Service shops in our industry are facing stiffer and stiffer competition. As the current state of the economy bangs you around, it seems like every third Wednesday some new shop pops up in your area cutting into your customer base and making your business work just that much harder to maintain, let alone expand. Many of these new businesses don’t last very long, but while they are operating, they soak up a little of your customer base. Even if it’s only one or two potential new customers that get scooped up by the new guys, that’s one or two less for your business.
Who You Are
The one thing your shop has that the new guys don’t is name recognition, or at least we hope so. The other is word of mouth from your existing customers. If you have developed your business well, you have those certain customers who, when they have a problem, simply call you. They don’t shop, they don’t ask for referrals from neighbors, they just call you. If one of their friends or neighbors needs a plumber or HVAC contractor, they refer you. Those are the customers who can make being in our business worthwhile.
It’s a simple equation, really. The customer was in need of service, they called you, you came—on time, well presented—did a good, or excellent, job with the repair and charged them a reasonable fee. Or maybe, as often happens, the problem was so easy to fix (tighten a packing nut or some other innocuous repair) that you didn’t even charge them. Maybe it was because you were already in the area, or maybe it was because you were feeling magnanimous. In either case, that simple act of good will got you a customer for as long as you wanted them.
Standing Out in the Crowd
In this column, I often comment on the internet and how business, or being in business, has changed. The ease with which people can now shop for everything is amazing. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. Trying to get the attention of prospective customers via the web can be an exercise in futility of you don’t approach it in the right way. Your shop needs to stand out from the crowd. If not in a big way then in a special way.
One way you can do that is to offer something that few, if any, of your competitors does. I’m not talking about coupons or two-for-one specials, or anything like that. I’m talking about offering added value to your customers. A value perceived is a value achieved in the minds of most people.
The Biggest Asset
What is the biggest asset most, if not all, of your customers have? The answer is, their home. Many people do not look at their homes that way, which is where changing their perspective comes in. In fact, most people do not look at their biggest asset as anything more than the place they live.
Changing peoples’ perspective on this critical topic can make all the difference between a sale, upgrade, addition and/or remodel. In the coming months, we will be experiencing a slowdown/recession. That’s just the facts as they are presently seen. How we approach our businesses and customers during this time will be critical for growth moving forward
During these trying economic times, homeowners will be more vulnerable to being coached on the value of their biggest asset than usual. While renters do not figure into this equation (primarily because they have “no dog in the fight”) the owners of the rental properties certainly do. In fact, owners of rental properties have a bigger stake in seeing their property values maintained or increased. Balancing that value between passive income and passive investment is a conversation worth having with them.
Perspective is the Key
By changing your customers’ perspective on their biggest asset, you can increase rather than decrease your visibility to them. By making the argument that, even though we are experiencing tough economic times right now, there will be a rebound down the road and any investment that they make now will be just that much more valuable then. Or, since they are living in their asset, making it more modern and comfortable while weathering the economy makes more sense. The arguments are many and varied... you choose.
Of course, every situation is different, and you will have to be the best judge of when, or even if, to bring something up. Let’s face it, if your customer has just been downsized and is trying to make ends meet, common sense dictates that you don’t want to tell him he needs to remodel his bath or kitchen.
Remember, your customer has come to rely on your professional opinions. This is a powerful position to be in if you handle it correctly. Bringing added value to your customer can come in many forms and not all are tangible. Keeping this in mind will make you more in tune with how, and what, your customer is thinking and feeling when you are in their home... their biggest single asset!
Reminding your customer, gently, that their home is an asset as well as their home can change the texture of your conversation and allow you to bring that added value to bear. It’s an easier way to get your point across and might make them consider you their personal expert. If you can get the customer thinking in the direction you would like them to go, you’ve got half the battle won.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].