Opportunities abound

carlosNote: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger.

Last week was spring break, and despite my daughter’s protests that “it didn’t sound exotic enough” (yep, that’s a quote), I took my kids to New York City to get a taste of the Big Apple. My son, a huge fan of the TLC show Cake Boss, immediately recognized the city’s proximity to New Jersey and campaigned for a jaunt to Hoboken as part of our adventure. Two trains and a short walk later, we stood in front of Carlo’s Bakery, home of Buddy Valastro the Cake Boss.

A few hundred other people stood in front of Carlo’s, too. Enough to make for a two-hour wait on the sidewalk. Even so, my kids enthusiastically confirmed that they indeed wanted to wait for the chance to get inside the shop; seeing it from the street wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, the weather was good and the people around us were pleasant, so we settled in to wait.

Not long into our confectionery odyssey, I looked up to see a man methodically working his way down the line, group by group. When he got to us, he explained that he worked for Fran’s Italian Deli, a local establishment that offered great sandwiches on the world’s best homemade Italian bread, cold drinks, and free delivery. In fact, he said as he handed us a menu on which he had written his cell number, he would be happy to deliver to us in line. As incentive, he added a discount code to the menu. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his inventiveness, and he moved to the next group of people.

Shortly after he left, I saw this man come back, this time with food. As the line progressed–the wait really was two hours long–I saw him several more times, passing out menus and delivering snacks, sandwiches, and cold drinks to my fellow Carlo’s groupies.

I loved it.

Here was a guy who didn’t bemoan a long line of people waiting to go to somewhere else. He didn’t begrudge the success of a fellow businessman and grumble, Why can’t this be me? Instead, he saw an opportunity, and he capitalized on it. He got creative, and instead of bringing people to his business, he brought his business to them. He assessed their needs and figured out how to address them in a way that meant success for everyone. It gave the people in line something to do, satisfied hungry bellies and thirsty mouths without forcing people to lose their places in line, and it gave the cash coffers of Fran’s Italian Deli an upward bump.

Now contrast this scene with a couple of the other storefronts along the same sidewalk. Employees from those businesses periodically came outside to shoo us waiters away from their doors to accommodate customers who might want to come in. Instead of seeing a potential audience, they saw a definite nuisance. What a missed opportunity.

Which kind of business person are you? The kind who waits for customers to come in? Or the kind who goes to them? The kind who looks for new and creative ways to satisfy people’s needs? Or the kind who does things the same way they’ve always been done? Food service or groundwater service, opportunities abound; go out and get them.

Hibernate or cultivate?

winterBaby, it’s cold outside.

In the winter months, the ground in much of the country is frozen. Construction gears down and moves to indoor projects, fields lie dormant with no need for irrigation, and no one fills swimming pools or plays in garden hoses. The reality of our world is that we gear up for “the season” and then hunker down to weather the off-months until the next one comes around. There just isn’t much new installation work in those months, so we sit around waiting for something to break. That’s just how it is.

Or is it?

I would argue that the off-season presents a tremendous opportunity to cultivate rather than hibernate. When the business slows down, we have a chance to reach out to people, build relationships, and add value in ways that can help balance out the cyclical nature of the water systems business. Consider the following:

  • Offer a total system check, following an example often seen in the HVAC business. $99 (pick your price) for a comprehensive evaluation of water system health, including tank charge, pressure switch review, and motor resistance. Is your home ready for summer? Don’t run out of water when you need it most.
  • When people have had a full house for the holidays, they often expose the limitations of their water systems. Not enough water pressure or fluctuating water pressure may have surfaced as an issue during heavy use. While the memory is fresh, this is a great time to suggest an upgrade to a SubDrive controller or an Inline 1100 whole-house pressure booster. Did you have to schedule your shower time when Aunt Mary and her family came to visit? Make sure your system is ready for guests with SubDrive/Inline 1100! (On the flip side, you can gear up for the holidays in the same way.)

With a little creative thinking and proactive bustle, you can turn even the winter months into a profitable period for your business. Who cares if it’s cold outside?

Auld lang syne

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing this post.

OldDrillingI participated in the installation of a new solar pumping system last month as part of Franklin Electric’s commitment to field test new products before they are commercially offered to customers. As with any trial installation, we had a few issues. The most annoying one involved the flow switch “talking” to the controller, but we were able to solve it without incident.

