by Mike Weil, editor-in-chief

With this issue, I step into a role I've coveted for some time, and one for which I am excited and humbled to be in. I recognize I have some pretty big shoes to fill, but I've found a great cobbler who says he'll help me out in that department. The brand of Contracting Business remains the same, just the shoes have changed.

Speaking of brand, across the board, the idea of branding is being challenged and redefined. It's a complex issue that contractors, manufacturers, and distributors alike dance around.

Contracting Business has run several articles over the past few years that have turned up the music in the dance and have incited some heated debate.

So now it's my turn to weigh in on this issue.

It wasn't so long ago that most contractors carried only one brand of product. "Dance with the one that brung ya," was a mantra often heard back then. And brand loyalty was strong.

This is much different today. A number of influential contractors contend that their brand is much more important than the brands of their suppliers. Some manufacturers heatedly disagree. Others, in response to a marketplace need, have decided to provide privately labeled equipment for contractors who are savvy enough to create a strong local presence.

Did the equipment manufacturers' brands become any less important? Does this mean that Maytag, Lennox, York, Rheem, Heil, Trane, Armstrong, or a myriad of other brands proliferating our industry are any less recognized than John Doe Heating & Cooling? How can private labeling possibly work?

Most manufacturers' surveys indicate that their respective brands rank very high in consumer awareness. However, most manufacturers and distributors also recognize that contractors reportedly influence from 65 to 83% of purchases. In other words, contractors tell customers what to buy.

So, why would a contractor need somebody else's brand riding shotgun? It goes back to brand loyalty. If your customers are really loyal to you, then go ahead, private label.

When I ask contractors which brands they offer, I often hear, "I carry X and Y, but I tell the customer I can get them anything they want."

Am I hearing this right? To me, the anything-they-want is usually some other recognized brand name that the customer has requested. Perhaps that does say something about supplier brands, and how important they may be to your operation.

Sure, you can be the brand if you're able to consistently create an indelible experience in the mind of the customer. Even so, a number of the privately branded contractors will tell customers who may not want their John Doe brand, that they'll substitute anything the customer wants.

So much for brand loyalty. Some privately labeled contractors won't even stick to their guns for their own brand! Do you ever wonder why our industry is growing more complex? And this from someone who can't dance to save his life.

What are your thoughts on this? Send your comments and thoughts to mweil@penton.com