A WEEK BEFORE Christmas, I was traveling on business when a USA Today was dropped at my hotel door with this front-page headline: “If the pros use a tool or a toothbrush, it will sell.”
The newspaper story goes on to describe how some manufacturers had struck a marketing bonanza during the recent holiday shopping season by selling to the masses “professional-grade” products used by real-life chefs, dentists and, yes, contractors. The article even mentions some of contractors’ favorite power tools and trucks, which are advertised in CONTRACTOR.
In fact, one of the subjects interviewed for the story is a young man who works for another magazine (Maxim). He is quoted as saying that when he buys any product, it’s always professional grade, and he “gleans advice from trade magazines, contractors and his dad, a plumber.”
The story makes a couple more points worth mentioning. One is that “rising consumer use of professional-grade tools has led to a jump in do-it-yourselfers wreaking havoc.” So, while trying to emulate you by using the tools that you or your employees might use, these D-I-Yers actually may be creating more work for you and your employees.
The other point is that “professional-grade tools typically carry higher profit margins and attract younger, wealthier, better educated shoppers.” These people are willing to spend extra money if they can justify the expense on a product that they think is more utilitarian, reliable or durable. I have to wonder if these same consumers are also willing to pay you, the professional, the amount of money you need to do a plumbing or heating job properly.
That question aside, it’s good that contractors are being mentioned in the article along the likes of doctors, chefs and professional athletes. Consumers recognize that you are experts at picking out tools, trucks and other products that you use on the job.
Maybe they’ll also realize that they can look up to contractors for other attributes as well — your entrepreneurial spirit, knowledge of your craft and professionalism on the job, for example.
I think about a company such as Raven Mechanical, our Mechanical Contractor of the Year, and I see much to be admired. Owners Bill and Patty Jones, who both grew up in poverty, pulled themselves up by their Texas bootstraps to build a company that is worthy of respect both inside and outside the plumbing industry.
During their first month of operation in 1979, the company billed about $100 — not enough to buy many of the professional-grade power tools prized by today’s consumers. Now, Raven Mechanical typically bills close to $20 million a year.
As with past choices for Mechanical Contractor of the Year, our selection of Raven Mechanical is not about size or money. We do appreciate how Raven treats its employees, performs on the job and contributes to the industry.
We’ve written about the family atmosphere at Raven, and that attribute should not be underestimated. It also shouldn’t mask the fact that this is one professional outfit that puts a premium on the safety, quality and quantity of its work.
The company has built a reputation among its customers for its responsiveness in meeting their needs. Raven’s speed does not interfere with its meticulous attention to detail on the job.
We also have to single out Raven for going through a process that perhaps is the most difficult for many independent contractors — passing the business along to the next generation. Bill and Patty Jones have assembled a fine management team, which is poised to take Raven into the future.
As advocates for the value of a good trade association, we appreciate that Raven Mechanical is an excellent example of a model member. Here’s a company that not only has used organizations such as PHCC to build its own success, but it also has been an active member in making these groups and other members stronger.
I can only hope that when consumers are “gleaning advice” from trade magazines such as CONTRACTOR about what tools and trucks to buy that they pause to read some of our stories. They may realize that in addition to professional-grade products, the contracting industry has some professional-grade companies such as Raven Mechanical to admire.