For The Love of The Trade

For The Love of the Game is a terrific baseball movie. Somehow, screenwriter Dana Stevens and director Sam Raimi managed to turn Michael Shaara’s novel into a guy movie that’s also a chick flick. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also a marketing and management seminar. Following are 14 business lessons from For The Love of the Game.


1. No Matter How Good You Are There Will Always Be Detractors. The main character of the movie, Billy Chapel, is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He’s a living legend, winding down a storied career and still capable of throwing heat. Yet, there are no lack of detractors who call him a bum, among other names. They question his ability. They claim he’s lost it.

It’s not that different in contracting. It seems that ankle-biters are always gnawing at the heels of top performers. They impugn the successful to justify their own mediocrity.

When you encounter a detractor, treat it as a complement. After all, no one tries to tear down a failure. Failures aren’t worth the bother.

2. The Game Doesn’t Stink. A disgusted Gary Wheeler, the movie owner of the Detroit Tigers, tells Chapel that he’s selling the team and that the new owners plan to trade Chapel to the Yankees. Wheeler declares that the game stinks today.

Though stunned by the news that Wheeler’s selling the Tigers, that the new owners will trade Chapel to the Yankees, and dashing out to catch up to his girlfriend, Chapel still pauses at the door to refute Wheeler’s statement. “The game doesn’t stink,” Chapel says. “It’s a great game.”

I hear similar comments about our industry and trade. “Contracting stinks,” people say.

I don’t think they really mean it, any more than the movie character did. Ours is a great industry. We just get frustrated at times. It’s normal to get frustrated.

When I worked as a marketing consultant, I did work in far more “glamorous” industries. Some threw around lots of money. Some developed and brought to market state-of-the-art consumer electronics and telecom. Some were household name magazines and cable networks.

None could hold a candle to the boring old heating, ventilating, and air conditioning industry. We provide real value that businesses and consumers cannot live without. We’re an industry comprised of grounded, honest, ethical, hardworking, and genuinely humble people. THIS is a great industry.


3. Clear the Mechanism. Billy Chapel stands on the mound surrounded by a cacophony of screaming Yankee fans. “Clear the mechanism,” he says to himself and he shuts out all of the noise, all of the distractions. He’s focused only on the batter, the catcher, and home plate.

Contracting is a world full of distractions. Multiple fires erupt daily. People are constantly asking for help, advice, direction. Sometimes, however, to get anything done it’s necessary to focus. Clear the distractions. Clear the mechanism.

Focus on the most important task at hand and get it done before addressing anything else. By definition, if you’re working on the most important task, everything else can take a back seat. Try to shut out the trite and petty problems from customers and employees. Try to leave the personal problems at home. Deal with the issues that will help you move forward. Clear the mechanism.


4. Every Owner Needs a Gus. Frank Perry is the manager of the Tigers. Before the game, he approached Chapel. Perry wants to replace the aging, hitless catcher Gus Sinski with a lefty who can put people on base. Chapel won’t hear of it. “Today, it’s Gus,” he says.

The friendship between Billy Chapel and Gus Sinski is evident in the movie, but it’s more than a friendship. The two are a team within the larger team. They’ve played together long enough that they’re inside each others’ heads. Gus has Billy’s back and vice versa.

Fundamentally a contracting company is a team. And it’s the fortunate owner who has a Gus to help run the show, to form a team within the larger team. A Gus isn’t a superstar. He doesn’t need the spotlight. But he’s solid. He knows what the owner wants, almost without the owner asking. Every owner needs a Gus.


5. Every Town Has a Sam Tuttle. Billy Chapel shares mutual animosity with Yankee, Sam Tuttle. The two players simply do not like each other and compete especially hard when facing each other.

You probably have a few competitors you loathe. And they probably return the feeling. We just don’t like some people and they just don’t like us. So compete extra hard against them, but remember it’s just a sale. You’ll win some and so will they.


6. Study The Competition. When Sam Tuttle takes the plate, Billy Chapel throws an inside fastball for strike one. “Never do swing at the first pitch, do you Sam,” sneers Chapel.

Chapel has read the scouting reports on Tuttle and probably every other batter he’s facing. He knows their tendencies. He knows what to expect.

Contractors should know what to expect from their competition. If you can determine who might be bidding against you on a particular job, you should know how you stack up. You should know what the competitor is likely to propose. You should know his pricing.

Play to your strengths vis-à-vis any particular competitor. If the competitor is a consolidator, stress how you’re family owned. If the competitor cuts corners, stress the things you do that the competitor skips. If the competitor is located 30 miles away, stress your proximity.


7. Count Everything.
When Chapel was recalling statistics about his performance during his first date with Jane Aubrey, she asks if he counts everything. He does.

Chapel answers matter of fact, “We count everything in baseball. That’s all we do.”

Count everything in your business. Count the cash in the bank (daily). Count the phone calls coming in, the phone calls converted into service calls or sales appointments, the replacement sales closing rate, the average service ticket, callbacks, gross profit, gross margin, net profit, overhead, daily sales, weekly sales, individual sales, department sales, the break even point, sales per truck, shop inventory, truck inventory, applied time or billable hours, unapplied time, sick days or personal time off, overtime, training, service and sales calls per advertisement and promotion, sales per advertisement and promotion, etc.

