Before ever thinking about becoming an editor, I spent a couple of years under the impression that I'd someday be a journalist. It was much easier than trying to stay awake while a professor droned on about debits and credits.

To further my pipe dream, the daily newspaper provided me with part-time beer money, in exchange for sophomoric articles.

Then, a new reality set in —– more beer was required than a meager reporter's wage allowed. I began dating a woman who understood accounting. A renaissance occurred, and I can now afford snobby, micro-brewed libation.

I recently listened to a group of contractors discuss the realities of their relationships with manufacturers, and the effect of marketing and advertising on brand selections. Paul Wadsworth, of P.K Wadsworth in Solon, OH summed up his views quite succinctly, "Old marketing doesn't work anymore."

A recent issue of Contracting Business featured a controversial article by Matt Michel. He challenged contractors to rely upon themselves to grow their business, and not rely upon someone else's brand that flies over the top of their buildings.

The topic illicited strong emotions from many readers (see Mailbox responses on p. 10). Yet, Michel's underlying message stems from his innate sense of vision for the HVAC industry.

New energy efficiency requirements and ecofriendly refrigerants are just a few years away. Manufacturers, distributors, and contractors already agree that differentiating products will become increasingly difficult (see the June 2004 issue of Contracting Business).

Complete system solutions will be the primary differentiating factor for not only contractors, but equipment manufacturers, as well.

Ben DiMarco, DiMarco Mechanical, in Cleveland, OH says, "Unqualified people working on customers' systems presents the biggest problem for manufacturers. I've heard customers complain they ‘bought a terrible product.' No, what they bought was a contractor who didn't know what he was doing. Manufacturers' products are built to exacting quality standards. In the future, dealer quality is the only thing that's going to matter."

Reality Check
As this new reality sets in, manufacturers should align themselves with the very best contractors in the market to protect their own brand integrity. This means purging incompetent dealers from customer lists, embracing NATE certification, requiring performancebased system verification, and promoting the value of their greatest market differentiation—– the installingcontractors.

Of course, the sword cuts both ways. Contractors should be ready to meet the higher expectations of manufacturers and suppliers. They too, must embrace NATE (see The Rant on p. 88) and become performance-based service providers.

Partnership, an overused and sometimes empty term, needs a renaissance. And there has never been a better timefor its rebirth.