HVAC Tactical Movement Sparks Industry Mindset Change
By Dan Vastyan
When Ben Poole founded HVAC Tactical in 2018, he quickly found himself defending or explaining the brand’s name to curious trade pros who’d found him on social media. People started seeing the hats, T-shits and stickers he’d created with the heating and cooling trade in mind, and asked if he’d ever served in the military or as a law enforcement officer.
“No, I haven’t,” said Poole. “Most people associate the word ‘tactical,’ with combat. I suppose that’s for good reason. The military and police approach everything tactically – instead of randomly or reactively – because a tactical approach produces the desired result when executed properly.”
“But a tactical mindset isn’t exclusive to combat or security, He added. “It can be applied – I’ll argue should be applied – to many things in life, especially the goal-oriented things, like our careers. Approaching processes tactically creates efficiency and effectiveness.”
- Relating to or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific end.
- Showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action.
- Of or relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose.
Poole’s background in the HVAC trade really began three generations ago, with a grandfather who was a master fabricator. His father brought him up sweeping floors in the shop, and Poole progressed through service, installation, sales and management before working for a large unitary manufacturer as a sales trainer. Along the way, he’s owned several contracting firms.
“I’m proud of my skillset, as I think we all should be,” said Poole. “Five years ago, I sat in my office Googling HVAC-related apparel. There were a few things available, but most of it was corny. Otherwise, if tradespeople wanted to wear work-related apparel, they were limited to manufacturer-branded items. I felt like that needed to change.”
A brand is born
Starting a swag brand is fun, but as HVAC Tactical gained traction across social media, Poole realized that the brand had potential to do what he really wanted: create a community that could change the prevailing mindset within the HVAC trade.
“Creating a brand was never about the money,” he explained. “I believe in a mindset of self-improvement and a movement to elevate the trade. Regardless of what you do for a living, be the best that you can be in that craft. That’s what HVAC Tactical represents.”
Poole uses Red Bull as an example. The energy drink brand supports a wide variety of extreme sports, bringing a great deal of attention to the very best athletes in the world. This heavily impacted the world of extreme sports. The resulting exposure has encouraged a generation of young people to take their practice and training to new levels. Over the years, colossal improvements have been made to the equipment and training methodology that applies to those pursuits.
The end result? Humans accomplishing feats that were unthinkable a few short decades ago. Red Bull was, at least in part, the catalyst.
“That’s what our trade needs,” emphasized Poole. “We need tradespeople to realize their potential, take pride in their work, and strive to be their best. We need to eliminate the old-school mindset of going to work to get a paycheck, all the while hating our jobs and simply going through the paces.”
HVAC Tactical’s social media presence grew rapidly as more trade pros realized that their values and feelings aligned with the brand. Poole constantly posted positive content: “You’re only competing with yourself.” “Be better today than you were yesterday.” “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are 100 percent correct.”
Poole’s ambition for the brand intensified as its following grew.
“I was a Lennox dealer when I founded the brand,” said Poole. “During their annual dealer meetings, they presented awards based on sales performance. That’s great, but I always found myself wondering about the guys in the trenches. Who’s recognizing them, especially the ones working hard to improve the public image of the trade through exemplary work?”
A black tie affair
That question gave birth to an HVAC Tactical online awards presentation in January of 2021. Poole designed three challenge coin medallions to present to individuals for Lady of the Trade (winner, Jessica Bannister, @HVACJess), Teacher of the Trade (winner, Brian Orr, @HVACSchool), and Picture Perfect Install (winner, Alex Bishoff @HowardMechanical). While attending a Taco Comfort Solutions party at the 2021 AHR show in Atlanta, Poole decided he’d like to host a live HVAC Tactical party for the social media community.
“As I began planning the 2022 event coinciding with AHR Expo, Lance Robinson, a friend of mine at SolderWeld, suggested turning the party into a real awards ceremony,” said Poole. “I didn’t have the budget or planning experience, but Lance found sponsors and organized everything. SolderWeld co-hosted the event, and we presented 11 awards, along with a variety swag that included an HVAC Tactical-branded backpack for each of the 100 plus attendees.
After the Las Vegas event, Poole walked the trade show floor over the next three days, noticing the HVAC Tactical backpacks among the crowd. Many attendees approached him and either complimented him on the event or expressed their regret at having missed it. Given that many of the industry’s biggest social media influencers were present, online platforms buzzed. This gave Poole the reassurance he needed to begin planning for 2023 in Atlanta.
Like the previous event, the goal of this year’s award ceremony was to recognize industry leaders for their work, provide networking opportunities, and socialize with peers in a professional, formal atmosphere.
SolderWeld again co-hosted the event. Supco was the title sponsor, and a variety of other manufacturers stepped up as sponsors, including U.S. Boiler Company, Centrotherm, RLS, Fieldpiece, REMS, Bluon, Ridgid and many others.