After everything was running well, the contractor commented, “I miss the old days, things were a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot when we didn’t have all of these new products to offer.” I immediately agreed with him; pump installations seemed a lot simpler twenty years ago. I’m not too proud to admit that at times I’ve even wished I didn’t need to constantly learn new things in order to do my job.

The more I thought it, however, I realized something. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. In order to stay in business, we have adapt to new products and new ways of doing things. It’s that simple.

Then I remembered a training seminar I attended at least ten years ago. The presenter said something that has stuck with me ever since. “The last buggy whip manufacturer in the United States probably made the best ones ever, at the lowest cost, with fast delivery and excellent customer service. So what? His market changed when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. Being the best at something doesn’t matter if that something is no longer what the customer wants.”

We are no different in the water systems industry. VFDs take the place of large tanks and valves, electronic protection devices take the place of fuses and heaters, a web page takes the place of an ad in the Yellow Pages, and so it goes.

That guy was absolutely right. It really doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. If the customer asks for it, we have to provide it. In today’s age of readily available information about any product or process, the consumer will find out what is available. If your company or mine continues to sell and service buggy whips, our business will suffer for it.

What any industry wants to sell doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy something else. If you don’t offer it, your competition will. Don’t forget that today will be someone else’s good old days.

Suddenly learning new things doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The real reason

As the drilling season winds down for the winter months, a different season always follows in its footsteps: trade show season. Conventional wisdom around the water systems industry for the past few years has been that trade shows are on the decline, and some of our best and brightest minds have been struggling with what to do about that. I’ve had conversations with lots of smart people at state and national associations, on trade show advisory boards, from industry publications, and on show management committees. We’ve talked about beefing up educational offerings. We’ve discussed marketing campaigns. We’ve considered social media opportunities. The central question is this:

How do we attract more people?

To me, the answer is as simple as its execution is complicated: we have to give them a reason to go to the show.

Clearly, the reasons people used to come to trade shows aren’t as important anymore. Product information is available at anyone’s fingertips through email and the internet. Sales reps are more accessible than ever via email and smart phone. CEUs can be garnered from a variety of sources. Our easy-access world has diminished the importance of the trade show as a primary vehicle for information. All the reasons that once drew people to the show floor have lost some of their luster. Simply offering more (of the same) or changing a campaign or communicating in different ways won’t do the trick. We have to give them a reason to go to the show.

Here’s that reason: the people.

The water systems industry isn’t particularly sexy. We’re not making smart phones with unbelievable functionality or talking about the future in black mock-tees or making cars that plug into electrical outlets or wowing people with our newest storefront. As much as people need what we have to offer, they don’t pay a lot of attention to us. That means that it’s not always easy to find someone with whom we can share ideas or hammer out problems. Even for those who participate, there aren’t many online opportunities for learning best practices or identifying challenge areas. We can’t always boot up the computer and find the answers we need.

And that, my friends, is why we should consider trade shows in our industry as a huge opportunity. Nowhere else do we have so many people with shared interests in the same place at the same time. We should attend for the chance to learn from others, test our own ideas, and get a feel for what’s happening in our industry beyond our own sphere of influence. These events give us a chance to have conversations with people facing the same challenges and opportunities; what an incredible resource pool! That’s the message we should be sharing.

With many state and regional shows–as well as the National Ground Water Expo–looming on the calendar, I encourage you to consider them in this light. What can you learn from your peers? What can they learn from you? How well do you understand the pulse of the water systems industry beyond your own service area? Are you good at marketing? If so, share your successful practices. Do you need help connecting with customers? Bring your questions. Can’t figure out where a particular product should be applied? See where others are using it. Make a point to talk to five new people and keep track of what you learn; I challenge you to find a better place to get your hands on so much relevant information at once.

Come for the people. It’s that simple.

Note: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger.

High and dry

“Drought, restrictions lead to boom in water well drilling” (mywesttexas.com)

“Well drilling as an option for drought relief” (wptv.com)

“Drought keeps well drillers busy” (riverreporter.com)

“Texas Drought Leads to High Demand for Water Wells” (NY Times)

As much of our country suffers from drought conditions this summer, our fellow groundwater professionals are working their tails off. For us, dry conditions mean drilling deeper, resetting or replacing pumps, making service calls, moving product. The same conditions that threaten others’ businesses often increase the momentum of our own.

