Do as I say, not as I do

Franklin Electric, along with others, has always promoted the value of periodic check-ups on private water systems. These involve not only having the well water tested once a year, but encouraging homeowners to have their entire system checked on a regular basis. The end goal is to identify issues before they generate an “out of water” service call at the most inconvenient possible time.

That’s good advice, but the reality is that periodic maintenance simply doesn’t happen very often in our industry. That’s always amazed me and I’ve always said that if I were fortunate enough to have my own private water system, it would be very well maintained – It’s a critical system and I wouldn’t leave it to chance. Along these same lines, I’ve been astonished and somewhat dismayed many times on how little homephoto (5)owners know about their water systems.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago when I was in my own basement changing the air filters in the heating and air conditioning system. Hidden away next to the blower unit is a Little Giant VCMA condensate pump. Today, I can tell you its model number and that it was manufactured in 1998. But until then, I had never taken any notice of it. As a matter of fact, what actually caught my eye was that it looked just like a product that I had just seen at a Franklin P/HVAC seminar.

In that same Franklin seminar, the periodic light maintenance of condensate pumps was emphasized in order to prevent “silly failures” like stuck float switches due to accumulated dirt and dust. So there I was, the proud owner of a Franklin Electric product that I had not only never serviced over the course of five years, but didn’t even realize I owned (Little Giant was acquired by Franklin Electric in 2006).

Granted, my 15 year-old Little Giant condensate pump isn’t quite as critical as a water system. But if it fails, there’s water in the basement and no air conditioning. I was leaving that to chance, just like all those homeowners that never have their water well systems checked.

It’s said that we are all ignorant, but just about different things. As homeowners, I’ve come to believe that’s especially true. And we all ignore simple maintenance, but just on different things.

If it’s not right, it’s wrong

440x380_acAwhile back, I was attempting to plug my phone charger into a dimly lit wall outlet in a hotel room. I wasn’t having much success, and only when I realized that the outlet had been installed upside down did I understand why. And not only was the outlet installed upside down, but it was also crooked and the screw on the cover plate had been torqued down to the point that the plate was cracked.

In any case, I got my charger plugged in and never gave it a second thought until a couple of weeks later when I spent a couple of long days in a meeting facility. I happened to notice that every single outlet and switch cover screw in the room were perfectly aligned in the vertical, even those close to the floor that you couldn’t really see.

This practice that makes things look a little better has a name in woodworking: it’s called “clocking”. But is it worth the bother in this case? It certainly doesn’t make any difference in the functionality of the product. And my guess is that I’m the only one who has ever sat in that meeting room and taken notice.

So in the scheme of things, is it a big deal? I think it actually is. It tells me that the electrician who installed these outlets took pride in what he was doing. He took that extra half second to get everything as perfect as he could even though the pay was the same. What’s more important is that I can pretty much guarantee you that all the connections and wiring behind that cover are first-rate and done with the same precision. The attention to detail inspired confidence.

When you think about it, that outlet isn’t much different than a wellhead. People can’t see what’s down in the well. They can’t see your splices or pump alignment or whether you’ve used a flow sleeve. They can, however, see what’s at the top. And if what they see at the top looks sloppy, well, they’ve got to wonder about what’s below. On the other hand, if the workmanship above the ground is precise and well-organized, chances are they’ll make the same assumption about the rest.

There are lots of analogies that we can draw from this, but to me it’s another example of what defines a professional versus someone who is just going through the motions. A professional is willing to take the time to get things right. Not just the big stuff, but the details as well.

That first electrical outlet that was upside down with the broken cover? I have no idea what was behind the plate, but it sure didn’t inspire confidence in the integrity of the rest of the product.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #2

Drilling day2Last week, I started my short series on the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry (Ten things #1) and covered the first three. Here’s this week’s list:

4. Groundwater expertise is different than plumbing expertise.

Not all groundwater contractors are plumbers, and not all plumbers are groundwater contractors. In fact, although some water well contractors and drillers provide plumbing services as part of their business, most of the time they don’t overlap. The groundwater industry requires a distinct knowledge base and skill set–and even different equipment. Think of it this way: someone who works on melting furnaces in foundries is not the same person who would on the furnace in your home, and vice versa. Some of the underlying science and mechanics might be similar, but these are really two different jobs requiring distinct expertise.

5. We work under tight regulatory constraints.

Groundwater is a precious resource and, appropriately, obtaining a license to access and drill into it is a formidable task. In addition, nearly all states require water well contractors to receive a certain number of hours of continuing education each year in order to maintain that license. Of course, given the size and complexity of a drilling rig, there’s a significant safety and driver training component as well. We don’t just punch holes in the ground; we have to be well-trained and ensure regulatory compliance.

6. The lowest priced water system may not be the best quality water system.

I’m a firm believer that you generally get what you pay for. Go to the internet or the Yellow Pages and you’ll probably find several options for water well contractors in any given area. Whether you’re installing a new system or simply need to get back in water, the lowest price isn’t always the best option. For example, one contractor may be offering an upgraded system that includes constant pressure, whereas another may be offering a conventional system. One may offer a tank sized to meet your needs today, but another may offer a tank sized to accommodate potential demand increases. Different prices may also be reflective of different warranty options or service agreements. In the long run, it pays to understand the difference.