In all, just shy of 300 attendees enjoyed networking, drinks and a fantastic dinner before 11 awards were presented:
- Lady of the Trade Award – winner, Brandi Ferenc (@ChlrChk)
- Hidden Gem Award – winner, Jeffrey MacFadden (@Jefffy__Pipes)
- Picture Perfect Install Award – winner, Ben Thomson (@HVAC_Strong)
- Lifeline Tech Award – winner, Matt Waxer (@The_HVAC_Doctor)
- Mentor of the Year Award – winner, Trevor Matthews (@RefrigerationMentor)
- Organized Truck Award – winner, Michal Adamczyk (@Smart__Heat)
- Best Social Content Award – winner, Pat Finley (@Commercial_Kitchen_Chronicles)
- Best HVAC Podcast Award – winner, Gil Cavey (@HVACUncensored)
- Behind the Scenes Award – winner, Jon Palmer (@TheHVACJerks)
- Influencer of the Year Award – winner, Craig Migliaccio (@ACServiceTech)
- Lifetime Achievement Award – winner, Joseph Groh (Joseph Groh Foundation) https://www.josephgrohfoundation.org/
Channeling the momentum
“We created awareness in 2022 and built on it in 2023,” said Poole. “The wave we created in Atlanta is going to push us to a whole new level. It all started with a passion for the trade and the desire to share that passion. My ultimate goal is to elevate the trade.”
“We – the people of the trade – have failed to value ourselves and what we bring to the table,” continued Poole. “When we do the best work we can and begin valuing ourselves, that’s when others will begin to see our true worth.”
Poole explained that while there’s still a lot of work to be done, the awareness and perception of the trade began to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of a sudden, amidst nationwide lockdowns, we were recognized as essential,” he said. “We’ve been taken advantage of and looked down upon for the past several decades. The pandemic helped change that perception. Our unique skills were important enough that we had to continue working.”
With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, now’s the time for the skilled trades continue the momentum and accelerate. Trade-based social media accounts are growing rapidly in number and exposure, and now there’s a like-minded group for trade professionals and influencers to rally with one common goal: empower the trades.
In many ways, the key to that goal is harnessing the power of social media.
Changing the dialogue
While HVAC Tactical is a clothing brand that hosts an annual award ceremony, its real power lies in the potential to aggregate the voices of tradespeople on social media and to propagate a message with global impact. The positive implications are enormous, and frankly, have driven the fervor surrounding the brand thus far.
When successful, energized trade professionals share their work, advice, successes and failures online, it encourages others to learn and do their best work.
“I know for a fact that when one influencer posts a picture of an immaculate mechanical room, it has an impact on his or her followers,” said Poole. “Those followers begin taking more pride in their own work. It source of my own motivation.”
Displaying an improved mindset benefits the trade directly and indirectly. For example, it stimulates greater overall perception of the trades and skilled workforce jobs among the general public, including children and adolescents. Raising the perception of the trades will lead to better workforce recruitment. It will lead to reduced price resistance. It will lead to greater respect. Together, and over time, this raises the tide on which all boats float; tradespeople, contracting business owners, engineers, distributors, manufacturers and end-users.
“There’s another element at play here,” said Poole. “By building a community, we’re able to demand more of manufacturers and sales networks. If a product isn’t well built and effective, or if tech support isn’t up to snuff, that quickly becomes public knowledge. This is already happening on social media and will only accelerate. Products must be designed for – and support provided to – the professionals installing the equipment. Finally, manufacturers need to offer better education. Education is a big area that can be improved. The manufacturers that improve it will win going forward.”
Even trade shows stand to benefit from a community of influencers and engaged tradespeople. A number of people I spoke with in Atlanta cited the opportunity to interact with online peers and influencers in person as the tipping point while deciding whether or not to attend the AHR Expo.
While I’m not a tradesman, I certainly relished the opportunity to meet Poole (@HVACTactical), Jeff DeMassari (@JeffJDemHVAC), Aaron Bond (@Bond_Aaron) and George Narvaez (@LittleMan_With_Glasses), while visiting with influencer friends like Andy Mickelson (@Mick_Plumb), Eric Aune (@MechanicalHub), Mike Flynn (@FlynnStone1), Terence Chan (@The_Impetus) and many others.
“It was a surreal moment as the camera flashed in front of the step and repeat banner during the awards banquet,” said Poole. “Everyone was there dressed to the nines. It was a real ‘we did it’ moment.”
“And we’ll do it again,” he continued. “But it was too much work, too much pressure for one person. I’m cultivating a team around me to make next year even better.”
Poole believes the two biggest problems facing the trades are lack of education and ego. He thinks that by collaborating, sharing passion, and realizing that we’re not competitors but rather peers, HVAC professionals can overcome both obstacles.
“I want to empower the trade and kick the old-school mentality out of the industry,” he said. “We need to make tradespeople care about who they are, what they do, and the value they bring to the table. When we elevate together, the entire industry elevates. We are an authentic community, but the cost of entry is leaving your ego at the door.”