Successful contractors don’t stand still — they always look for new opportunities and trends that can help them grow their companies and set themselves apart in the marketplace. These opportunities often take the form of changes in the marketplace, the economy, and in government regulations. As such, the answer to the above question is simple and complicated at the same.

As I travel around our industry in this 12th year of the 21st Century, I hear a lot of buzz about the impact of everything going on in society today on the contracting community. Among the biggest is the tightness of money. Consumers, both residential and commercial, aren’t spending like they used to. In many areas around the country, this makes it difficult for contractors to continue doing business the way they always have.

I hear the words “niche marketing” more today than I have in a long time. Niche marketing isn’t something new, but it has taken on new meaning, especially in the past five years or so.

For example, I hear from contractors, manufacturers, and distributors across the country that today’s HVAC contractor is very much tomorrow’s green contractor. We’re all cognizant of the very strong movement for high energy efficiency and low environmental impact in terms of the products we sell and service. Those contractors who embrace this concept are successful selling high-end systems such as geothermal and solar.

In other words, today’s HVAC contractor is tomorrow’s energy and comfort specialist. This has always been the case, but more contractors every day are realizing the role they play and are enhancing the products and services they offer. To do that, they’re not only being “dry heat” or “wet heat” contractors. They’re becoming more comfortable working with multiple platforms and making them work in the best interest of their customers.

In other words, today’s HVAC contractor is very much tomorrow’s system integrator. Technologies such as smart thermostats and Smart Grid appliances that enable remote monitoring and control of systems are prevalent today and will become more so in the years to come. HVAC contractors who become more adept at tying mechanical systems and controls together and integrating them into the performance of the house and workplace will help clients achieve higher comfort and efficiencies and surpass increasingly stringent government regulations.

In other words, today’s HVAC contractor is very much tomorrow’s home and building performance expert. From where I stand, HVAC contractors have always been in this role, but are even more pivotal in it today. That’s because it’s today’s HVAC contractor who is tomorrow’s solar, geothermal, hybrid, wind, and refrigerant specialist.

Today’s HVAC contractors are selling ancillary systems that contribute to the safety and security of our homes and workplaces — power generators, indoor air quality control, humidification, and much more. They’re embracing technologies such as variable-speed drives, variable-refrigerant-flow systems, and more. The business of mechanical systems contracting has evolved way beyond the furnaces, condensing units, controls systems, and ventilation systems of yesteryear because the government is viewing buildings as systems and so are your customers.

Back in 2004, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) did a study entitled, “Five Key Trends for the Future of the Mechanical Industry” (bit.ly/zSIVCA). In that study they found that between the years 2004 and 2020 five key trends would change the way mechanical contractors live and work.

Two of those trends are what they called an “evolving value chain” and an “era of rebuilding.” I find it very interesting how on-target they were in that study because what it says to me is that tomorrow’s successful HVAC contractor is all of these things. Interestingly enough, that contractor can be all of you.