Amanda Holloway: Hello Solving Water listeners! In this series, we’re revisiting the latest happenings in the commercial buildings industry, and kicking off Xylem’s “Building Better Initiative,” the Bell and Gossett Brand’s commitment to finding solutions to the most critical HVAC and plumbing challenges facing the commercial building’s market today. I’m thrilled to be back at the air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration expo for the first time since 2020, recording live from Atlanta. Be sure to subscribe to or stream wherever you get your podcasts for industry insights and lots of interesting updates from longtime Bell & Gossett reps and Xylem experts alike.
I’m joined today by Mike Barnett with Oslin Nation, thanks for being here!
Mike Barnett: No, thank you. Appreciate the invite.
Amanda Holloway: So, to start off by giving me a little bit of background about Oslin Nation. Our listeners as well.
Mike Barnett: Right, right. So Oslin Nation, we’ve been around since 1943. We’re a mechanical HVAC and plumbing provider. Our primary product line is Bell & Gossett, and our emphasis and focus is to work directly with engineers to get our products laid out and specified. Help them make selections and support their needs. At the same time, we work with mechanical contractors to assist with our knowledge on installation and support them any way we can regarding startup with that equipment and then the after sale as well, if there’s a service issue. We try to lend our hand the best we can with our experience and lead them the right way.
And we also have more of a plumbing presence as well on the wholesale side. We’ll sell a lot of booster packages, sewage packages, plumbing applications for circulation and that kind of stuff. We have a pretty large gambit of product offerings, along with customers that we deal with every day in the state of Texas.
Amanda Holloway: Great. It’s good to see you again, it’s been–
Mike Barnett: It’s been a minute.
Amanda Holloway: 3 years, I think.
Mike Barnett: Yes, it’s been a minute.
Amanda Holloway: AHR 2020 and here we are again at AHR. It’s the first full one since the shutdown, so how’s the show going for you?
Mike Barnett: Good, my feet are tired. [laughs] I think we had eight guys here this year. Last year, not so much. Obviously, it was a very down year in comparison to what it’s been previously. But yeah, we’re all pretty tired. We’re looking for the foot spa, we couldn’t find it today. We just put on the boots and kept going.
Amanda Holloway: Feels probably kinda good though to be back at more of what a real AHR is supposed to be like.
Mike Barnett: Yes. I guess the best part was seeing our colleagues. You know, seeing the people that we’ve known for years, getting to meet with them again. Hug them, shake their hands, check in on how they’re doing. It’s so hard to do that over a phone call or an email, there’s just a personal touch.
Which is a testament to our business, we’re a relationship businesses, and so I think, I hope everybody learned through the Covid experience that the distance is not a good thing. I think as humans, we need that interaction, we need that personal feel, and I hope that through this exercise that we’ve been through called a pandemic, that we can all learn a little bit about ourselves, so that going forward, we don’t make mistakes of thinking we can just hide in a bubble and try to get business done.
Amanda Holloway: Tell us a little bit about your journey and Oslin Nation’s journey through the pandemic. How has that been over the past few years? What are you seeing out there in terms of whether it’s trends or specific challenges that have emerged based on this?
Mike Barnett: That’s a good question. We’re still struggling a little bit with it, and I think it’s the same struggle everybody has right now. Finding quality people that want to come in and learn our trade is a challenge. We have such a unique product offering and such a unique skillset that we have to have, working directly with engineers, being a technical resource, being able to have an educated conversation with a contractor so that they understand and respect what we’re trying to tell them. That takes time, and, you know, as our industry continues to grow and evolve, there’s so many more things that we have to learn, yet we don’t have enough people that are willing to dive in and take the investment of time that it takes to do that.
And I don’t know if that’s a product of a generation or a product of Covid. Talking to other colleagues and other industry leaders, they’re all having the same problem. Um, so that’s probably the single biggest challenge that we’re having, is just, finding the right people that want to become part of the team and grow.
