There’s almost no limit to the type and variety of mechanical firms that install and service heating systems across this great nation. Family-owned, local, state-wide, nationwide, union, non-union, commercial-only, residential-only, industrial, full-service or tightly focused.
What really separates them, however, is their reputation, stability, and profitability. The greatest disparity between them is not their size or corporate structure, but rather the level of success they achieve, and for that matter, maintain long term.
Many companies are doing very well, and seem to be providing a good living for everyone involved. But other businesses are faltering. And while a scant few will ever come right out and say it, some are outright failing.
So what makes one contractor thrive and the next flop? Below are common traits of companies that are flourishing. Most of the items listed below apply to any business, not just mechanical contractors. None of these are hard and fast rules for success, but rather characteristics that many of the most successful companies tend to have.
Be open to trying new things
Being open to trying new things is a trait that can be applied to almost anything, from new equipment to design software. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to tried-and-true best practices, but as markets, technologies, demographics, homes, legislation and marketing methods evolve, businesses must do the same or be left behind.
Explore something new each month. That doesn’t mean investing a pile of money into something foreign, but educate yourself. Read trade magazines to stay on top of current trends. Take it to heart when a customer mentions something you’ve paid little mind to in the past. Don’t ignore what your competition is doing, and don’t ignore what your youngest employees are saying.
Serial entrepreneur and business coach Gary Vaynerchuk takes every opportunity to drive home the following point: Innovate or Die.
Attend training and trade shows, and visit manufacturers
The need for constant and ample training can’t be denied. Most of today’s new equipment requires proprietary training, whether it’s boilers, heat pumps or control platforms. This is a trend that will no doubt accelerate, especially with the web connectivity that’s quickly emerging. Take training seriously, and if you have employees that want more education, roll out the red carpet for them.
Closely tied to trying new things, there’s no better place to see new technology, and learn about it from the folks who know it best than at a trade show. Go to shows and find things that will improve your business. Talk with other professionals. Network.
Above: The annual International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo), which hosts more than 2,100 exhibitors, provides a unique forum for the entire HVACR industry to come together and share new products, technologies, and ideas.
Despite being a time commitment, visiting manufacturers isn’t only fun, it’s one of the best ways to learn the details of the equipment you install. This allows you to put a face behind the product, too. And what better way to make connections with the folks you may have to call for tech support than face-to-face interaction.
Lean on your reps and wholesalers
Manufacturers representatives and wholesalers are a resource. Use them as such. It’s in their best interest to form a lasting relationship with you, so make them earn your business.
If a rep offers to do a load calculation, design a piping layout, or help during start-up of a new system, let them do so. It could save you a lot of time, some money, and even improve the performance of the system, especially if it includes product you’re unfamiliar with. If you’re utilizing all the support that’s being offered to you, and your competition isn’t, you’re one step ahead.
Have a specialty
Companies that have a specialty, even if their service offering is very broad, tend to be profitable. They might attract a lot of the work and do it extremely efficiently, or maybe their reputation allows them to charge a premium for it. Either way, specialties or niches are profitable.
Consider what your company is good at, and get great at it. And if you’re already at that level, but aren’t marketing accordingly, you may want to start beating your own drum a little louder.
Maintain age diversity
Having a shop full of green techs is no worse than a shop full of guys nearing retirement, and even less likely, based on the number of young people entering the trade.
Seasoned techs are no doubt extremely valuable, but if that makes up your entire payroll, your prospects of surviving the next decade are pretty slim. Having young, strong backs and eager minds can make life easier for the whole crew. But younger employees – if you listen to them – can also offer fresh ideas and perspectives. And if you have a dedicated marketing person, a young perspective might be exactly what you need.
To maintain age diversity, you’ll also have to…
Learn to recruit and retain
Recruiting and retaining employees are two different things, but much of what attracts a perspective employee will help retain them.
Successful retention comes in part through workplace culture, something that isn’t always immediately obvious to the perspective employee while they’re still on the outside. Make your company a great place to work.
Keep in mind that as employees progress through various stages of life, their priorities will change, too. Maybe the opportunity for advancement and better pay is extremely attractive to a young person, while outstanding family healthcare, retirement planning and less physical strain might be bigger incentives to middle-aged employees and those soon to retire.
Recruitment may be best accomplished with out-of-the box thinking. Attend seminars, speak with business coaches and trade school instructors, read up on it, talk to young people and listen to what they’re saying. Learn what your competition is doing, if anything, and make your approach better.
>> There’s a column in this issue of the US Boiler Report, called When Recruitment Efforts Go Big League. The approach that Morris-Jenkins, Inc. has taken – though not possible for all companies – is extremely proactive.
Last but not least, a healthy passion for the work is evident among contractors who’re dominating their market. This is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. That is, if a company is really strong, the owners and managers are more likely to be fired up about their job. But most folks would agree that success appears more often where there’s a desire to flourish. If your flame is dim, find some #2 fuel oil!