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

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman

This weekend, I was sitting outside my local Starbucks enjoying what’s left of the summer sun when a US Postal Service truck pulled to the curb. The driver got out, grabbed a plastic tote from the back of the truck, and ambled to the drop box he had come to empty. Without much effort, he got the job done. All in all, it was a pretty mundane scene.

However, I took notice of this guy’s clothing. Although he sported the standard-issue postal trousers, they sagged more than a little, the plain blue t-shirt was untucked, and he wore his trendy, flat-brimmed baseball cap backward. None of it seemed very uniform-like, and he just looked sloppy. It occurred to me, “Would a guy from FedEx or UPS ever look like this?”

I knew the answer: no way, and although there must be exceptions somewhere, UPS and FedEx drivers always seem crisp and put-together. Instead, this postal driver’s attire seemed to be a projection of his attitude. Ho hum, punch the clock, get it done. He certainly didn’t see himself as a representative of the brand. More importantly, he didn’t inspire confidence and instead made me think, “I’m glad I pay all of my bills online these days.”

Thinking about this in the context of the water systems industry, as groundwater professionals, we often interact directly with homeowners. Even if a whole crew arrives and starts setting up for a job, someone still has to go to the door and check in, maybe even go into the house to troubleshoot a pressure tank, a control box, or a pressure switch. What does the homeowner see? Continue reading

Safety First

Very recently, I noticed a firefighter at our local station trimming the weeds at the firehouse. He was quite proficient with that weed whacker and there was, er, stuff flying everywhere — I could see it all around him and his head. But what really struck me were the flip flops and not even a sunglass lens to protect his eyes on that sunny day. What’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s a guy whose job it is to provide for the safety of the community, ignoring basic safety precautions when it comes to himself. I don’t mean to overdramatize, but any of those flying particles could have found its way into his eye.

It’s easy for anyone to just let it slide and I’m not immune by any means. Maybe it’s just a quick job, maybe the weather conditions make it unpleasant, or maybe you just forget occasionally. In our business, though, there’s too much at stake. We work with giant power tools, electricity, and tall equipment. Lots of things can happen, in the blink of an eye.

Never lose sight of the safety precautions that keep you in business and alive. You’re too important for that.