Sticker Shock

A couple of weekends ago, I got that unpleasant surprise of no hot water. That’s not nearly as bad as no water, but when you’re looking forward to a hot shower, it’s still a big letdown. After two or so hours of trying to resolve it myself, it was clear that it was time to call in a professional, in this case the company that had installed the product less water heaterthan three years ago. The good news was that everything would still be under warranty.

More good news – right there on the side of my non-working water heater was the installing company’s 24-hour service dispatch number (or so I thought). My call was answered promptly and we set up a service call for the next morning.

There was one minor point of contention: she couldn’t find any record of her company installing the unit. But no problem; as long as I had my paperwork from the installation showing that they had indeed installed it, everything would be covered. I assured her that I did and I even knew exactly where it was filed. She did give me a stern reminder that if it turned out that someone else had installed the product, there would be a significant non-refundable service charge (think Sunday morning) and of course, no warranty coverage.

I never gave it a second thought until later that evening when I grabbed the paperwork out of the file. To my astonishment, the business name on the paperwork didn’t match the company that I had been talking with on the phone! By now, you have probably figured out what happened. Earlier in the year, the plumbing contractor that I’d been on the phone with had been out to repair a broken outside faucet. But while their technician was here, he had slapped his company’s business sticker on the side of my water heater over the sticker of the contractor that had actually installed it. Once I figured this out, I quickly cancelled the one service call and rescheduled with the installing contractor.

Here’s an example where a good business practice was overdone. From both a contractor and consumer perspective, business stickers are great. They’re a convenient and inexpensive way for the homeowner to know who to call if there’s an issue. But this contractor got overzealous with it and almost led me down the wrong path as a result. He ended up coming off as unprofessional. And come to think of it, I better go see whose stickers are on the HVAC unit and water softener. If they belong to him, they’re coming off.

A constant annoyance versus constant pressure

photoA couple of weeks ago, I spent four days hanging around a hunter jumper horse show at one of the largest facilities in the country for these events. Overall, it’s a first-class facility and billed as one of the most beautiful anywhere.

Like any event, there’s always some complaining and over the course of this extended weekend, I heard the usual grumbling from the competitors: “that one judge is biased, the food’s expensive, the events are running behind schedule“, etc. But do you know what the number one complaint was?

“The water pressure here is awful.”

“They’ve got plenty of wash racks but there’s not hardly any water if more than a couple of people are using them”

“It takes forever just to fill a watering bucket.”

It was frustrating to hear, because I knew it didn’t have to be that way. There are numerous pressure boosting products available that could address this or at least make things a lot better. But from what I could tell, a single 6-inch submersible with an undersized pressure tank is supplying the entire facility and all those acres. And beyond the pump house, it’s a hodge-podge of PVC piping that’s been put together over the years as the facility has expanded. Even without knowing all the details of this system, it’s obvious that a few variable-speed or simply single-speed pressure boosting systems would work wonders here. And the cost would be trivial when taken into the overall expenses of managing and maintaining this facility.

Once again, the competition in terms of constant pressure and pressure boosting isn’t necessarily between manufacturers. It’s the alternative of doing nothing. And here’s another case that by doing nothing the owners and management of this otherwise very nice facility constantly keep their customers annoyed.

Next time I’m there, I’m going to track down their maintenance folks and their contractor and get a conversation going. This water system can be better. A lot better.

It’s show time

OLike me, many of you are headed to Virginia Beach this weekend for the South Atlantic Well Drillers’ Jubilee. And many of you aren’t.

There are dozens of reasons not to go this year: the weather is good and you could be in the field, you don’t want to spend the money to get there, you’re apprehensive about the change in venue. I very firmly believe, however, that every one of those reasons is counterbalanced by a reason TO GO–and then some. I’ve written about a few of them in the past, so rather than reinventing the wheel (or the blog post), I thought I’d re-post it here. Before I do, I also want to share some comments from a colleague, which I think sum it all up.