If you don’t like counting things, assign the task to someone else. Post the results. See where you need to improve.


8. When Friends Leave They Remain Friends. Chapel wasn’t happy when his best friend, Davis Birch, was traded to the Yankees. He kept trying to talk him out of the move. Yet, even after Birch became a Yankee, Chapel remained his friend. Chapel called him the “worthy opponent” and commented, “I’ll miss you most of all.”

Sometimes your friends and employees leave for the competition or start their own companies and become the competition. If they were good guys before leaving, they’re good guys after leaving. Maybe you can’t talk pricing, but you can still maintain your friendships. At the very least, you can maintain respect for these, your worthy opponents.


9. Everyone Suffers Setbacks.
One winter, Chapel was nearly sliced off the thumb of his throwing hand while working in his wood shop. It was a devastating injury for pitcher, one that could end his career. Yet Chapel refused to give up. He worked hard, relentlessly, until he climbed his way back on the mound.

As a contractor, you already know about setbacks or you will. Setbacks are a fact of life for any business owner and seem especially prone to occur in the world of HVAC contracting. If setbacks from customers, employees, suppliers, government, and the economy weren’t enough, we’ve also got the weather. Where’s a little global warming when you need it?

Remember, setbacks are not permanent… unless you allow them to be permanent. Like the fictional Chapel, real life professionals refuse to give up and persevere.

10. Surround Yourself with People who have the Right Attitude. When Chapel was undergoing rehab his trainer used the word, if, when talking about Chapel’s recovery. “If you recovery,” he said.

“What did you say?” Chapel exploded.

“Get your attitude right,” he demanded.

Chapel knew that the challenge of recovering from a potential career-ending injury is difficult enough with full belief in one’s own ability and destiny. He could not afford self-doubt and he could not afford those around him to plant seeds of doubt.

It’s important for contractors to surround themselves with positive people who have the right attitude. The normal business day presents enough challenges without the emotional drain of people telling you what can’t be done. Focus on the positive and insist the same from your team. Everyone should get their attitudes right.


11. You Don’t Have To Do It All. Billy Chapel was pitching a perfect game. But late in the game his arm was giving out. He was tired. He was in pain. He didn’t know if he could finish. “I don’t know if I have anything left,” he told Gus.

“You just throw whatever you’ve got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you,” Gus told him. “We’re going to be awesome for you right now.”

And they were. Chapel’s teammates made phenomenal plays from the field. A mediocre team came together and played like superstars in support of Billy Chapel, who had supported all of them in the past.

Your team can come together and make phenomenal plays for you. Support them. Develop them. And let them take on more responsibility. You don’t have to do it all.


12. Youth is Fearless.
On his way to the locker room before the start of the game, Billy Chapel runs into Ken Strout, the son of one of Chapel’s friends and a former batboy for the Tigers. Strout had just been called up from the Minor Leagues.

At the end of the game, the Yankees manager sends Strout to pinch hit. The reason, as explained by announcer Vin Scully, is Strout is too young to be intimidated by Chapel. After all, Chapel is one of the old man’s peers. He’s ancient.

When Strout steps to the plate, his cocky arrogance is on full display. He clearly does not respect Chapel’s ability to get him out.

Every contractor has hired a Ken Strout (and many were like Ken Strout in their day). He’s the technician who knows it all and who thinks he’s smarter than the boss. He shows little respect for the older and wiser technicians and managers and doesn’t value their experience.

Like the fictional Ken Strout, he’s going to learn some lessons the hard way. Experience will teach him that he’s not as good as he thinks he is. In the meantime, he’s fearless.

Just as Strout was unafraid of Billy Chapel, your Ken Strouts will be more willing to try new innovations and approaches. The saying, “Nobody likes change except babies and beggars” doesn’t apply to the Ken Strouts. They aren’t set in their ways so there’s nothing to change.


13. The Best Is Yet To Come.
Billy Chapel had a remarkable career. He was considered a cinch for the Hall of Fame. He’d suffered a devastating injury and bounced back. As he stepped on the mound, everyone thought Chapel’s best days were behind him. But his best was yet to come. The next nine innings would be the best of Chapel’s career.

In his last game, Billy Chapel pitched a perfect game. His last game was his best.

Your best lies ahead of you. Your best is yet to come in your business. This is a great industry, a great trade, and it will get better and better as time goes on. The best is yet to come.


14. What’s Important. After Chapel pitched the greatest game of his life, he realized the game wasn’t his life. He came to the shocking revelation that Jane Aubrey meant more to him than baseball and that baseball meant more when she could share it with him.

Contractors put countless hours into their companies. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the reason the business exists. Contractors start companies to provide a lifestyle and future for their families, yet the challenge of building and running a business sucks the time out of a day and the years out of a life. The family means more than the business and the business means more when the family can share it. Remember what’s important.

© 2009 Matt Michel


Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, the industry’s largest contractor business alliance. Learn more at www.ServiceRoundtable.com. To read more of Matt’s writing, look for his bi-monthly column, “The Rant,” in Contracting Business, his Comanche Marketing blog, and subscribe to his email list at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can also follow him on Twitter as ComancheMktg, on Linked-In, and on Facebook. Contact him by email at [email protected] or by phone at 877.262.3341.

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