A manufacturer and distributor partnered to provide air-conditioned comfort and product information while raising money for a charity.

It's very rare for people to be thankful for heat and humidity during the summer months, but representatives from Memphis-based Equipment Supply & Distribution, Inc., and Coleman Heating and Air Conditioning were glad it was a hot weekend in Memphis, Tenn., for the FedEx/St. Jude Golf Tournament.

For the past two years, Coleman and ESD, a Coleman distributor, have been partial sponsors of the FedEx/St. Jude Classic, a PGA event to raise money for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Each year Coleman sends its mobile display trailer --- an air-conditioned, 8-ft. by 24-ft. trailer that showcases Coleman Heating and Air Conditioning equipment -- to Memphis for ESD to entice attendees to sample some cool air provided by Coleman products.

ESD has three warehouse locations -- one in Memphis, one in Little Rock, Ark., and one in Springdale, Ark. The largest percentage of the company's business is residential, but the commercial segment is growing, says Charles Humphreys, president of ESD. Some of that commercial success comes from events like the St. Jude Classic.

"The St. Jude Classic is a wonderful venue for ESD and Coleman to participate," Humphreys says. "Not only do we get to add a small contribution to a good cause, but we also get to showcase our products to potential consumers that are both local and regional in a relaxed setting."

Officials estimated between130,000 to 150,000 spectators attended the event held at the Tournament Players Club. Many stopped by the Coleman trailer to cool down.

While ESD's been involved with the golf tourney for two years, its relationship with Coleman goes back to the 1940s. According to Humphreys, the quality of the products is what ultimately makes his partnership with Coleman so important.

"When I think of Coleman a story comes to mind," he recalls. "A newly hired heating and air conditioning engineer addressed Mr. Sheldon Coleman with the concept of saving costs in manufacturing by going to industry accepted but lower quality component parts in the production of condensing units. Mr. Coleman responded, 'That's nice, but whose name are we going to put on it?' I think that helps illustrate why ESD has wanted to stay with this product line."

Hosting a booth at the golf tournament also helps Humphreys better understand the needs of customers. As individuals stepped into the trailer, they wanted more information about the Coleman products offered by ESD.

"We owe consumers better information, easier-to-find solutions and a higher level of service," says Humphreys. "Perhaps in the future we can add additional displays and literature that provide an even higher level of consumer education."

Mickey Smith, marketing manager for YORK International's Coleman HVAC division, agrees with Humphreys and points out that informational tools have been added to the trailer, including a computer that offers simulations of operating cost and life cost comparisons of higher efficiency air conditioning systems. The air conditioning used in the trailer to attract the sweaty patrons of the tournament is also displayed so visitors can see it in operation.

"When someone walks into the trailer, it gives us a chance to show them how efficient our system is," says Smith. "And having the computer to help break down the actual numbers for cost savings over the long run helps sell more efficient equipment."

According to Smith, it's easier to convince people that the higher up-front cost is worth it when they see concrete numbers of dollar savings on future energy bills.

Coleman has been aggressively marketing its HVAC products, trying to differentiate itself from competitors. Smith says the Coleman name is strong -- as many passers-by at the tournament mentioned they owned Coleman coolers -- but many people don't recognize that the company has heating and cooling for residential and commercial applications as well.

"When people say to me, 'Oh, Coleman...we own many of your coolers,' I like to respond in this fashion," says Smith: "We've cooled your drinks for years. Now, let us cool you."

As for marketing to contractors, the company has developed programs to help in the areas of payroll, advertising, insurance, vehicle leasing and management, business forms, inventory assistance, live business training and cell phone discounts. As a wholesaler, Humphreys believes this kind of support is key to both the supply side and contractors.

"The driving force of sales in this business is the independent heating and air conditioning contractor," notes Humphreys. "Coleman has set a goal of helping the independent heating and air conditioning dealer/contractor remain independent. While the tools they offer are not what a dealer might normally think of being supplied by his distributor, they are the tools he needs to stay in business."

David Toms may have won the 46th FedEx St. Jude Classic, but the representatives from Coleman and ESD scored a victory as well.

"Last year we got quite a few leads and sales on Coleman products from helping out at this charitable event," says Humphreys. "It really is a win-win situation for us all."