Bring people together who share interests–vendors and customers alike–and give them a chance to share ideas in non-threatening, small group settings. Create opportunities for enrichment. Solve problems. Send people home feeling as if they accomplished something and eager to return the next time.

So here’s my own post from a few years ago. Think about it. There’s still time to get to Virginia Beach. The National Groundwater Expo is coming up later this year in Nashville, and chances are that your own state’s show isn’t too far off either. Which one will you attend?

The South Atlantic Jubilee was held a few weeks ago in Myrtle Beach. Like most trade shows in recent years, attendance was down and the usual theories were passed around as to why. These included: the economy in general, the sad state of the housing industry, and at the other end, “it’s so dry that everyone is out busy working.” I also heard that between the state shows, distributor open houses, and national shows, contractors are just simply weary of trade shows in general. However, the most interesting comment came from an attendee who said, “I used to come here to gather the latest product literature, but I don’t think I need to anymore. You guys have it all on the web”. True enough, but that got me thinking of all the other reasons to attend a trade show.

To begin with, if you’re there to look at product, there’s no better place. The web is terrific, but there’s nothing like looking at new products in person and interacting with the manufacturer’s personnel. You can touch and feel, ask questions, and then perhaps, wander over to their competitor’s booth to compare their products and talk to their people. The web just doesn’t provide that opportunity.

Of course, most states require some type of annual continuing education. There’s generally no better place to get that than at a trade show. It’s 1-stop shopping. This year, the South Atlantic Jubilee offered over 2 days of non-stop classes. And, the feedback that is collected every year on these came in at an all-time high.

Finally, trade shows are a chance to get away from the daily routine for a while and interact with the many other professionals in our industry. And, when you get home, the web is still there, with all the literature.

“How did we live without ________?”

Wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a washing machine and dryer that was one unit? A single appliance with a single door that you put your dirty laundry into and when the cycle was complete, the clothes were clean AND dry. I read recently that the appliance companies have been looking at this for years and in the not too distant future, an integrated washer and dryer may be a reality. Whenever that happens and we all have those, we may look back and think about how ridiculous it was to have to move a pile of wet laundry froFrigidaire-Affinity-Laund08-lgm the washing machine to the dryer. But until then, we just accept the way things are and never give it a second thought.

Looking in the other direction, there are tons of examples already in our lives today. Who knew we needed smart phones, microwave ovens, or cruise control on our cars? But in every case, up until we had those products, we didn’t know the difference.

What about our industry? I would suggest that variable-speed, constant pressure systems fall squarely into this category. I know this because if you ask a homeowner that has upgraded to constant pressure, they will tell you that they will never go back to a conventional system. But for them to get there, their water systems contractor had to lead them there. Not a single one of those homeowners woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “Boy, I wish someone made a water system that got rid of that large tank and gave me better, more consistent pressure.” They just assumed that for all the advantages of being on a private water system, these were just things they had to live with. They didn’t know there was a better way until they got to experience it for themselves.

Not everyone has a smartphone and likewise, you won’t sell an upgraded, constant pressure system to all of your customers. But to those customers that you do, they won’t be able to imagine going back to their old system ever again.

In the meantime, I think it’s time to go move my laundry from the washer to the dryer.

It pays to pay attention

One of our Hotline Engineers at Franklin Electric came very close to being on the receiving end of this accident earlier this week. The driver of this vehicle pulled into her parking spot too quickly and hit the curb hard enough to jump it. At that point, the driver panicked, hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, and resulting mayhem ensued. Thankfully, this wasn’t a serious accident and no one was hurt.

Right up until the moment of impact, my colleague was enjoying lunch at a table directly on the other side of that window. He could have been hurt, or at the very least covered in glass, but he was long gone by the time the car came through the window. That’s because he saw the whole thing unfold from the beginning, anticipated what might happen, and was already out of the way when the car arrived.