I guess the other one still, we’re all facing supply chain shortages. You know, we’ve got a lot of things going on overseas, not just with our manufactures, but just with going to the store. I’m looking for an RC cable for this system I’ve got at home, and I can’t find it, and the guy tells me, “yeah, it’ll be 12 weeks.” We just take it for granted, I think we’ve all just gotten so used to having a “I need it now, I can get it now,” mentality in life that we need to all take a deep breath, and relax a little bit.
Maybe hopefully Covid’s taught us that, but I think we’re all human and I think we all get back into that, you know, tigers don’t change their stripes” mentality, right?
Amanda Holloway: For sure. Short memories.
Mike Barnett: Oh that’s exactly right. Very short memories. So those are two of the largest areas that we deal with everyday.
Amanda Holloway: Okay, and what about from an industry standpoint in the state of Texas where you primarily are? What are your customers looking for, asking for?
Mike Barnett: It goes back to having bodies, right? Our customers haven’t changed, their expectations – we’re still working five days a week, we’re still answering phone calls and emails at weird hours sometimes. We have the same technical expertise that we have prior to Covid, you know, the challenge is, unfortunately we do. It just means you have to get into a line of calls. Instead of being the first call, maybe now you’re caller number 7.
And unfortunately, there’s a lot of times that is reality, and we just don’t have the bandwidth. I’m not trying to be negative here, but one of the other struggles is we get further into people retiring and that tribal knowledge not being passed on to the younger generation. We’re being asked more to be more of a technical resource with younger engineers and/or contractors that just don’t know how to do things. So that requires that we spend a little bit more time with them, so that guy who’s calling the second or third or fourth time have to wait a little bit longer.
So it’s our job to make sure that those people after calling once, feel equally important and that we give them the time that they need, and that’s a continuing struggle that not only we have, but others as well.
Amanda Holloway: Sure. Workforce dynamics has been a thread through I think just about all of the podcasts I’ve recorded this week, and it’s not just one factor it sounds like. There’s the labor shortage piece of it, there’s the lack of engineers in general. There’s this knowledge gap because of the aging workforce. So it sounds like all of those things are at play.
Mike Barnett: We’re no different, but we are in Texas, so maybe it’s a little bit bigger.
Amanda Holloway: So another thread that’s kind of been running through the themes of the podcasts this week are decarbonization, net zero electrification, so what’s your take on those buzzwords or topics?
Mike Barnett: It’s a major buzzword right now. Our government’s pushing an agenda. We can fight it all we want, but uh, I think there’s some reality that it’s coming. It makes sense. I mean, there’s certain aspects of it that make sense, but then there’s large aspects of it that make no sense. I hope that at some point I hope people start opening their eyes and looking at the reality of things. We don’t have the infrastructure as a company to manage that amount of electrical appliances without adding additional power resources to our grid, and I mean, not to get political, that example happened over the summer, when the governor of California asked people not to charge their Tesla cars because they didn’t have enough power to make sure that they could maintain their electricity because it started getting warm outside.
That should just be a small picture of the problems that are about to happen the more they push for electrification. Right now as we speak, they’re in the process of getting rid of natural gas stoves. Guys, that’s just not feasible.
We know electrification is coming, we’ve seen applications of it that make so much sense, because you’re taking a refrigerated source, you’re turning that air into a heat source so we can use it for domestic water, so now I’ve got one appliance that it makes really good sense.
If I could reduce my overhead cost of a building or a piece of equipment to allow it to be used for dual sources? That’s really good, that’s smart. But to turn around and say, “we want to use this for every application and every known cause,” I don’t think the technology is there for that. Clearly our power resources as a country are not, either.
Amanda Holloway: What kind of pressures are you getting in the Texas market?
