oriented attractions make the Orlando, Fla., area — home to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and the Universal Orlando theme parks — a popular one with HVAC contractors.

This year’s conference took place Feb. 27-March 2 at Orlando World Center Marriott, a sprawling resort near Walt Disney World property that caters to convention attendees with children in tow. Joining up with the Indoor Air Quality Association and the Residential Energy Services Network to stage the Indoor Air Expo trade show helped to bring 2,500 people to the conference.

The show attracted more than 200 displaying companies.

The IE3 expo was a very good show for us,” said exhibitor Barbara Diaz of Tecfrica. “This is the first of many ACCA conferences and expos we will be participating in.”

Nancy Jo Loebker of NetBraze had similar comments.

“The quality of contractors who came to our booth during the expo was excellent,” she said.

Besides the expo, ACCA booked speakers for 37 seminars, which the association calls “leaning labs.” The sessions covered everything from dealing with the TV news media to the national health care law.

State of confusion

Although it has been three years since it was passed, the Affordable Care Act — commonly called Obamacare — which promises to overhaul the nation’s health insurance system, is still a sore subject for many.

Just what it means for employees and employers of all sizes is still being sorted out. The ACCA brought in Scott Warren of Federated Insurance Cos. to explain the law as it may affect the HVAC contractors who make up the association.

The law is being implemented in phases and a slew of new requirements take effect Jan. 1, 2014, Warren said.

“It’s coming,” he said. “We’ve got to get prepared for it.”

The statement did not make the audience for Warren’s Feb. 27 session, “Obamacare: What You Need to Know Now,” very happy. Several contractors grumbled. Someone said, “John Roberts,” referring to the Republican-nominated chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who wrote the decision upholding the law.

Roberts’ decision that the act was constitutional under Congress’ taxing power surprised and upset many who opposed the law as a government overreach.

“I know this is a very emotional topic for you,” Warren said. “I don’t envy you one bit.”

Warren, who said he is not an expert on the law — but added that nobody is — expects insurance premiums to keep rising even as Obamacare’s provisions take effect.

Mandates

He explained that many of the law’s rules, such as the mandate that employers provide “affordable” insurance, only apply to companies with 50 or more full-time workers. Warren noted that people working 30 hours or more per week are considered full time. Part-time employees can also fall under the rules if their total monthly hours are high enough to be considered equivalent to full time. 

For companies who fall under the law, the insurance they offer must be considered “good enough” as well as “affordable.” For a single employee, out-of-pocket costs cannot be more than 9.5 percent of an employee’s income. It must cover at least 60 percent of average local medical costs in the area.

If coverage does not meet those standards, a company is subject to a fine of $3,000 per worker. The same applies if a company declines to offer health insurance, a likely scenario, Warren said.

“I guarantee you that some business owners will say ‘Forget it’ and send employees to the public exchange,” he said.  “You may find more and more employers have part-time employees.”

Regulations will soon require insurance companies take people with pre-existing conditions, the costs of which will be borne by medical device makers and insurance companies. Most will pass those costs along to consumers.

“For the majority of people insured today, the cost of insurance will likely increase,” Warren said.

ACCA members peppered Warren about the new law, asking how such a regulation could be constitutional. The Federated Insurance spokesman answered several of them, but added, “So much of this is still fluid. There’s a lot we don’t know yet.” 

Optimizing Internet strategies

Brian Kraff is not a member of the ACCA but he may have a better attendance record than some contractors the last few years. Kraff, the chief of Maryland-based media company Market Hardware Inc., has become a fixture at the association’s events. For years, he has been explaining the importance of good websites for HVAC contractors and why social media has become a juggernaut too big to ignore.

A decade ago, he told contractors they needed to be online. A website was a must. A few years later, he told them blogs were crucial but they didn’t need to worry about sites such as Facebook or Twitter — yet.

Today, Kraff says social media marketing is critical to success and search engine optimization — ensuring customers can find you online — is what it’s all about. And sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even review sites like Yelp help make it possible.

“There is constant change on the Internet,” Kraff said. “Everybody in this room should be on their third or fourth website by now.”

More than ever, smart HVAC contractors keep tabs on where they appear and what customers say on a company’s Facebook page, Twitter, even through newer platforms such as Google Plus. Such independent reviews can really boost your results, Kraff said.

“You’ve got to focus on what people are saying about you,” he added. “The thing that surprises a lot of people is that a negative review can really help you” in search results. Complaints still need to be addressed. Look how hotels handle complaints on travel bulletin boards such as TripAdvisor.com.

But as you branch into other social media platforms, don’t forget about your website. It’s still a critical component in your marketing plan.

“All the SEO (search engine optimization) in the world won’t help you if you can’t convert a visitor into a caller,” Kraff said. “(No) Web marketing at this point is just set it and forget it.”

Websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that aren’t updated very often don’t mean as much to search engines. Kraff recommends posting one or two items per week on Facebook and Google Plus, three to five on Twitter, and blogging and updating your website once or twice a month.

Kraff recommended claiming and updating your business’ Google Maps listing.

“Social media is where customers expect to find you,” he said. “The more channels you are participating in… the more powerful your reach is going to be.”

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email schuettr@bnpmedia.com