10 Minutes With: David Allen

Contracting Business spent a few minutes talking with David Allen, executive vice president of McKinstry Corp., a $125 million mechanical service contractor in Seattle, WA to find out more about the pressing issues facing his business and the commercial contracting community. Here's what he had to say:

Contracting Business: What does it take to be successful as a mechanical contractor today?

David Allen: Everyone in your company has to fully believe in the services you provide and understand their value to the customer. In particular, employees who are in the trenches, such as technicians and project managers, have to be “evangelists“ about the company. They’re the ones who create the buzz that makes customers want to work with you.

In addition, I believe the service sector is starting to learn what the consumer product industry has known for years — the customers’ experience transcends the products they purchase.

We don’t just repair and replace equipment. We also provide customers an experience, as do restaurants, hotels, or any other service-related business. This experience is controllable, and what makes it a good one is having the right attitude, which includes professionalism and enthusiasm.

As a result, customers who enjoy working with your people are much more flexible and willing to pay more.

Finally, when it comes to marketing your company, don’t forget about promoting the service you provide. Don’t just spend your time marketing your technical expertise, otherwise you’ll miss the opportunity to market the great behavior of your people.

CB: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing mechanical contractors?

DA: To elevate the value of our services in the mind of the client. As mechanical contractors, we’re responsible for the care of giant assets. The consequences are high if the equipment doesn’t run properly.

For example, tenant safety, the building’s leasability, and energy efficiency are all tied to equipment performance, which is integral to the economic success of the building. Yet, our prices are subject to such incredible scrutiny.

This is why, as a service industry, we need to better articulate to our customers the value of our delivery systems, the skill level of our technicians, and the economic repercussions of not having the best and brightest working on their equipment.

CB: What is the best advice you’ve been given in this business?

DA: It came from a gentleman who was addressing the lack of self-esteem in the HVAC industry. He said to “quit acting like a low-balling contactor and to start acting like a professional services firm that’s vital and integral to the community.”

At McKinstry, we’ve always behaved as if we were just as important as a bank, insurance firm, auto manufacturer, or even Starbucks Corp. If your expectations are low, so will your results. Have pride in what you do.

CB: What advice would you give to someone considering going into this business?

DA: Think broadly. Mechanical contracting is innovative, dynamic, and quickly changing, and therefore, requires increasingly sophisticated skill sets.

CB: What do you see ahead for mechanical contractors?

DA: Mechanical contractors will become increasingly important to building owners and managers, particularly in the facility services industry. For example, not only will mechanicals be in charge of the HVAC maintenance, but also will be asked to manage the facility itself, and perhaps to even oversee other services such as electrical and roofing.

David Allen is executive vice president of marketing and business development at McKinstry Corp. He can be reached at 206/763-4813 or at [email protected].

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