Making hay with the RPA

Plumbing contractor Dave Yates gives his reasons for joining the Radiant Panel Association

One thing that's undeniable: this recession and economy has altered the way we do business. Chances are you’re operating a bit leaner and paying closer attention to details than when the economy was firing on all eight cylinders just two years ago. It's not easy being an independent small business and it seems to get tougher with each passing year. Turning a profit can become a serious challenge. A friend recently asked me to explain why I am a member of the Radiant Panel Association (RPA) and challenged me to give at least one solid reason why it's worth the cost to join. "Just one?" I asked with a grin.

Funny how easy it had been to forget my own early-on resistance and reluctance to join the RPA. Give up my hard-earned money to an organization when I'm already doing hydronics and radiant heating? Stubborn as I am, I'm fortunate to have friends like Gary Hayden, www.premierecomfort.com, an engineer who communicates in plain English, who stubbornly wore me down until I finally joined the RPA — if only to get him to quit hounding me that it would be good for my business. Yeah, right. Call me a skeptic, but I figured it was money being tossed out the door. I no sooner agreed to join than Gary was twisting my arm about attending an RPA convention! Who has time for this nonsense? But Richard Trethewey, the plumber on This Old House, was going to be the keynote speaker, and I wanted to meet him. We’d been working hard and this looked like a good excuse for a long weekend get-away.

Education

Looking over that first RPA convention schedule, it was apparent a number of seminars dealt with areas of interest. Choosing a series of courses was the greatest challenge and getting the most value for the cost of attending was an important consideration.

First up was a lengthy course being taught by John Siegenthaler, www.hydronicpros.com, another engineer who teaches and speaks in plain English. Talk about a wake-up call! I thought I knew hydronics well — I thought wrong. Siggy, as he's known, opened my eyes to a whole new world of in-depth knowledge. If I'd left after attending just that one seminar, my dues and the cost of attending the convention would have been more than worth the up-front costs. But Siggy's course that morning was just the first salvo of knowledge fired over my boat's bow!

Friendships

I was almost late for Siggy's class that morning. Entering the room, I saw that everyone who had registered had a book. There was a tall gent with wild-looking cowboy boots standing near the doorway, and I asked him where the books were. "You don't get one," he replied with a sly grin. And that's how I met Hot Rod Rohr, one of the first best friends I've met over these past years in the RPA. Many more would follow during the course of that first RPA convention, including Richard Trethewey.

A natural camaraderie exists that is a common thread binding all of the RPA members together, which makes it easy to collect friends along the way. We're all fighting the same battle and striving to improve our businesses while finely honing our craft, which leads me to the next reason to belong.

Networking

Sharing business secrets come naturally when you put contractors together that don't directly compete with each other. Call it "war stories" if you will, but how we've dealt with difficult customers, defective products, promote our businesses, or just plain get through each day is freely shared. Top that off with an ever-widening group of mentors who readily reveal tips and tricks for all manner of hydronic methods that will improve what it is you do for your customers, and that too ensures you'll get back ten-fold what you've invested in costs and time to belong and participate in the RPA.

Ahead of the curve

Exposure to so much information and the network that develops ensures you will be ahead of the curve in your local market. As your local reputation for top-notch work becomes enhanced, you'll find it easier to win bids and win over homeowners, builders, architects and businesses that are becoming increasingly savvy by virtue of information available via the Internet. When you present the greater value during the design/presentation phase, cost becomes less of an issue. RPA members who have availed themselves of the education and networking opportunities win more bids and, more often than not, were not the low bidder.

Direct contacts

After hours social events hosted by manufacturers and spending time at booths on the trade show floor provide you with an opportunity to grow your set of contacts and friendships with the folks who work for, and in many cases directly own, the manufacturers whose products you’ve been installing. The people behind the product build brand loyalty based on how the personal side of business is conducted.

Insider knowledge

The RPA trade shows, held during the association's conventions, reveal trends and emerging products. You also get an opportunity to provide valued feed-back manufacturers crave. U.S. distribution traditionally meant you dealt with your local wholesaler's sales person who would relay any concerns or design questions back up through the chain of distribution. While the Internet has dramatically altered that process, there's no substitute for having met folks in person in a setting where they actually have the time to spend time with you.

Business improvements

The RPA is intently focused on helping you to improve your business and make more money working smarter, not harder. I can state that as fact because I accepted the responsibility of joining the board of directors more than a year ago. The RPA is evolving rapidly following the retirement of its previous director, Larry Drake. The focus will be on education, so that anyone who chooses to become a member and participates in the widening variety of training opportunities will naturally improve their business. Our focus and scope will fan out while incorporating all facets of PHVAC and solar that can be blended with our core base of hydronics knowledge. The Building Radiant convention in Reno, Nevada, May 5-8,offers a dynamic education seminar track, trade show and networking opportunities. It's a new RPA with a new director, Ted Lowe, and keenly focused on a building you a brighter future.

If you boil down all of the reasons above, you have this last and most compelling reason for belonging to the RPA — it's a competitive advantage. This is where the rubber meets the road — the real value gained by being an RPA member. Drop by www.radiantpanelassociation.org anytime — the door's always open.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at Dave.Yates@fwbehler.com.

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