'Gentlemen, this is a pipe wrench'

10 questions to ask yourself about the fundamentals of your plumbing business

At the start of each season, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi would call a team meeting, hold up a football and declare, "Gentlemen, this is a football." Lombardi focused on the fundamentals, on blocking and tackling. So should you.

Revisiting the fundamentals is a necessary part of any business. It seems especially necessary for plumbing contractors. Most plumbers advanced through their skill at turning a wrench. However, once they hang out their own shingle, they advance by their skill at turning a profit. The skill sets are different and many allow their companies to backslide into bad habits over time, thus, the need for blocking and tackling.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself about your fundamentals:

1. When is the last time you calculated your service price? Have your costs changed since then? Have you given anyone a raise? Do you pay more for fuel? If your costs have changed, so should your prices. Otherwise, you’re subsidizing your customers.

2. When is the last time you updated your flat rate books? This goes hand in glove with adjusting your pricing. Many contractors hesitate to update their price books in an effort to save a few thousand dollars. This is foolish. The payback for updating price books is usually measured in weeks.

3. How do your plumbers appear to the customer? Do they wear dirty jeans and T-shirts or uniforms? Are their shirts tucked in? Is their hair washed, combed and neat? If your plumbers wear caps, are they company caps or are they providing free advertising for a manufacturer? Featuring a manufacturer's brand takes the emphasis away from your brand and shifts it to the manufacturer. Remember, consumers can only get your brand from you. Lots of guys sell the manufacturer’s brand.

4. Do your plumbers present themselves well? Do you keep wipes in every truck so your plumbers can ensure their hands are clean before greeting the customer? Do they keep and use breath freshener (especially important for smokers)? Do they use deodorant? Do they wear shoe covers when entering the house? Do they use tool mats?

5. How do your trucks look? For starters, are they clean? If a consumer sees a dirty service truck, it's extrapolated to dirty service. Are the dents fixed? Is there a strong logo that hasn't faded? Is the logo professional and not hand lettered? Do you have more marketing information on the back where people stuck behind your truck in traffic can see it?

6. How does your collateral material appear? Your collateral ranges from business cards to invoices to newsletters? Does everyone have a business card with the individual’s name printed on it? Do your invoices help sell your company, reinforce the value of a service agreement, and help sell other products and services? Do you mail customers a newsletter every quarter to keep your name front and center, encourage referrals, and suggest discretionary items? Is your newsletter welcomed because it is customer focused and packed with items of interest to homeowners with subtle selling or is it seen as junk mail?

7. What do you do to increase your average ticket? Do you offer a service agreement? Do you present supportive collateral at the start of service calls on water alarms, flood proof washing machine hoses, Bio-Clean, and other add-on products?

8. Are you engaged in your community? Do you belong to a service club and one or more networking groups? Do you maintain an Adopt-a-Spot? Do you practice affinity marketing?

9. Do you have an Internet strategy? Do you have a website? How about a monthly e-mail marketing program? Do you utilize social media to network and build relationships?

10. Finally, do you have a training plan for your team? Do you conduct weekly training meetings? Do you bring in vendors to teach your plumbers about features and benefits of their products? Do you take advantage of supply house technical training? Have you identified every plumber's deficiencies and prepared a training plan for improvement? What about yourself? Do you attend local PHCC meetings and national meetings like the Service Roundtable’s Las Vegas Roundtable this fall? Are you a member of your local trade association and a business alliance like the Service Roundtable?

Don't be surprised if you find you’ve backslid in a few areas. It happens to all of us. That's why you should stop yourself and your team every now and then to start over with the fundamentals. Call a team meeting and declare, "Gentlemen, this is a pipe wrench."

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, www.ServiceRoundtable.com, a service trades’ business alliance. You can contact Matt by phone at 877.262.3341, on his mobile at 214.995.8889, by email at [email protected], through his blog at www.ComancheMarketing.com, and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (@ComancheMktg).