Taking stock of the competition
“I bought out two residential service companies in the area and business has grown ever since,” he said. “Now we do residential retrofit and service, commercial service, and commercial plumbing.
“Our commercial side is growing more because we are focusing more of our energy on it.
“There is a lot of new construction going on in the commercial side in Oklahoma City,” Hardesty added, citing the arrival of several call centers, high-tech companies, Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), and the emergence of cultural and sporting events as reasons why the region is growing in popularity.
All of the buzz around Oklahoma City equates to “full employment,” and Hardesty is definitely feeling the pinch for good, qualified workers.
He counts on word-of-mouth to find employees, and thinks having a local ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) chapter might help.
Technician shortage“We have a harder time finding technicians than installers,” he said. “It used to be that service techs made more money than installers, but that has pretty much leveled out. I’m turning down work right now because we don’t have the manpower. It’s tough just to find someone to deliver parts.”
Hardesty is a member of a contractor group that meets to discuss issues involving the trade. The worker shortage is a hot topic, as is consolidation. He stated that two or three members of his group have sold to consolidators, while others have been talking with them.
In Oklahoma City, Rescue Rooter/ARS and Service Experts/ Lennox have acquired contractors. Hardesty is keeping a watchful eye on both, especially the latter.
Would Hardesty sell his business to a consolidator?
“The only way I would sell would be to relieve myself of the liability of operating a business today,” he answered. “I feel like competing with them.”
Hardesty said he isn’t looking at utility companies as competitors right now, but when deregulation hits, things may change. “They [utility companies] used to be responsible for maintaining the gas line up to the meter at the easement of a home or business,” he said. “But now the utility will be required to maintain the line right up to the business, which may affect new construction, repair and replacement for the plumbers, etc.”
Hardesty said the biggest threat to competition could come through the home warranty business. Warranties can be sold through utilities, bank credit card companies, and consolidators. Hardesty feels that these types of warranties will not provide homeowners with the best service.
He also feels that companies like Sam’s Club referring customers to a network of hvac contractors are not the best businesses to compete against or work with.
“Sam’s may take 15 percent off the top for writing up the customer,” he added. “I don’t want to pay anybody 15 percent of my gross sales to do that. It’s obvious they are looking for the small contractor who works out of his home or truck, who doesn’t have the expense of running a business, like I do.
“There is a lot of money in the home warranty business. The problem is, customers don’t want to wait two or three days for service and the warranty might not cover repairs if the customer doesn’t stick to a regularly scheduled maintenance plan.”