Mike Barnett: Well, thank goodness, none yet. We kind of jokingly say we feel like Central Texas will be the first market that drives that initiative. They seem to be a leader in new ideas and new ways of thinking. I know maybe ten years ago, they were big on the rainwater harvesting initiative. One of the things that we found though, even going into that technology and really pushing it, Xylem had a great product offering at the time.
We were getting VE’d out of the jobs because nobody really wanted to pay for it. The cost to do the good work in your heart doesn’t always mean it’s inexpensive. At the end of the day, if the government’s going to subsidize it and pay for it, people are more inclined to bring that in because it’s costing them less money up front. Again, not trying to get political, but if we can’t have free trade and be in a society where we have to pay for our own things and be subsidized by the government, then we’re doing something wrong.
Amanda Holloway: Okay, that’s fair. Good take. What do you want the listeners of Solving Water to know about? What’s going on in the industry right now?
Mike Barnett: We’ve got a lot of great things coming out. That’s probably the most exciting part. I’ve been blessed enough to be apart of many meetings. Not just this weekend, but previously. Our industry is continuing to look at electrification, okay, and this – my business partner and I were talking about this just last week.
The absolute amazingness that we can run a pump and get the same amount of water flow and gallons per minute and TDH, with less than the power of a lightbulb. Guys, that’s pretty cool.
And that goes back to all the other initiatives that go on outside of this. When you start looking at stuff and you realize that not only can we do that, but by the way, we can add this feature, and we can add this feature, maybe by adding this feature, we make it simpler, more compact, more cost-efficient for our customer, that’s a win. Because, at the end of the day, consumers have to pay for our goods, and that is real money to them, just as it’s real money to us. They’re not always planning, right, so if I can come to them with a product that, yes, I get it it’s a hundred dollars more, but the energy savings I’m going to give you are going to pay for in less than twelve months. Oh, and by the way? You’re going to get those savings continued past twelve months. We can sell that, and so we’re excited about all the product offerings that Xylem’s bringing out. I love the idea that we’re innovating and creating some of our own products that we’ve never done before. So, a lot of good things to come.
Amanda Holloway: Unless you have anything else to add, I just have one more question for you.
Mike Barnett: Sure, sure, go ahead.
Amanda Holloway: I ask all the guests on Solving Water this question, and the question is, what is the most important thing you’ve learned in the water business so far?
Mike Barnett: Oh goodness, that’s a great question too. I would tell you first and foremost that the relationships that you have today will be the ones that you have much longer than today, way down in the future. You might into a young man or a young lady, they’re an entry-level engineer or that entry-level project manager. They’re doing the grunt work, right, and you’re like, I don’t want to talk to them, they’re just learning. I’ve gotta talk to the decision maker.”
One of the things that we encourage our people to do, let’s build that relationship with this person. Maybe that customer doesn’t sell a lot, okay? Well, guess what, our industry – this is something that I’ve learned and maybe this is true in every other industry too, I don’t know – you don’t know when that person doesn’t go to the next big company and now they’re the next big thing. If you don’t have that relationship with them, when they’re tiny and not doing a lot, they’re probably not going to give you a lot of their time when they’re in a position to make bigger decisions.
So I’m very big on never forget the little guy, no one’s responsibility is less important than somebody else’s and if we treat our customers that way, we can have a longstanding future in this industry and be successful.
Amanda Holloway: Great. Well, I really appreciate your time.
Mike Barnett: Sure.
Amanda Holloway: Thanks for hoofin’ it over here. Have a great rest of the show and hopefully you’ll come back and visit us.
Mike Barnett: I was just gonna ask, when are we doing it again? Well, thank you for your time, I appreciate it.
Amanda Holloway: Thanks. Many thanks to our Solving Water audience for tuning into this episode in our series of podcasts live from AHR 2023 in Atlanta. I’d also like to thank all the Bell & Gossett reps and Xylem experts who participated for making the time for me at the show. Links to more info for each show will be included in each episode’s show notes. Tell me what you think of our podcasts by contacting me, Amanda Holloway, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on LinkedIn. Thank you!