PHILADELPHIA — The industry’s biggest stars convened at the 2013 Comfortech Show in Philadelphia last month. The show featured educational sessions, Radiant Professionals Alliance meetings and seminars, Service Roundtable sessions, a product showcase, and, perhaps, the show saved the best for the last day. The Mechanical Town Hall featuring the “Fab 5” and the Industry Leadership Symposium, featuring industry executives — John White Jr. from Taco, John Warner of Laars, John Galyen from Danfoss, Craig Johnson from White-Rodgers and Ingersoll Rand’s Gary Michel — discussed our great industry on topics such as energy efficiency, the big box debate and warranties, and rounded out one of the most exciting shows of the year. If you missed it, be sure to make plans to be at next year’s Comfortech Show in Nashville, Sept. 10-12.

With nearly 200 attendees, the second iteration of the “Fab 5,” moderated by Contractor magazine’s editor-at-large, John Mesenbrink, interacted with the crowd on topics such as selling and profitability, owning a smaller business in today’s economy, social media, new technology and the importance of contractor training. Covering all facets of plumbing, HVAC, hydronics and alternative energy use, five prominent plumbing/HVAC business owners, executives and trainers shared their secrets to success in today’s uncertain economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fab 5:

• Steve Miles, general manager of Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning, St. Charles, Mo., kicked off the panel discussion talking about the keys to selling and profitability in today’s marketplace. “You can have all the sales in the world, but if you’re not structured for profitability, you’re going to go out of business. So you better know your numbers. Break everything down. Know your costs,” said Miles.

• Eric Aune, owner of Aune Plumbing LLC, Zimmerman, Minn., discussed the keys in setting yourself apart from your competitors. Topics included getting with local and national trade organizations, networking with industry peers and taking advantage of manufacturer and trade organization training. Aune also stressed the importance of making contacts throughout the industry. For instance, “PR firms and marketing professionals are always looking for talented contractors who use the products they are promoting. And, show off your jobsites and get them noticed in a trade pub or website,” said Aune.

• Alana Ward, president of Baggett Heating & Cooling, a residential retrofit contractor located in Clarksville, Tenn., talked on topic about social media and the ease of online networking. Ward also impressed the crowd, sharing with them that she was part of the original Fab 5 — her middle school basketball team went undefeated and they were quickly referred to as the Fab 5, named, of course, after the University of Michigan’s famed basketball team. “If you talk to me for any amount of time, you’ll find out that I really love this business. I was never supposed to be here, it was never my plan, but I realized the need there was for people to be in this industry that care about it,” said Ward.

• Anthony Reikow, education and training specialist for B.J. Terroni, a manufacturer’s rep located in Bensalem, Pa., energized the crowd with his energy and charisma. Reikow, a 35-year industry veteran, really hit home his message of training and contractor on-the-job safety. In the eyes of the customer, well-trained and educated employees are the preferred contractor for the job, thereby increasing company revenue. “In the end, if we don’t take care of the customer, somebody else will,” said Reikow.

• Dave Yates discussed the importance of business diversification in today’s marketplace. He discussed expanding business portfolios and services to include plumbing, HVAC and alternative energy. “A common thread that binds diversification all together is energy and natural resource conservation, which has earned us a reputation that can't be beat,” said Yates. When referring to plumbing, specifically Yates talked about the importance of water conservation and WaterSense, scald prevention, water heating, knowledge of codes and water filtration and purification. HVAC topics included geothermal, heat loss/gain software, gas piping, indoor air quality, variable refrigerant flow and mini-splits. Yates touched on solar and its relation to cost projections, energy conservation value and return on investment. Finally, an underlying theme of all panelists, Yates urged contractor training. “Training. Rinse, wash and repeat,” referring to the fact that contractors can never have enough training. “Never stop learning or asking questions.”

A lively discussion followed the presenters with an intimate Q&A session with topics covering starting a business, online training, keeping the books and increasing profits. Summing up the Fab 5 panel, “It's often said that in order to excel, you need to surround yourself with others who are far better and then emulate what they do, and that was certainly the case, for me, with the folks on the panel. I came away with far more than I brought to the group,” said a humble Dave Yates.