Farmers need to keep their crops alive. Communities need to supply water to their citizens and businesses. Homeowners need to take care of their families. When they run out of water, they call us.

In the midst of helping people keep their taps flowing, we should remember that as groundwater professionals, perhaps more than anyone else we have a responsibility to be good stewards of this critical, life-sustaining resource. It is our job to make sure our customers know how to take care of the water they have.

Water conservation doesn’t just apply to times of drought. Our use or misuse of this resource has long-reaching effects regardless of the surrounding weather conditions. Consider this excerpt from the Water Systems Council’s information sheet on water conservation:

Water conservation saves money by reducing wear and tear on your well and septic system. The hundreds of gallons of water released from your home each day eventually saturates the soil in and around the septic field to the point where extensive repair or replacement is necessary. The cost to replace a septic system can reach $4,000 or more. Conserving water will extend the life of the system and delay the need for repair.

Water conservation also helps protect the environment and the quality of your drinking water.  High demand on limited water supplies may affect stream flow, wetlands and the capacity of an aquifer to recharge its supply of groundwater.  Old, leaky and overloaded septic systems may cause nutrient and bacterial contamination of nearby wells, lakes and streams.

These, among others, are very good reasons to make water conservation practices into habits.

As a water systems contractor, you can add value to your service calls and by providing your customers with helpful and relevant tips on protecting the water supply. Small changes such as turning off taps while brushing teeth, shaving, or washing, switching from sprinklers to soaker hoses, and repairing leaky faucets can make a big difference over time. (For more tips you can leave with your customer, CLICK HERE to review the water conservation info sheet or visit www.watersystemscouncil.org.) When you walk away from that service call, your customer will view you as a partner rather than a vendor—and you’ll be ensuring the future of our industry.

Note: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger.

Armed and dangerous

Competition has never been tougher, in this industry or any other. A struggling economy tends to quickly separate the good from the bad, the experts from the posers, the leaders from the followers. Unless you actively distinguish yourself from the next guy–and live up to your promises–you could easily find yourself outside the fray. These days, you have to earn your spot on the squad.

That’s why it is so important to take advantage of every resource available that can improve your game.

Thankfully, those resources abound, especially in the electronic world. Manufacturers, including Franklin, offer a wealth of product information online and in hard copy. Find out what’s new and understand how to apply it in traditional and non-traditional ways to solve problems for your customers. Training seminars practically fall out of the sky; state, regional, and national associations offer sessions at every meeting. Distributors provide training opportunities at their open houses and at scheduled events throughout the year. Manufacturers, too. Local chambers of commerce provide business insights and networking opportunities in a variety of formats from structured events to mixers to one-on-one consulting. Online forums and blogs allow you to see who is talking about what, both on the supply side and the consumer side. You can easily identify problems and solutions that might be relevant to your area, simply by staying abreast of the world around you. Continue reading

Reinventing your business

The other day, a colleague passed along a comment he had heard from a well-known groundwater insider. This is a dying industry, the insider said.

I wisely bit back the initial protest that rose from my gut to give myself a chance to think. When the fog of my indignance cleared, I could see the point. The groundwater industry certainly doesn’t look like it did a decade ago. Contractors are drilling fewer wells, forcing them to sustain their business with service work. Where work was once plentiful, people are selling their rigs and fighting over house calls.

Even so, that doesn’t mean the industry is dying. It certainly means the industry is changing. This isn’t a new situation; it happens all the time. A business, a market, an industry hums happily along for a period of time. People know what to do and they do it. Then they move to the next job and do it again. Eventually, though, something shifts. It doesn’t matter if it’s the economy, the introduction of a new technology, or market saturation. Something alters the universe and the world as we know it starts fraying at the edges, threatening to unravel.

So what can we do about it? We adapt.

