Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’” back in 1964, and boy did they ever?! Of course, ol’ Bob was referring to the political winds, but he was onto something. Change is the only constant we mortals can rely on. Who could have predicted, back in 1964, that there would one day be a serious lack of people entering the trades?
Changes in material technology as well as installation methods (prefabrication for example), project financing (credit cards, internet banking, etc.), the aforementioned labor/apprentice issues and government regulations have all changed radically, and will continue to do so at an almost unbelievably accelerated pace. Are you ready? What is your mindset? Are you ready to move with the changing landscape to stay even or ahead of the curve, or are you doing the same things you’ve always done since going in to business? It’s a fair question.
If you are a large, or even medium-sized company, you didn’t get that way by accident. Chances are pretty good that you or someone within your organization is talented, in a business sense. You, or they, have an intimate knowledge of the industry, made the right moves, gotten the right jobs with the right general contractors, built a reputation and established your firm as a “player” in your area of the country. As innovation goes, you adopt new technology when it suits you, or when your customers demand it of you (e-commerce in billing, project management and communications as an example). New materials and methods are adopted on an as-needed basis and, if your firm is big enough, you can set the standards by supporting them if it means a greater profit picture. Is that about right? If it is, you are moving at a snail’s pace in our modern world.
Kodak: click, clack, clunk
Kodak Corp., founded by George Eastman in 1880, innovated and dominated photography around the world — until 2012. The name Kodak was coined by Eastman not because it represented anything, but because he liked the sound of it (the sound of the shutter when a picture as taken), and it was easily translated into any language. Kodak under Eastman developed the first roll film camera and dominated the photography and photographic film industry for over a century.
Kodak actually invented the digital camera in 1993, and promptly put itself out of business in just a few short years. Why? After dominating the market for so long and stringing together innovation after innovation, including said digital camera, Kodak was focused on what they perceived to be their strong suit, film, and paid scant attention to this upstart technology. That technology moved so quickly that they did not envision, in time, the impact and exponential growth of digital photography. Because they could not, or would not, adapt their marketing and research and development to embrace the new paradigm, they were forced out of the marketplace and filed bankruptcy in 2012.
Innovation you can live with
Most of us have had similar experiences in our lives and businesses. “I should have bought Apple stock when it was first offered,” “cast iron will never be replaced by plastic,” and so on. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. We’ve all been there.
Considering this is the beginning of a new century, and the changes our industry, and our society in general, are so profound and are occurring at astonishing speed, perhaps it might be wise to sit back and shift your perspectives just a bit.
As mentioned, the lack of available manpower and changes in how we do business dictate a new strategy; a forward look, as opposed to doing things the same way we always did. Instead of changing only when necessary, how about expanding our thinking and seeing what’s out there that can make our businesses better, more competitive and more profitable.
The technology that is out there is mind blowing. Take 3D printing as an example. If you aren’t familiar with this technology, you should make it your business to become familiar with it. The ability to “print” parts from either photographs or CAD drawings is an incredible leap forward. These parts can be made from metal, plastic, ceramic and everything in between.
Think about it. You have a part (let’s say a faucet stem from an obsolete faucet, as an example) that you can’t find a replacement for, and changing the fixture is not an option. What do you do? Well, you just print yourself a new one. Or, you have need of a critical part for a piece of machinery or equipment (say, a pump impeller) and you don’t have the time to order it. You just print yourself a new one. Problem solved.
Lest you think this technology is not “industrial grade”, remember that the International Space Station has 3D printers on board, which alleviate the necessity to constantly bring repair parts up from Earth. That’s a pretty good advertisement don’t you think?
Bottom line: Sitting still in today’s world is not an option! Stay focused, stay competitive and keep looking for that edge.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a 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].