By Ryan Poppe
Innovation comes in many forms, and companies of all varieties must follow along in order to stay relevant now and in the future. The plumbing industry is no exception. Modern innovations and needs have changed the way that plumbers find, interact with, and serve their customers. Modern technology has also impacted the structures of businesses themselves, as well as the manner in which they operate. Many who want to remain competitive need to stay ahead of the times and stay up to date on the latest tools and technology.
Optimizing Processes and Operations
Streamlined Fleet Control
GPS tracking devices make it possible for plumber dispatch teams to follow company vans where ever they go. This helps them ensure that their team is taking the most sensible route to their destination. Streamlined fleet control enables companies to reach customers faster and service more customers in one day. Some services will help track labor costs using stop and start times via the GPS system. While fleet management is not free, the savings may outweigh the costs for many companies. Higher customer satisfaction, lower fuel and labor costs, and increased transparency for managers/owners may translate in to a greater potential for success for those that have not yet adopted this technology.
Advertising Options Abound
Most businesses rely on advertising of some kind. Since the rise of Internet and social media, advertising for small and large businesses alike has changed radically. At one time, the yellow pages were a major source of advertising for plumbers. Today, businesses are now expected to have mobile-friendly websites and social media pages. Businesses can bid on various forms of targeted online ads and invest in increasing their organic search presence. They can attempt to build a social profile that connects with their communities and build relationships. The most accessible businesses will likely get the most leads.
However, with all of these options and limited funds to invest in promotion for their business, owners and managers are faced with many decisions that could significantly impact their futures. Who manages and monitors these operations? Will a specialized employee be needed, or will an agency handle it? How will ROI be determined? Which channels/methods should be tested - and for how long?
There's no one answer to the questions businesses will face. The more owners can understand about how these different marketing strategies, the more likely they are to make informed decisions when allocating funds to them. As time goes by, the amount of advertising channels, methods, automation software, and services will only increase — owners and managers will be well-served by making an effort to understand them as they appear.
Payment and Finances
Long ago, people paid exclusively by cash or check. These days, many customers expect their plumbers and other local businesses to accept payment by credit card. Some customers wish to pay online through an online merchant service. Other people prefer to pay by credit card over the phone or in person.
Many plumbers now take payment over the phone and some even have merchant services set up on their smart phone, so they're able to accept payment on the spot after a job is completed. These online and electronic payment services have convenience for plumbing businesses as well as customers. Funds are available faster than payments made by check, and are more secure than payments made in cash.
Beyond this, businesses will need to do a cost/benefit analysis of the various finance and accounting software available to them. The old fashioned way may still "work" for some, but many have found the benefits to be too compelling to hold out. Quick, accurate, and organized accounting can greatly reduce operation costs or the time spent by owners doing it themselves.
Evolving Customer Fulfillment
Increasing Demand for Green Products
Green products are in high demand among today's homeowners and business owners. Low-flow toilets and faucets, faucet aerators, and ENERGY STAR appliances like dishwashers and washing machines help homeowners and commercial building owners save money. The demand is increasing, and the market is rapidly shifting from somewhat-niche to commonplace in the minds of consumers.
To serve customers better, plumbers must be intimately familiar with these products and how to work with them. Going through training and becoming certified by various companies can help plumbers ensure they know how to install these new products. These specialized certifications help potential clients know they're hiring someone that can accomplish the task at hand.
Health and Safety
Health and safety is quickly becoming a major consideration for businesses and homeowners. The spread of germs can be stopped by technology like touchless faucets and toilets. These products are effective because they prevent people from coming into contact with bacteria on bathroom surfaces. Touchless technology has been in use in commercial buildings for many years, and some of these products are also finding their way into homes. Plumbers must be adept at installing these products to meet with increased demand.
Water treatment systems (water softening, reverse osmosis, etc) are becoming common in homes as well. Understanding the installation process and communicating this offering to customers can increase a company's reach and clientele in its service area.
Furthermore, with advances in technology, seniors are increasingly opting to stay in their homes (otherwise known as "aging in place"). Having knowledge of various safety features from grab bars to walk-in tubs can help businesses tap into an emerging trend.
There are many existing buildings and homes throughout the country that have not been updated in decades, and there are many buildings and homes that have yet to be built. As the standard of living increases, so will the need for modern product installation.
Staying up to date with all the latest technologies and advancements can help plumbing businesses stay competitive — whether an owner wants to scale, carve out a niche, or simply stay in business. For plumbers who plan to be in business for the next several decades, understanding how the landscape is changing is crucial.
Ryan Poppe is a licensed RE/MAX REALTOR© with Colorado Property Group.