After a challenging year resulting from the global pandemic that hit full force in March 2020, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) reports that — one year later — there are signs that conditions are improving.
A contractor sentiment survey conducted by PHCC finds that 84% of respondents rank the continuing impact of COVID-19 on their businesses as having either a “low” or “medium” impact compared to 57% in spring 2020, when PHCC first began tracking trends during the pandemic. In addition, the number of people ranking impact as “medium high” to “high” has dropped to 9% from 43% in spring 2020.
“A year after COVID-19 hit, PHCC members indicate that they are cautiously optimistic that we are turning a corner toward better times ahead,” says PHCC President Hunter Botto. “Respondents also noted that their businesses have stabilized after several difficult months of disruption. They also see new business opportunities in the future, which is very good news for our industry.”
In fact, an annual environmental scan conducted by PHCC in January 2021 predicted an increased demand for home improvement spending; touchless products; upgraded and energy efficient equipment; smart technology; air and water filtration and purification; and IAQ markets, including UV and bipolar ionization.
While the overall outlook is positive, the plumbing and HVACR contractors responding to the sentiment survey cite several ongoing challenges, including maintaining a safe and fully operational staff; increased operating costs related to new safety requirements; addressing employee and customer health and safety concerns; customer delays on projects because of economic concerns; disruptions in the supply channel; and a fear of a potential recession.
Regarding manufacturers and suppliers’ responsiveness to supply chain issues, respondents noted many have been helpful by offering creative alternatives to products currently unavailable. There was an overall recognition that manufacturers and suppliers are also facing material cost increases and shortages, transportation challenges, workforce issues, etc. “They have been super helpful, but have had their own people issues, concerns and interruptions,” one contractor said.
Contractors indicate they have established many safety procedures to mitigate safety risks for employees and clients, including employee screening, social distancing, disinfection measures, increased communication about safety protocols and requirements for personal protective equipment.
“As we look back on the last year, PHCC members — operating as essential businesses — illustrated time and time again that they are true professionals committed to keeping their employees, customers and communities healthy and safe,” Botto says. “As always, our members have shown they are extremely resilient in tough times.”
Another positive indicator is — after recently completing its annual membership renewal process this spring — PHCC realized an increase in both renewing and new members.
“We are grateful for the loyalty demonstrated by our members throughout this crisis,” Botto says. “We are also excited to see growth in membership when business owners are assessing the ROI on every expenditure. Now more than ever, they can see the value of supporting and engaging with their association.”
To help navigate the many unexpected changes they faced, members relied on PHCC resources and videos via its COVID-19 Recovery Center, as well as monthly webinars, state and local support, advocacy, member discounts and access to Personal Protective Equipment.