Only Three Trucks, But Plenty Of Opinions

CINCINNATI, OH — When a group of contractors who own smaller companies sit around and discuss issues they face, there usually is a very lively exchange of ideas. That was certainly the case when the “Three Trucks or Less” seminar was presented at the recent Radiant Heating Conference & Expo (REX).

The hosts were Tom Simenson of Radiant Specialties, Inc., Kalispell, MT, and Colin Wunder of Howard Heating & Cooling, Howard, SD.

Wunder started the discussion with a simple yet profound statement: “Knowledge is a lifelong process. At a trade show like this, I make it a point to bring back at least one good idea and implement it.” He encouraged audience members to participate and raise issues that are particular to the “smaller” radiant heating contractors.

Here were some of the comments:

  • Share with your employees the cost of doing business. You may want to hold a few things back, which prompted Wunder to add the following quote, “I taught them everything they know, not everything I know.”

  • Use presentation folders when giving out job quotes and wear clothing with the company’s logo. It looks professional.

  • Make sure you have a signed contract with the homeowner or homebuilder which spells out exactly what you expect from them (i.e. job set-up, financing).

  • Know what your costs of doing business are. One contractor said he’d been in business for 20 years and still didn’t know his own cost of doing business. Other suggestions included buying job cost software or job cost books for contracting businesses. Wunder said that he decided one day, out of the blue, to raise his rates by $35 and had no resistance from his customers. “If they like you, they will pay,” he said.

  • Reading trade magazines is a good way to keep up with business trends and opportunities. Wunder said he added some geothermal work and is looking into selling fuel cell units. “My town has about 1,000 people and four plumbing/heating/cooling contractors. Two were formed from previous employees of the other two contractors. This is a good reason why it is important to differentiate from the others.”

  • Home shows are a good way to market your business. Wunder said he exhibits at the same show each year, but he changes the look of his booth each time.

  • If you sell radiant heating systems, you should have one installed in your own home. “You will be a little less credible if people see that you don’t use it,” Wunder added.

  • Word-of-mouth advertising is very important. Wunder characterizes it as the best means to market his business. “We work in a 20-30 mile radius, but we have customers 150 miles away who we got strictly from word-of-mouth.”

  • Hire people not just for their mechanical skills but for their attitude, too. “I can teach mechanics but I can’t teach attitude,” Wunder said.

  • Don’t be afraid to sub out work to a competitor if you can’t handle the workload — as long as you are satisfied with their quality of work.

    Wunder added some closing thoughts to the discussion. “Leave a legacy. The jobs you have built should withstand the test of time.

    “If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’ll wind up somewhere else. You need to have a passion for the business.”

    Publication date: 06/17/2002

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