My Two Cents: Make Your Business Stronger During the Tough Times

October 13, 2008
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I believe that for many of us in the heating, air conditioning, and sheet metal industry, these are some of the worst times we have seen. I know that in my 45 years in the business, this is as challenging as I have seen it. That said, times like these also present for us a number of opportunities that we may not be able to address when business is flowing well.

Every business, regardless of the industry, occasionally needs to step back and look at itself and the methods it is using to do its business. When we are busy every minute addressing the issues of the day, it can be difficult to take a broader approach in looking at our company and the industry to determine how well we are performing.

While it is unfortunate that the market is down, it is fortunate that the downturn gives us the opportunity to strengthen ourselves to not only survive but to be much stronger when there is a turnaround. There is an old saying that the strong will survive. This not only applies to lions in the jungle (or wherever lions hang out), but to contractors as well.

Those contractors who take the time to examine their sales techniques, the efficiency of their production, their overhead structure, and all other aspects of their business will reap the rewards of significant improvements when they get busy.

It is always difficult for us to make changes, but now is the time that major changes should be made. Your employees know the economic situation, and you will be surprised how they will buy into assisting with ways to help the company survive.



MAKE A ‘CHANGE LIST'

We have had to make some difficult but necessary changes to ensure our survival. These changes have included:

• Eliminating one salaried sales position;

• Eliminating our shop foreman position and having our superintendent handle those supervisory functions;

• Reducing number of field foremen and realigning remaining foremen duties;

• Installing GPS on all service and replacement vehicles. (Often you have to spend money to make/save money - this is a perfect example);

• Reducing inventory including selling old items and returning some outdated merchandise to the manufacturers;

• Spending more time collecting accounts receivable.

In addition to these major changes, we have made numerous minor changes to save in every way that we can. Some of these changes were very difficult because they involved employees who had been with us for over 20 years. But often survival requires difficult decisions.



ASK BUSINESS QUESTIONS

I frequently read the various industry bulletin boards where contractors ask questions and solicit assistance in various areas. The one thing that is disturbing to me is that questions of a technical or equipment nature seem to generate much more response than do questions about the operation of the business. Ladies and gentlemen, in these times we need to worry more about the fundamental survivability of our business than we do the model number of an expansion valve we need to install.

Now, while I realize that the expansion valve model number is important to completing a job and satisfying the customer, you as the owner and leader of your company need to make sure you are putting your time priorities straight. It is your responsibility to look at the overall business and to concentrate your efforts where they will do the most good.

Tough times require difficult decisions and extra effort. But, as a bookkeeper, who was with our company for some 42 years used to remind me - “If the solutions were all easy, they wouldn’t need me, the boss, to be here.” Take advantage of the economic conditions that exist and take your company from weaker to stronger.

Publication date: 10/13/2008

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