467551_4957447183034_91358143_oReflecting on it later he said, “You know, ever since I can remember, I’ve always been really aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me. That made a difference here.”

There’s a repeated point to be made about safety here. Safety has lots of components – proper equipment and training and good habits to name a few. But all the training and equipment in the world is no substitute for simply paying attention to what’s going on around us. Are there power lines overhead? Is the power really locked out? Who’s in the area? How tall is that overpass? Will it clear my rig? Is that the neighbor’s kid coming to check out my rig while it’s running?

Paying attention is hard to teach but you never know when it will pay huge dividends. Just ask my colleague.

Cupcakes versus water well drilling

“Barriers to entry” is a marketing term that sounds sophisticated, but all it really means is, “How hard is it to get into a business?” Barriers to entry are simply those things that keep someone new from entering a market.

Barriers to entry take many forms. One of the most common is simply a high amount of capital ($$$) required for someone new to enter a market. The airline industry is a good example here. Related to a high amount of capital is scale, or how large does the business have to be in order to be profitable. The automotive industry is a prime example. Other barriers to entry are an entrenched and loyal customer base (think Starbucks or Harley Davidson), or even legal and regulatory hurdles (think liquor stores).

Obviously, if you’re already in a market or industry (the marketing books call this the incumbent), you want the barriers to entry to be high in order to keep competition out. But if you are starting a business (that’s the entrant), you want the barriers to entry to be low. However, the problem with markets with low barriers to entry is that in the long-term, it’s very difficult to make a profit. That’s because even when you’re first, everyone quickly sees that youDrilling day2’re making a profit and it’s easy for them to jump in.

Here’s a great example: cupcakes. Cupcake shops have been all the rage the last few years. But I ran across an article the other day about the “cupcake bubble”. Come to find out, the cupcake market has reached saturation and even been overbuilt in many regions. Many shops are going out-of-business. There just aren’t enough people to support all those cupcake shops.

So why a cupcake bubble? Because the barriers to entering this market are so low. There are always hurdles to starting any business, but opening a cupcake shop in the scheme of things is pretty easy. So, lots of people saw a profitable trend with low barriers and jumped in. But as a result, it became difficult for most of them to make a profit over the long-term.

So what does any of this have to do with water well drilling and the water systems industry? Well, if you’re a professional water well contractor, the barriers to entry for someone who wants to enter your market are fairly high. It takes specialized equipment that represents a significant capital investment. It also takes specialized expertise and knowledge and experience to be successful. There are also regulatory barriers dealing with licensing and DOT regulations. And chances are you have a loyal customer base.

The point is that not everyone can do what we do as an industry and what you do as a water well contractor. We are unique. And when you couple that with the value and quality of the product we deliver at a very reasonable cost, you start to realize that once again, we’re in a great industry.

No stone unturned

photoI’ve talked about differentiating your business before (Why you?) – that is, how does your business stand out from your competition and deliver a higher level of product and service?  Here’s another simple, but great example of a business doing exactly that.

The pizza business is very competitive. Just think of the number of pizza restaurants in your neighborhood. And although some might argue, pizza is pizza. So, how does one pizza business differentiate itself from all the others in such a commoditized market?

Enter this pizza restaurant (EOC stands for East of Chicago) located in an area that, as you may have guessed, is heavily agricultural. The last few weeks have been planting season, which mean long days in the fields for the farmers and their crews. Those guys get hungry, but don’t have time to go into town for lunch or dinner.

This pizza business has identified that unmet need and offered a solution. By offering “delivery to your tractor”, they’ve not only differentiated themselves, but expanded their customer base. If the sign simply said “WE DELIVER”, it probably never would have occurred to these customers that they could have fresh pizza for lunch, instead of the usual alternative of brown-bagging it.

Think of this example in terms of your water systems business. Are there opportunities and ways of reaching customers right under your nose that you haven’t thought of?

By the way, do you know what the other side of that sign says? “WE ALSO DELIVER TO THE BALLPARK”.