Ask any contractor to cite the biggest problem he faces and nine out of ten will name claim it’s either getting butts in trucks or making the phone ring. It’s neither. Let’s talk about both for a minute:
Butts in Trucks
Without question there’s a shortage of skilled labor in the HVAC industry. It’s not just the HVAC industry — there’s a shortage of skilled labor, period. The root cause can be debated. Most likely, it results from the societal emphasis on four-year college degrees over trade school and the general disdain popular culture places on the nobility of work.
The growth of the government safety net is another contributing factor. Once, people learned a trade to have something to fall back upon. Today, they fall back on government assistance.
Regardless of the cause, the problem will become more acute. The population of skilled tradesmen is already older than the age of the general labor force and not enough are entering the trades to replace those leaving.
As an industry, the shortage of skilled labor is a macro-level structural problem. For your company, it doesn’t have to be a problem at all. There are contractors who have solved this problem for their companies. Some contractors make it so attractive to work for their companies that there’s a waiting list of applicants. Some prefer to grow their own workforce, using a combination of their own training, manufacturer training, and third-party training.
Others address the problem by creatively tackling employee retention. They help employees better manage their money. Some use performance pay systems to give ambitious employees the opportunity to make more money and increase satisfaction through better control of their own destiny.
A number of contractors have lessened, if not altogether solved the skilled labor shortage on a micro or company level. If they can, so can you. This isn’t your biggest problem.
Making the Phone Ring
In a business subject to seasonal swings in demand, getting the phone to ring in the off-season will always be a challenge. Yet, even if demand was perfectly level, without any seasonality, the challenge would still be to get the phone to ring … more.
For the past five years, we’ve endured a tepid economy where worried consumers delay major expenditures, opting to repair rather than replace. We know that sooner or later, they will have to replace. The good news is the dam holding back the pent-up replacement demand is showing cracks. The coming years should be good ones for the HVAC industry.
A bountiful industry, however, will not lessen the need for you to market your company. It absolutely will not eliminate the need to take steps to counter seasonality.
Once again, contractors exist who have largely solved these problems. There are contractors who market their companies well enough to maintain double-digit growth. And, there are contractors who use a combination of consumer promotion and customer retention techniques to overcome seasonal slowdowns.
If some contractors successfully make the phone ring and successfully counter seasonality, you can too. Making the phone ring is not your biggest problem.
The Biggest Problem
Forget the industry-wide macro problems. You can make them disappear at the micro or company level. Moreover, you don’t need to discover solutions from scratch. Other contractors have already developed solutions and will share their approach if you seek them out.
Where do you find them? Look for the answers in the pages of this magazine, in industry forums such as HVAC-Talk.com and the Service Roundtable, and at industry conferences such as the International Roundtable at Las Vegas in April and Comfortech in Nashville in September.
However, you must be open to the solutions pioneered by other contractors. Don’t think, “that won’t work here.” Chances are, it will.
Finally, you must implement. Stop working in your business long enough to put what you learn into action.
Seek solutions from others. Listen openly. Act relentlessly. No problem is too great once you overcome your biggest problem, which really is your own complacency.
Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable. The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. Call toll free: 877/262-3341 for more information about how to join.