Next week I’ll wrap up the series with 4 more Things I wish the public knew about our business. Stay tuned.

Ten things I wish the public knew: #1

In my job, I do a lot of airline travel. Although I’m generally a limited talker with whomever ends up next to me, I often get the question, “So, what business are you in?” From these and other random encounters with the general public, I’ve built up a sizable database of its perceptions of water wells and the groundwater industry.

Drinking_waterWhat follows isn’t a revelation by any means, but I’m continually amazed at how little the general public knows about groundwater and the groundwater industry. Even end-users such as homeowners and farmers who have their own private water systems generally have little knowledge of how water gets to their tap.

Given this, I’ve decided to write a short series around the ten things I wish the public knew about our industry. You’ll find the first three below, with the rest to follow in subsequent posts.

1. Chances are, your water comes from a well, even if you don’t know it.

I consistently hear: “I’m on city water; I don’t get my water from a well.” Actually, there’s a good chance you do. For example, I live in a good-sized city with several water sources, including a river and a couple of reservoirs. However, my city also has numerous large water wells, and a significant amount of our water is supplied from those wells. But ask any of my neighbors where their water comes from and they would never think that it comes from a well.

2. Groundwater is important. So important, in fact, that we literally can’t live without it.

The general public has no deep appreciation of groundwater’s importance, and therefore the importance of the groundwater industry. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and of that, 69% of that is locked up as ice at earth’s poles. What’s left is surface water and groundwater. Between the two, surface water comprises only 0.4% and the rest of groundwater. That’s not nearly enough surface water to supply the needs to humankind. Not only does much of our clean, fresh drinking water come from the ground, we have to have it to survive as a civilization.

3. Groundwater contractors are experts with unique professional knowledge.

Not only do groundwater contractors have to be good business people, they also have to have very specialized technical expertise. Drilling contractors, for example, often maintain more than a million dollars worth of equipment, with more bells, whistles, levers, and buttons than most people can imagine. They have to understand geology and hydrology. Pump installers have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electricity and hydraulics, and more often than not, electronic technology as well. Not everyone can do this job.

Stay tuned for more Things I wish the public knew  next week.

Read all about it!

800px-Sedona_Red_Rock_News

I’ve talked in past posts about the importance of being involved in your community as part of building good relationships with your customer base. Here’s a tip related to this that I heard years ago but was recently reminded of again.

A friend of mine sells manufacturing equipment over a large, multi-state area. Given the size of his territory, he can only see most of his customers once a month.

Many of his customer visits are in smaller, out-of-the-way towns. He normally arrives the night before the customer meeting, but before going to the hotel, he makes it a point to pick up a copy of the local newspaper to read. As a result, he’s more engaged and informed the next day about what’s going on in the community than he would be otherwise. He says it just makes conversations go better, especially those in informal meetings over breakfast and lunch. As an alternative, he sometimes catches the local TV news, but he maintains there’s nothing better than the local newspaper to get him up-to-date. And besides, he says those papers are often more interesting than the ubiquitous USA Today.

It’s a small thing and the trade area of your water systems business probably doesn’t cover multiple states. But the point remains – most of us like to do business with people that are part of our community. For you, that may mean coaching Little League or serving in a volunteer organization or even being involved local politics. Whatever the venue, being engaged with your customers also means being involved with what’s going on in your community.

Sit down and discuss

In a previous career, a management tool that was required in the organization I was a part of was the “brief” and “debrief”. That is, before an event, a briefing was held with the participants in front of a whiteboard. The brief could take 10 minutes to an hour, but by the time you walked out of that room, you understood the plan and your role in it.

photo (3)Just as important was the debrief. It took place immediately after the event and had  four parts:

1. A quick review of what we set out to do.

2. An assessment of what actually happened.

3. A dialogue of why there was a difference between what we planned and what actually happened (this was usually the most interesting segment).

4. A discussion of the lessons learned both good and bad. What actions should we keep for next time and what do we NOT want to do next time?

Of course, sports teams do this type of thing as a matter of course. But these are generally one-sided affairs from the coach to the team. Properly done, both the brief and debrief should involve all of the participants. And while I hesitate to advocate more meetings, I think as businesses, we should spend more time briefing and debriefing events.

Here’s an example… If I’m involved in one of our Field Service seminars, I’ll make sure the team gets together the night before to discuss. Not only will we discuss details such as who’s presenting what material when, but we’ll also cover the big issues, like what we want the attendees to learn. .

As soon as possible after the seminar, we’ll sit down and debrief the day’s events. We’ll follow the pattern above and have a good discussion of what went right and where can we improve. It’s almost always a very worthwhile discussion.

As a water systems contractor, when does sitting down and holding a briefing make sense? How about before that sales pitch to a major customer such as a municipality? Then afterwards, sit down and debrief how it went. Or, how about before that major installation that involves lots of players? At the end of the day, what were the lessons learned?

Holding a briefing and debriefing doesn’t make sense much of the time. But, making a conscious effort to sit down before and after major events allows you to constantly improve your team’s performance and will generally be a lot more productive than just walking into an event and “winging it”.

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?