By Ike Casey
PHCC Executive Vice President
At a recent national industry summit, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors -National Association brought contractors, manufacturers, wholesalers and service providers to the table for in-depth conversations. This was the first step in addressing some of the changes that need to take place in order to improve the business climate for the PHC industry across the country.
The industry has been fragmented long enough. If we are going to really do something about the problems that face us, then we all need to put our shoulders to the grindstone and get something done. It is not the other fellow’s problem. Our concerns are similar and we all need to work together to address them.
Three issues came out as most important to the 40 industry leaders in the room during roundtable and general sessions. They are:
- Concerns about the business ability of contractors;
- Warranties and returned goods; and
- Using technology to bring the industry together.
Business ability of contractors
I spent a portion of my time listening to the wholesalers talk in their roundtable sessions. It was interesting to hear that one of their chief concerns is the business ability of the contractors. What are they talking about? Don’t most PHC contractors have the business ability to stay in business and pay their bills on time?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. We tend to think it is the “other guy” who has the business problem ¯ “They can’t be talking about me.”
But the reality is that all contractors, like any other business owners, require ongoing education to stay on the cutting edge. All of us have to ask the question, “Are we as good as we need to be and can we get better?”
Of course, the astute contractor will answer: “No, I am not as good as I can be and, yes, I will get better. But I will have to wait until I finish this next job, or wait until I hire the right manager or ...” The list goes on as we put off the necessary education and training until just the right time.
Again, this is not a contractor problem. It is an industry problem. Wholesalers and manufacturers can encourage the contractors they work with to get the education and training they need to be successful. If the contractor is successful, the wholesaler and manufacturer are more successful. A task force will study how we can work together to bring about positive improvement in the business ability of all PHC contractors.
Warranties and returns
Another issue that looms large in the minds of everyone involves product warranties and returned goods. Consumers are demanding more in customer service, influenced in part by return policies companies like Nordstrom department store provides.
In the PHC industry, the manufacturer assumes that a returned product is defective. The contractor knows there will be no argument, so a product is just returned. This can occur when, for example, the reason is not a defective product, but a customer does not like the color of the toilet or drywall dust falls into the disposer and ruins it.
This is a major cost to manufacturers and a waste of time for contractors and wholesalers. Another task force appointed at the summit will look at how we can address this growing trend so that we all win.
All the discussions at the summit culminated in a decision to use up-to-date technology to address the issues mentioned here and other issues that come to the forefront. For example, what if we develop a Web site of all Web sites that brings together the needs of the industry? I am excited at what the American Supply Association is building on the Source ASA Web site (www.sourceasa.com). It promises to be a great beginning.
The dream of those participating at the summit is to have one Web site that all industry partners and others can go to for the most up-to-date information on the following:
- Licensing and continuing education requirements in all the states;
- Educational resources;
- Submittal information from manufacturers;
- Up-to-date industry communications; and
- Other information that all industry partners agree is needed.
A task force was appointed to explore the development of such a mega-site. Without a doubt, it would be a great first step in industry partnerships.
Quality is what we seek
All these efforts identified at the summit will lead to an industry that provides real quality to the customer. Quality is what we are all seeking ¯ quality service for which we can charge a reasonable price.
Quality is a buzzword that is not as prevalent as it was in the past, but it still tells the whole story. If each of us strives for quality, then we are always getting better.
Quality for the contractor means that the wholesaler gets paid when expected. Quality for the wholesaler means that the manufacturer gets paid on a timely basis. Quality for the manufacturer means that the contractor gets products that he or she can install in a productive way that meets the customer’s increasing demands for quality.
What stands out in my mind most from the industry summit is that all segments of the industry really have many common interests. Now that we have identified the most pressing issues, we will all have to devote some time for positive change to occur.
I know PHCC, the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute and the American Supply Association are committed to doing what we can to facilitate this process. The other industry representatives present at the summit indicated they were committed as well.
Now we are really working together.
Ike Casey is executive vice president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association. He can be reached by phone at 800/533-7694 or by e-mail at [email protected].