Two Simple Goals for Effective AHR Tradeshow Exhibits

Two Simple Goals for Effective AHR Tradeshow Exhibits

I love a good product demo. I got treated to one recently while attending the NC Craft Brewers Conference in Winston Salem, NC.  (Yes, I was there for professional reasons and not just for the free samples; there’s a lot of product overlap in HVAC and breweries.) Anyway, one of the highlights of this excursion was....

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Talking Tech to the HVAC Crowd


By Trish Holder

Technology is in the air. Can you feel it?

In my husband’s line work, corporate IT, technology is always in the air. He doesn’t need to “feel” it because he understands it. For the rest of us, particularly those who work in the construction and/or mechanical industry, web-based technology can be especially intimidating.  We can’t shut down a breaker and take it apart.  It is intangible, and we like tangible. 

Even the terminology is weird and abstract:  The Cloud…Internet of Things (IoT )…Big data…. Techies toss these words around and gobble them up like bits of popcorn. The rest of us? Not so much. 

Still, most of us know we can’t avoid technology and remain relevant.  Over the last few years I feel like I’ve been watching an awkward dance between the intelligent buildings industry and the HVAC industry.  They approach each other cautiously, like tweens on a middle school dance floor.

A good example of this “dance” occurred with the introduction of the Nest Learning Thermostat™ a few years ago. Consumers were instantly enamored with its self-programming capability and hip design.  Those of us who had long since given up on programming our own thermostats loved concept of a thermostat that could actually “learn” our preferences. And gadget loving geeks were all over the idea of a thermostat they could control from their smart phone.  Contractors were less enthusiastic.  I remember reading their comments on HVAC forums, and as far as I could tell, most were certain this silly, bullseye-looking hockey puck would fail.  It didn’t.  The 3rd generation Nest was released last year and they’ve branched out into home security cameras and more.

The marketers of the Nest were clever enough to focus on the end-users (in this case, homeowners). In fact, it was almost as if they politely waited to let the homeowner make the introduction to contractors.  Pretty soon if you couldn’t or wouldn’t swing to the that beat of the Nest, it was clear you were going to have to sit a few dances out.  My own contractor, who remains skeptical to this day, installs them fairly frequently. He’s still not crazy about the product, but if the client asks for it, that’s what the client gets.

It’s All About the Messaging

The Nest and other companies that have had success marketing “smart” products for use in HVAC or construction have executed their messaging with surgical precision in how they have targeted it, but also in how they have crafted it.  This video from the NEST is so well-scripted it could convince the least handy homeowner in the world that even he or she could replace a thermostat.  

I also like this sketch pad video from Constellation HomeBuilder Systems, marketing their builder management software--even though I find it a bit long.  The product isn’t tangible, but the presentation lends a sense of tangibility. It’s visual and well-paced so as not to overwhelm.  It’s also easy on the tech talk.  

All that is easier said than done, and believe me, the latest web-based tools to hit the HVAC market are far more complex than either of the above mentioned products. But the lesson about messaging high tech to hands-on people remains the same:  If you can’t tell a relatable story, you’ll be dancing alone.  

Not Feeling Vegas – Even Though I’ll Probably Go


By Trish Holder

If it were up to you, where would the 2017 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR) be held in January?

As most of us in the HVACR industry know, it will be in Las Vegas – not exactly my fav venue, but I get it. It is not terribly expensive to travel to, the convention center can handle the Expo, and there are plenty of hotels, cabs, and restaurants to go around – not to mention casinos.  But like a lot of people who attend or exhibit at AHR, it’s not a town I personally love to visit.  New York, yes. Chicago, yes. Orlando, maybe. Las Vegas, nah.

Regardless of the location, I typically attend AHR each year to visit with existing clients, reconnect with HVAC publishers, and scope out new opportunities. New York and Chicago remain my favorite AHR venues. But Vegas is a place you either love or barely tolerate and I’m afraid I fall into the latter category. I’m not gambler. All the glitz and excess make me feel like I need a good bath and a juice cleanse. And it really ticks me off that so many of the hotels don’t have coffeemakers.

But like I said: I get it. 

AHR is a huge show, and there are only a few convention centers in the US large enough to host it. Still, I’d sure like to pay a visit to San Francisco, Boston, or Phoenix. New Orleans hosted the 2014 Greenbuild Expo at the newly renovated Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and it was awesome. I could stand to go back there again.

What about the rest of you?  Are you hankering for some new scenery outside the AHR convention hall?  If the decision was yours to make and convention center size was not an issue, where would you like to see AHR hosted?

Drop me an email to let me know:

Could an Art & Design School Hold the Key to Renewed Interest in HVAC as a Career Path?

Photo courtesy of Billyv, Flickr

Photo courtesy of Billyv, Flickr

By Trish Holder

The Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) could find a way to make a paperclip interesting.

A recent tour of this extraordinary campus left me wondering what my own industry could learn from this extraordinary institution – particularly when it comes to attracting bright, young people into the HVAC field. 

SCAD calls itself "The University for Creative Careers," no doubt a bold rebuttal to the idea that art and design students are destined to be well-educated hobbyist rather than gainfully employed professionals.  After a few hours touring the facilities and listening to student guides talk about their own experiences at the school, I was convinced that SCAD has succeeded in blending “exciting and creative” with “practical and profitable.”

These students are going places. They are collaborating with each other and doing amazing things from creating the opening visual for the Super Bowl to a prototype for an urban living space of only 135-sqaure-feet.  Big brand companies are dipping into the school for talent to fuel their film studios, advertising agencies, architectural firms, publishing houses and so much more. This is not a school for future starving artists.  

So if SCAD can make something practical and profitable out of something that is exciting and creative, why can’t the HVAC industry make something exciting and creative out of what is already practical and profitable?

That was the question percolating in my brain as I looked at a SCAD photography exhibit showing unexpected perspectives on buildings. One photo in particular caught my eye.  Most likely taken using a drone, it was of the rooftop of an ordinary urban building.  Other than the perspective, there was nothing special about the image – just the usual rooftop equipment -- a cooling tower, some piping, and the concrete roof.  But from up above it looked cool.  Really cool.

Isn’t It All About Perspective?

It dawned on me how much our reactions to things are based on perspective, including certain careers.  SCAD, as a school, constantly encourages shifting perspectives – both visually and intellectually. That’s what is exciting to the students about the school and I suspect it is also partly to thank for the fountain of creativity that flows from it.

Is it so hard to imagine the HVAC industry, both the design and service areas, might profit from doing the same? 

Maybe--just maybe--it already is. 

A recent article by Mike Murphy of ACHR NEWS points to a few promising signs.  The article, entitled "Labor Shortage Answer Requires Cultural Change" suggests that a “demographic trend” may have already taken root. Murphy cited some of his own observations at a recent Service Nation Inc. meeting, including that of younger contractors in their 30’s and 40’s (young for this industry, anyway) talking less shop and more about changing technologies, such as home automation, home performance, home information, etc.  He also quoted one industry veteran who believes that the key to inspiring a younger generation of techs involves granting them more autonomy to engage with customers and make decisions, basically giving them the perspective of a business owner rather than just a service tech.

It was a good article that seemed to dovetail with some of my own observations at SCAD. 

The article also mentioned a new industry conference for contractors, Service World Expo, Oct. 26-27 in Las Vegas, which has my interest peaked. It’s pretty obvious that this conference is positioned to appeal to a younger generation of contractors. Judging by the clever graphics on the website, I’d say they are off to a good start.

The concept is fun, fresh, and exciting. Very SCAD-like, indeed.