Matching their lifestyle

This week’s post comes from Bob McClain, Franklin Electric’s Technical Specialist, Drives & Controls

Just a few decades ago, the average new home was around 1,000 square feet, had three bedrooms and one bathroom (one and a half baths if it was an “upscale home”). The typical day consisted of dad getting up, showering, going to work and mom spending the day getting the kids off to school, doing some laundry during the day, and hand washing the dishes after dinner.

Fast forward to today. The average new home is more than twice as large, even though we have fewer children. There are at least 4 bedrooms, with 4 to 5 bathrooms. Mom, dad and the kids all get up in the morning within an hour of each other and take showers before heading out the door for work, school, or daycare. Then, the water system probably isn’t used for the next 8 to 9 hours. But come evening, it’s showers for everyone after ball practice, along with running the dishwasher and washing machine. Throw in lawn irrigation or a geothermal system, and you see that today’s water system needs are nowhere near what they were like just a few decades ago. Not only are the total requirements greater, but water demand is far more driven by peak demand.

So, more than ever before, it’s not a matter of how much, but how much when. An extreme example really illustrates this – On average, each person in North America uses 105 gallons of water per day. Doing some quick math, a 3 gallon per minute well and pump can produce 4,320 gallons per day. That’s enough water to supply a home of 41 people, but unless water the supply is very limited, no one installs 3 GPM pumps. The reason of course, has more to do with our lifestyles than it does with the math.

So, we have to size our water systems based on the consumer’s lifestyle, and especially focus on that one hour in the morning and those three to four hours in the evening. This is where constant pressure, variable speed systems really shine. By matching the performance of the water system to the demand placed on it, these systems provide the water delivery that your customers demand and matches their lifestyle. That’s a good deal for them and for you.

Expert advice

By many measures, Apple is the most successful company in the history of the world. What’s interesting is that they’ve done it by eschewing many of the business practices that are taught in today’s business schools, including the use of focus groups for market research.

Focus groups are a very common market research tool in which people in a group setting are asked about their perceptions, opinions, and attitudes toward a product, service, concept, or advertisement. Focus groups are heavily used in new product development, but they have a mixed track record. The classic focus group failure was ATMs. Focus group studies in the 1970s unequivocally showed that consumers would never, ever conduct any of their financial transactions via a machine. Today, there are over 2 million ATMs worldwide.

There was never any doubt where Steve Jobs stood on the topic of focus groups and market research in general. Apple has never used them and Steve Jobs had a couple of well-known quotes on the subject. One was borrowed from Henry Ford, who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Steve Jobs also said that asking people what they wanted was pointless because they don’t know what is actually possible.

How does this apply to the water systems business? Well, a couple of years ago, I observed several focus groups of homeowners in which they talked about their private water systems. (They loved them by the way.) And, regardless of what Steve Jobs thought about focus groups, we gained some useful insights from them.

However, here’s where Steve Jobs was right: not a single homeowner complained or mentioned the pressure cycling that exists with a conventional water system. They couldn’t imagine it otherwise. Only when specially asked about it, did we hear things like, “Yes, the pressure fluctuates with the cycling, but that’s just the way it works. We simply schedule our water usage and don’t do two things at once.” Another homeowner stated that one of the perks of travel was the good, steady shower you get in a hotel. When asked if having their private water systems deliver consistent pressure would be a good thing, many said, “Well of course. That would be wonderful, but I don’t think you can do that.” 

These homeowners never asked for a constant pressure water system because they had no idea it was possible, let alone that it currently exists. As a water systems contractor–the EXPERT–you have a tremendous opportunity to not only sell a premium water system, but more importantly to surprise and delight your customer by showing him the impossible. As Apple has so often demonstrated, sometimes you just have to show him what you’ve got.

Your customer knows he needs water. You know how to make it happen.

