How to leave money on the table

Getting the most out of every service call is more important today than ever. This post from a year ago is worth a repeat.

A couple of months ago, I needed a new water heater. I totally fit the scenario of the procrastinating homeowner who had delayed the inevitable replacement for too long. So, there we were, my plumbing contractor and me, looking at a basement still damp from when my water heater let go and all my hot water had literally gone down the drain.

I’d heard about those tankless hot water heaters. You know, those that provide a never-ending supply of hot water without storage. That sounded intriguing. It was, of course, something I had planned to research on the internet, just like I was going to replace the water heater before it failed on its own.

So, I turned to my plumbing professional: “What did he think of them? Was it a good option for my home? How much more would it cost?” Actually, I already knew it was going to cost more. I also knew that he was probably going to make more money, and he wouldn’t have to lug a conventional heater to my basement. Seemed like a nice win-win. But, I wanted to discuss and hear his professional opinion and ask questions.

Do you know what his response was? He said, “Yeah, a lot of people like those and we carry them, but I don’t have one on the truck.”

End of conversation and end of story. I was on the fence about it anyway, I wasn’t really sure about the product’s benefits, I was pressed for time, and I needed hot water. The conventional system would give me that.

How many times in our industry does this very scenario play out? Why is it that so few water systems contractors offer their customers options, and just think in terms of “getting someone back in water”? People, and especially homeowners, want options and to be part of the decision process. Water treatment, constant pressure, and battery back-up protection all come to mind. When we don’t offer the homeowner that opportunity, we leave money on the table.

Back to my water heater… you know the really sad part? The water heater that got replaced was 17 years old. Maybe we can revisit the topic again in the year 2029.

Fifty three point six

The number above was the average age of an attendee at a trade show in our industry last year. And, no surprise, that number’s been trending up for years.

Yesterday, I was at another meeting where everyone agreed that our failure to attract a younger crowd is a contributor to declining trade show attendance in our industry. I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but there was a universal response to the question of, “What do we do about that? How do we engage more young people in our industry and trade shows?”

The solution presented with conviction was social media, that is, Facebook and Twitter. For example, I heard, “Young people communicate differently than we did in our 20s. We have to come to grips with that and communicate using the tools they use”. That resonated with the audience, but what a gigantic understatement! And, when I pressed those same participants on exactly how they would use Facebook and Twitter to increase trade show attendance, the conversation came to a screeching halt.

The exchange struck me a lot like saying, “to do surgery, you need a scalpel.” Or, handing someone a voltmeter that’s never seen one, and saying, “here’s your solution to submersible troubleshooting”. Just naming a tool is not a fix.

We could talk pages about declining trade show attendance, and I certainly don’t have all (or even most) of the answers, especially if it involves social media. There’s no doubt that social media is an important tool. However, like many things, knowing what the tool is and knowing how to use it effectively are miles and generations apart.

No “oohs and aahs”, just sales

When it comes to the home improvement industry, they are big on showrooms. There are showrooms for kitchens. For bathrooms. For flooring. There are even showrooms for fireplaces. The big box stores even devote major portions of their boxes to home improvement showrooms. All of these are designed so that homeowners can come in and “ooh and aah” over the products, then have them professionally installed. 

In the water systems industry, we don’t do much “showrooming.” A water system doesn’t have the same pizzazz as a new kitchen or bathroom. You’ll never to hear a homeowner “ooh and aah” over a 1/2 horsepower 10 gallon per minute submersible pump that will disappear down a hole.
Nevertheless, maybe we should “showroom” more than we do, at least on a small scale. Believe it or not, I’ve seen water systems showrooms directed at homeowners. Not quite like what you find on the kitchen and bath side of things, but showrooms nevertheless.
There are two that stick in my mind. One was in Canada. This water systems contractor’s location was in a busy part of town. Very nice facility, with a prominent sign. From what they told me, a significant amount of their business was simply homeowners stopping by when they had an issue with their water system. And, once inside, homeowners were shown a professional-looking constant pressure system display that explained the differences between a conventional and a variable speed water system. They said that most of their constant pressure systems sales came from that display. It had paid for itself hundreds of times over.
Another contractor’s place of business that sticks in my mind was out west. It happened to be located right on a major highway. Once again, the facility wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was clean and well-maintained. That included the small fleet of trucks out front. It just said “professionalism.” Once inside, there was a nice display of submersible pumps and other products they sold and installed. This contractor said they did a remarkable amount of business simply from “walk-ins” and told me, “A lot of people just seem more comfortable stopping by than calling us. And, once they’ve seen our facility and products up close, it instills confidence.”  
Those two locations are unique, and I’ve been to plenty of contractors’ shops in highly rural areas where the greatest showroom in the world wouldn’t generate any traffic. But, depending on your location and other factors, having a “mini-showroom” just might make sense for your business. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. Your customers may not “ohh and aah” over your pump display, but you’ll get the sale.

Why are they nodding off?

Last week, I was part of an industry meeting where the topic was continuing education. As usual, there was general agreement that continuing education is a positive thing, it makes us more professional and so forth. What was interesting to me was when the conversation turned to the question of, “what about those guys who sleep in continuing education classes?” The consensus seemed to be, “Wake them up! They can’t sleep during a seminar and get credit for the class.” 

That may be true, but I look at it differently. To begin with, being awake is not a reliable indication of attention or engagement. But, beyond that, I think it’s our job, and especially my job if I’m the presenter, to make the material and the seminar compelling enough that no one wants to sleep. If the class is nodding off, maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe the class is simply boring to the point that taking a little nap is a better deal. 

As presenters, we need to strive to make continuing education classes not as something to be endured, but something interesting and worthwhile to you and your business. For example, the day after the meeting above, I attended a seminar presented by Jim Hartmann, Franklin Electric’s Regional Manager for Technical Service. For the entire seminar, every one of the 28 contractors in attendance was engaged and wide awake and learning something. Jim is not alone here, inside or outside of Franklin Electric. But, I’ve also sat in on too many classes that were mind-numbingly dull.

Having said the above, I’m not totally naive. There will always be some class members that no matter what, there’s not going to be much of a transfer of information. But, this is nothing new, no matter what the forum or the industry.

In any case, that doesn’t excuse us as presenters and as the holders of seminars and classes of any kind. We need to focus on making all of our classes better. If we do that, we’ll never have to worry about disturbing someone from a good nap.