Mechanical Town Hall delivers at AHR

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The 2nd annual Mechanical Town Hall (MTH) at AHR last month was met to a standing-room-only capacity—despite adverse conditions, which included nine inches of snow falling in New York, plummeting temps and a city’s transportation system that came to a standstill.


From l to r: Moderator John Mesenbrink, Brian Nelson, Bob ‘hot rod’ Rohr, Eric Aune, John Barba and Dave Yates.

Panel members Brian Nelson, owner, Nelson Mechanical Design Inc., Edgartown, Mass.; Bob ‘hot rod’ Rohr, training and education manager for Caleffi North America, Milwaukee; Eric Aune, owner, Aune Plumbing LLC, Zimmerman, Minn.; John Barba, Contractor Training and Trade Program Manager, Taco, Inc., Cranston, R.I.; and Dave Yates, owner, F.W. Behler, York Pa., discussed a variety of issues relevant to the plumbing, hydronics and HVAC industries.

Moderated by the Hub’s & Contractor magazine’s editor-at-large, John Mesenbrink and Contractor editor-in-chief, Bob Mader (, panel members fielded questions ranging from the economy, training, social media adapting to new technology and Google’s recent acquisition of Nest thermostats, among others.


A standing room only crowd attended the Mechanical Town Hall at AHR.

• The economy — The consensus of the panel was that the economy is steadily improving with a growing consumer confidence. When asked how have they dealt with the past few rough years in the market, “You need to diversify,” replied Nelson quickly. “Additions of service offerings to a company’s portfolio are key.” Air source heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow (mini-splits), geothermal, solar thermal, renewables such as pellet boilers were a few suggested topics.

When asked about surviving as a small contracting business, Aune said, “You will not make any money, grow or retire from this business if you cannot manage your business. Seek the advice of others. Employ the services of professionals, like yourself, who are good at what they do and have them working for you. Hire a bookkeeper to monitor and track your spending and income. These people will make sure you’re charging enough, too little.” Aune also stressed the importance of training. “Take advantage of online training opportunities. Take in a Webinar once a month. Make it a goal to seek out, schedule and attend some sort of training session each month of the year. Without fail you’ll be better off than you were without it.”


The Hub’s Eric Aune addresses the crowd on the topic of owning your own business.

• Training — Busy with everyday work, it can be hard for contractors to find time for training and learning about new technology and skills, but training is of utmost importance. Yet all the panelists concurred that in order to stay on the cutting-edge of the plumbing and hydronics industry, you must train, train and train! Yates expressed the importance of joining associations such as the RPA for solid training and education.

Specializing in training for Taco, Inc., Barba reinforced Aune’s notion of the need for continuous training, “Don’t be so busy chopping wood that you forget to sharpen your axe.”

Barba also said that as a trainer it is important that trainers don’t waste contractors’ time. “Manufacturers need to make sure training is application based,” said Barba. “Regardless of the product that you are trained on, you need to be sure that what you learn in a class you will be able to apply to projects regardless of the product.”

Barba also pointed out that a trainee has to play a part and come to training prepared, and have a list of items they want to learn. So then the trainer knows what the trainee’s expectations are.

Rohr added that both online and in-person training courses are beneficial. “We need to offer different types of courses,” said Rohr. “People like to learn in different ways.”

• Social Media — When the conversation between panelists and attendees turned to social media, Barba told attendees, “Social media is the new word of mouth.”

Aune added to the social media conversation by telling attendees that social media is the perfect place to have contact with customers, and the key to social media it keeping it simple. And it’s free!

Some commonsense tips for contractors new to social media are:

• Post pictures of completed projects.

• Post pictures of your employees.

• Post timely and useful information such as how to protect pipes from freezing.

“It’s all about building a brand,” said Aune. “It’s not enough to have a website these days—you need to share information that you feel is useful to the customer.”

Stay tuned for future Mechanical Town Hall events.

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