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?

WE DON’T COMPROMISE! Well actually, you do

There’s a truck advertisement out there with the tag line of “WE DON’T COMPROMISE!” That sounds good, but actually they do. Are there other vehicles that have a better ride or a lower cost or better fuel economy or the option of putting the top down? Of course there are; they’re generally called cars. That truck manufacturer has compromised those other benefits for the major benefit of hauling stuff.

All products are compromises, and with any product, the trick is finding the perfect balance between matching the need with everything else, including the ability to actually manufacture the product at a competitive cost.

Which brings us to a commonly asked question about Franklin Electric’s variable-speed, constant pressure SubDrive product, “Can I repair the components inside?”

The answer is “no” and the reason has everything to do with balancing size, manufacturability, cost, features, and reliability. As with any electronic-based product today, to get there requires state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. This is exactly what we have at Franklin Electric’s facility in Grant County, Indiana where SubDrive is manufactured. This manufacturing technology is same or very similar as to what is used in your cell phone or computer and it results in a small, very reliable package at a competitive cost. But much like your cell phone, the end product, as good as it is, is not repairable.

Could SubDrive (or your cellphone) be made totally repairable, right down to the component level? It could, but your customers wouldn’t be able to afford it, it would be terribly unreliable because of all the connections, and it would physically be so big as to take up the entire bed of your truck. That truck of yours may be a compromise, but perfect for the job.

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.

Paying attention pays off

The product to the left is Franklin Electric’s SubDrive Duplex Alternator. For those installations with two wells that are manifolded into one system, it’s a great little device that toggles operation between any two models of SubDrive and their respective pumps. And if one unit fails, the Alternator automatically switches to the good unit. Or, if one pump can’t keep up with demand, the Alternator will automatically turn on both pumps.

For over 4 years, the SubDrive Duplex Alternator has been available and we’ve shown it at trade shows, on our website, and during our seminars. However, to this day, many water systems contractors still don’t know about it. More often than not, we still hear, “Wow, that’s neat! I could use that. How long have you guys had that? It’s new, right?” It’s yet another example of how, regardless of industry, it takes far longer than expected to build awareness of a new product.

However, what is a challenge for us and other manufacturers is a big opportunity for you. It means that by just paying attention to new products as they are rolled out, you can get a big jump on most of your competition. And once your competition figures out that you’re offering your customers a deeper product portfolio, you will already be highly experienced in selling and installing them. Continue reading

Solving problems

For the past three weeks, I’ve been writing about variable speed drives (VFDs) and the benefits they offer beyond constant pressure. While delivering constant water pressure is still the most recognized benefit of these systems, their potential far exceeds that one application. This week’s examples are more regional in nature, but hopefully they will help you start thinking about other ways VFDs can solve problems.

In many parts of the western US, wells are frequently pumped faster than they can recharge, making some type of dry run protection necessary. As a result, these installations have Pumptec or a similar type of dry run (underload) protection. However, VFDs already have this protection built into them. In addition, not only do they have protection by design against underload, most also have overload (bound pump) protection built in, as well as undervoltage and overvoltage protection. In cases where you know that an installation may face challenging conditions, for a small incremental cost—remember, besides a Pumptec, you also need control box in a conventional system—you can use a VFD such as SubDrive for even better protection of the pump and motor.

Another niche application for variable speed systems is operating installations where fire codes are in effect. Particularly in dry areas of the country, local fire codes dictate the minimum size pump required for fire protection. In the majority of cases, the GPM the pump is required to deliver in case of fire far exceeds the output required for regular daily residential usage. Continue reading