In the groundwater—or any—industry, that means

  • Differentiating yourself from your competition. Although this appears to help YOU more than the industry itself, I would argue that anything that raises the bar ends up producing a better product/service and ultimately helps us all.
  • Looking at the industry from a different perspective. Instead of taking the approach that you “just” drill wells or install pumps, realize that you design, install, troubleshoot, and repair water systems. Your job is to keep your customers supplied with water in a way that keeps them comfortable and happy. How can I improve this customer’s water experience? When you look at it this way, you’ll start to see possibilities far beyond drilling wells and setting pumps.
  • Expanding your focus to find new ways to apply your skills and/or equipment. You have a lot of groundwater knowledge that you’ve picked up along the way. You don’t have to confine that to pump installation and service. And if you have a horizontal drill or cable tool, you already know that they have broader uses than just for water wells.
  • Finding new ways to add value. Use new technologies and products to improve performance and extend the life of the systems you install, earning you customers for life.

These are some pretty broad observations, but I’ll bet you can use them as springboards to identify opportunities specific to your business. Sure, things may look different today than they did yesterday, but this industry will only die if we let it.

Note: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger while Mark Reeder is on vacation.

Bridging the Grand Canyon

A couple of years ago, I ran two marketing research projects that took me all over the country doing focus groups. Of the two projects, one involved talking to contractors about a potential new product. The other project involved talking to homeowners about their water systems and options that were currently available. We had to had to keep them separate which meant we couldn’t just run one meeting in each city, but we did run both sessions back-to-back in the same room in order to minimize our expense.

We accomplished our mission, but we also found an unexpected benefit from this proximity: we got a big lesson on perspective.

Throughout our conversations with contractors, we heard a lot about how these guys do business, what (they think) their customers think, and why they do things they way they do. In our conversations with homeowners, we learned a lot about what they know, more about what they don’t know, and what they really want. When we compared those different conversations, we found that contractors didn’t always know their customers as well as they thought they did. In fact in some cases, they were at complete odds with one another. We had stumbled upon a gulf wider than the Grand Canyon. Continue reading

More than a handyman

The DIY phenomenon continues to explode all around us—new TV channels, websites, blogs, advice columns, big box stores, magazines designed to help regular Joes take on their own home improvement projects pop up every week. Especially because of a down economy, more people have turned their focus to doing things themselves in order to save a buck or two. It’s starting to affect your business.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. A homeowner calls you because he’s got a problem with his water system. You go to his house, diagnose the problem, and give him a quote to fix it. His eyes get wider than a full moon in October, he says thanks, he’ll let you know, and you wait for a call that never comes. Or, even worse, the guy starts spouting about how he saw the same pump in the big box store down the street at a lower price, and why-should-he-pay-you-to-install-it-when-he’s-always-been-good-with-tools-and-it-can’t-be-that-hard.

How do you respond to that?

You’d better have a good answer ready at any time because ultimately, your business depends on it.

First off, you have to understand that you add a lot of value to this transaction. You’re not just a handyman hired to do the labor. You’re a professional contractor. That means you not only know how to install a pump, you also understand the whole system. You know how all the components work together, and more importantly, WHY. You know when a system is too big or too small. You know how to troubleshoot. You can use your meters to determine whether a system is working properly, whether it is functioning below optimal performance, or whether any component is completely shot. You’re the expert.

Fine, you say, but this guy doesn’t care. He knows he needs to replace his submersible pump (or his jet pump or his tank or…) and none of that other stuff matters to him. To that I say you know what you’re doing. You’ve done scores of these, probably hundreds. You offer speed and efficiency and—oh by the way—professional grade products you know the homeowner can count on for years. Those products also allow you to offer better warranty coverage. Again, you know what you’re doing. When we’re talking water systems, downtime is critical. Your expertise is worth a lot. Continue reading

Set yourself apart

There’s a lot of talk in our industry about becoming certified, and there are lots of different options: state certifications, sales certifications, industry certifications, even company certifications. While some of these may be necessary for doing business in a particular area, most are optional. With all you’ve got to juggle in your business, why bother with all this certification ballyhoo? Can it really make a difference?

I think it can. 

As a groundwater contractor, you do work that most people don’t think about. The general public doesn’t have an understanding of what you do from day to day, or what makes you good at it. In fact, most people probably don’t care until they’re out of water and need a service call. At that point, they probably head to the Yellow Pages and start dialing.

If you’ve got certification credentials, advertise them. Put them in your Yellow Pages listing. Have them printed on your business cards. Emblazon them on your service vehicles. Why? Because they make you different from everyone else; they help you stand out among your competitors. If the general public doesn’t know much about the water systems business, any additional information you give them to help make a decision about whom to call will be much appreciated. Continue reading