Note: While Apple doesn’t flat out ask customers what they want, the company spends a lot of time observing how people use its products and trying to understand what they want to accomplish. Like Apple, don’t ever simply assume you know what your customer wants; figure it out by getting to know him and having a conversation–as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts.

SWOT your business

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the four parts of a marketing strategy: segmentation, targeting, positioning, and establishing the value proposition. This week, I want to back up just a bit, because the marketing strategy is actually just part two of the four parts of a generic marketing plan.

There are lots of variations on this, but the four parts are 1) analyzing the situation 2) the marketing strategy 3) the marketing mix 4) implementation / feedback.

This week, I wanted to touch on part 1, “analyzing the situation”. The most common tool for this is what’s called a SWOT analysis. That’s a semi-clever acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis can be done on almost any business, team, or individual for that matter.

As the owner of a water systems business, if you did a SWOT analysis of your business, what would it look like?

Strengths – Ask yourself, what are the top 5 things that make my business a strong one? It could be your experience, your reputation, a certain expertise, or perhaps a piece of equipment no one else has. It could even be something like your location.

Weaknesses – What are the weak points of your business? These could be anything from a lack of properly trained employees to a lackluster accounting system.

Opportunities – Looking externally, what are the biggest opportunities for you and your business? Is it geothermal, a new housing development, or upgrading existing systems to constant pressure? This summer, perhaps it’s been the drought.

Threats – If you’re in the water system business, several possibilities come to mind here, such as the encroachment of public water, price competition, no new housing, and the economy in general. But these will be different in different markets.

Note that strengths and weaknesses look internally at you and your company while opportunities and threats look outside your company. Actually, my preference is the inverse of the above, TOWS analysis, which is, you guessed it, Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. It’s become more popular in recent years because it forces you to look externally first, not last.

In any case, the reason a good SWOT analysis is crucial to a marketing plan is that it forces you to match your marketing strategy (step 2) to the situation. For example, if new construction is at a standstill in your area (that’s a threat), targeting builders doesn’t make sense. Likewise, if constant pressure systems are doing well in your area (opportunity), and you’re experienced here (strength), your strategy needs to target this area.

This is not complicated stuff, and like I’ve said before, you probably do much of this already without thinking about it in precisely these terms. However, a thorough and rigorous SWOT analysis is generally much harder than it first appears. But whether you’re building your business or coaching a Little League team, it can help you frame and organize the situation. And once you truly understand your current situation, the other components of your marketing plan start to fall into place.

Four years to ownership

Franklin Electric’s commitment to service is a global one, and I had the privilege of spending last week in Germany with my Field Service counterparts.

Germany places a great deal of emphasis on training and licensing. For example, a motorcycle was pointed out to me on the highway that was being closely followed by a specially-marked car. It turned out that this was a “student rider” undergoing training to obtain his motorcycle license. The driver of the car was actually the instructor and was linked to the rider via a radio intercom. This allowed the instructor to provide continuous feedback and input to the rider. It is just one part of the process to obtain a motorcycle license in Germany. If the rider successfully passes this course and obtains his license, he can then ride a “low horsepower” motorcycle for 2 years. After 2 years, he can then apply to ride a “higher horsepower” motorcycle.

This same approach applies to becoming a licensed well driller in Germany. If you choose well drilling as a career, your first 2 years will be as a “helper” under the watchful eye of an experienced drilling contractor. During that time, you’ll also attend 3 months of classroom training (Franklin Electric provides some of the instruction). After 2 years as a helper, you will then be designated as a “drilling apprentice” for another year. At the end of this third year, you will have earned the designation of “master well driller”. You can now go out and drill a well unsupervised. However, you still can’t own your own drilling company. That takes another year under your belt as a master well driller. So, after a total of 4 years, you are finally qualified to own a drilling company.

Is all of this too much and actually necessary? I don’t know the answer to that, but the next time you have to spend a few hours to get your “once a year” continuing education credits, perhaps the 4-year process above will make it seem a little less demanding.