PHOENIX, AZ – Since 2008, Amigo Rooter and Plumbing has served the residential service and maintenance needs of the greater Phoenix metro area. “We do mostly service and repairs,” owner/operator Nelson Salas says. “That’s probably 80 percent of our work… mostly residential and light commercial.” Amigo plumbing employs five service techs (including Salas, who still goes out on calls) and a couple more people back managing the office.
Up until the pandemic hit business was humming along. “We were staying busy,” Salas says, “plenty of work every day and everything was going good.” Then, at the end of March, as it did seemingly everywhere in the country, the bottom fell out. Business fell off 50 percent, according to Salas’ rough estimate.
Luckily, the worst part of it only lasted about three weeks before picking back up again. “Everybody is at home, using or in some cases abusing their plumbing,” Salas says. People needed their working toilets and running water, plumbing was designated an essential industry, and the demand just couldn’t be held back for much longer than that.
Of course, Amigo Rooter and Plumbing was forced to adapt the same as everyone else has. Getting everyone at the company on the same page involved a lot of commuting on Salas part. “I had meetings with the guys just one-on-one,” he explains. “Basically they each take their truck home at the end of the day. So, I had to make time to meet with each of them and make sure they had all the equipment they needed.”
Protective equipment such as gloves and shoe covers was already standard for Amigo technicians. Mask simply became one more part of the toolkit. Alongside protective gear came social distancing. This involved a new level of sensitivity to the comfort levels of the customers. Salas says that, typically, about 70 percent of his clients are comfortable allowing Amigo technicians into their homes, but there is a remaining 30 percent who would probably remain isolated if they weren’t suffering some kind of plumbing emergency. “They want us almost to wear a hazmat suit to go into their homes,” he says.
Now, the volume of work at Amigo Rooter and Plumbing is back to normal, if not even little bit busier. But still the pandemic continues.
John Waters is the head of Phoenix-based Waters Business Consulting, a group that has worked with service contractors like Amigo to help grow their businesses through success coaching and lean business valuation. Waters has over 35 years’ experience in strategic business development, and he says the current situation is like nothing he has ever seen before.
“The closest comparison I could make would be 9/11,” Waters says. “It was boom, all of a sudden, the country got hit by an outside enemy who penetrated our boarders and disrupted everything. And that’s kind of what happened here.”
His advice to his clients from the first days of the pandemic has been: first, have a plan to get through this, but then, more importantly, have a plan to come out of this so your business can thrive.
“You’ve all heard the saying, ‘Don’t waste a good crisis.’ A crisis is an opportunity to change and innovate,” Waters says. “How can you differentiate yourself from what your competition out there is doing?”
His first suggestion is to invest in the kind of technology that automates processes and makes remote interactions easier. “You can interface with a customer via Zoom,” Waters says, “whether there’s a pandemic or we have a vaccine or not, you can still do a lot of the work that involves interacting with the customer that way.”
Second, he advises every business he works with to go through their database and communicate with all past customers, all new customers and any new customers and remind them of who you are, what you do and how you can help them solve their problems.
Third, look to what new kinds of services or offerings you can provide. Handwashing stations are something all kinds of businesses are looking into now. All kinds of customers are now interested in touchless faucets and fixtures. And pandemic or not, people always are looking for efficient systems that can save them money on water and energy.
Fourth, take some time to invest in soft skills. One of the lessons of the last recession, he says, was the emphasis successful businesses placed on quality customer service. “You saw this a lot with restaurants,” Waters says, “responding and treating their customers differently, because they saw how important the customer was… you’ve got to make sure that your customer service is just stellar.”
Fifth, if you have dollars to spend on the marketing/advertising side, now—when the comeback is still beginning—is a good time to spend them. “The smart move is to get aggressive on your marketing in my opinion,” Waters says. “As soon as possible.”
Sixth, keep a close eye on your numbers. Manage your cost of goods carefully. Waters finds that when small contractors start to grow, they sometimes stop paying attention to their balance sheets. “They know their trade, but they don’t know their numbers. So get someone that can work with you to make sure you understand.” Know where you’re improving, know what your greatest source of revenue is, know where your greatest source of gross profit margin is.
Seventh, and maybe most important, reach out to your employees. Don’t be so focused on the opportunities this moment presents that you forget your workers might have stresses, conflicts and concerns that extend well beyond the workplace. A lot of people have kids who can’t go to school, elderly or at-risk family members they can’t visit, or health concerns of their own.
“This is the time to show your employees that you care,” Waters says. “They are the face of your organization when they’re out there working with the public. So that’s key. Having the right culture, because that’s how you retain good people, provide good service and get repeat customers.”
Nelson Salas, for his part, is trying to do everything he can to follow the proper safety guidelines, to keep his customers happy, and to keep his business moving forward. “It’s new territory for everybody, I’ve gotta tell you.”
Amigo Rooter and Plumbing: www.amigoplumbingaz.co
Waters Consulting: watersbusinessconsulting.com