We are witnessing the dawn of a new era for HVAC contractors. There are a number of forces at work that are transforming our industry. This change is the shift towards making homes and HVAC systems work they way they're supposed to — often for the first time. Signs of this impending change are all around us. Just look at the headlines, both in mainstream and trade media. The same signals are also coming from government and utilities.

And let's not forget your customer: the homeowner. Over the next few years they'll have the most profound impact of all. Consumers are better educated — in large part due to the widespread use of the Internet for research — coupled with the exponential growth of social media.

Almost 15 years ago, an article written in this magazine predicted how the "Information Superhighway" would impact our industry and consumer behavior. Well, the Internet has evolved and information is flowing so freely, we've gone far past the superhighway concept and have entered the Information Hyperhighway — at warp speed.

Knowledge of what consumers could have, and should get, in terms of delivered performance, is more readily available than ever before. As a result, a new customer is emerging. This bold new customer can become better educated about HVAC and their home than many HVAC contractors and home services companies. They can easily learn about how to get their homes and systems to deliver maximum comfort and performance, so they get the most out of every energy dollar spent. Ironically, our challenge in this new world may be keeping up with knowledgeable, ergo, more demanding customers.

Box Pushers Beware
The handwriting is on the wall. The days of just selling "hot and cold boxes" are numbered. Over the next decade, our industry will go through more change than it has over the past 50 years. This is being precipitated not only by the renewed focus on energy efficiency and green, but by the natural evolution of what being an HVAC contractor means.

We're evolving as all industries evolve — thank goodness! The difference today is this evolution will take us beyond our comfort zone. It will take us into new areas not considered traditional for HVAC contractors. More than 20 years ago some of us spoke of a Comfort Revolution, hoping that forward thinking contractors would lead the pack in a revolutionary way of looking at comfort systems and homes. While some led this charge, and are now decades ahead of their competition, we've never really had a true single revolution in terms of quantum industry-wide change. Instead, we’ve experienced smaller changes over a longer period of time — more evolution than revolution.

These forward thinkers understood that the house and HVAC system are tightly interconnected. This fact, coupled with the increasing availability of tools, technology and knowledge to improve both home and HVAC system performance, is truly changing the game.

Traditional thinking about what it means to be an HVAC contractor is on its way to extinction. If you think that it’s your job to just service and replace equipment, you might as well start investing in buggy whips. Your days are numbered. For those who knew where to look, the signs have been around us for years. We knew there was more to our business than just selling and fixing equipment, and realized that it was just a matter of time before this knowledge would catch up with us.

The Good News
Please don't misunderstand: This is not doom and gloom for our industry. In fact, it’s just the opposite! We've been given a gift. We've been given an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to emerge from this with new purpose and tremendous potential.

While the sky isn't falling, don't wait too long to get on board. You have some decisions to make about where your company is headed — or you can bury your head in the sand with the other box-pushing ostriches. It's your choice.

There's time to catch up, but don't put it off. Start educating yourself. Start sorting through what's real and what's snake oil. There's a lot of noise out there and dead end paths, but there's plenty of good information about what it takes to be performance-based. You'll have to separate fact from fiction, and steak from sizzle, and figure out where your organization fits in this evolving marketplace.

What an exciting time to be part of this great industry!

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), an international training, certification and membership organization with nearly 500 contractor members. NCI coined the term, Performance-Based Contracting™ to describe what their members do. The organization's primary mission is to help contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at domg@ncihvac.com.