by William B. Raymond
Larry, the owner of Old Time Air Conditioning, slumped in his chair — the same chair his dad had sat in for 35 years. Ted had just given his two-week notice. He had been with Old Time for 9 years and was Larry’s best tech, his “go to” guy. Ted was the third tech this year to leave.
This was the last straw. The Big Box stores had begun selling installations last year, and Ted was leaving to go work for one of them. Larry was sad and angry and not sure what to do.
Does this sound familiar? Are you having trouble finding and keeping employees? Is your competition on the rise? How do you differentiate yourself?
After 14 years in the plumbing and heating home service industry, I’ve learned there is really only one thing that differentiates you from your competition. It’s not your really cool trucks, it’s not your mind-reading wireless computer system, and it’s not your full-color ad in the Yellow Pages.
When all is said and done, the one thing that you have that your competition doesn’t is you and your people.
Yes, pricing, product, and marketing are important. But your competitors can copy all these.
I suggest investing in yourself and your people.
As the owner/manager, you set the tone at the company. Your technical skills may be excellent, but are your management and leadership skills as good? Do you help people motivate themselves, or do you drain the life out of them?
Your people are the face and voice of your company. They represent your company with every act they take or don’t take. Is your customer service rep chewing while
answering the phone? Do your service technicians offer options to solve problems?
At the end of the day, it will be the contractor who takes care of his or her customers the best that will win the game, and well-trained, enthusiastic people are the key to taking care of customers.
I believe that most people want to improve themselves. They want to learn. They get excited when they’re in an environment that offers and encourages learning and improvement. Invest in technical training. Invest in sales training. Invest in customer service training. Invest in employee benefits that matter to employees.
Sign up for a Dale Carnegie course, join a best practices group, and attend seminars and meetings.
“I can’t afford that,” our fictional owner Larry might say. “I’m doing all I can to pay the bills. I haven’t given myself a raise in two years.”
As a trainer for Contractors 2000, I see and hear this all too often. Great people working very hard who don’t make enough money to pay themselves well, who don’t make enough money to compensate their employees at the highest level in their markets, and who don’t make enough money to afford ongoing training. How can this be?
The simple answer is that the majority of contractors don’t know their costs of doing business. They don’t budget for these expenses. Guess what? If they’re not in the budget, they won’t be figured into the price. If they’re not in the price, you can’t afford them.
Know your costs of doing business and collect the correct selling price. Dedicate yourself to continually investing in the people in your company. You’ll be able to attract and keep the best people. You’ll have happy customers, happy employees, and I’ll bet you’ll be happier, too.
William B. Raymond is co-owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service Co., Peekskill, NY (Westchester County). He is a senior trainer with Contractors 2000, and a member of their board of directors. He can be reached at 914/737-7000, or by e-mail at [email protected].