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Surviving in a Tough Economy

September 7, 2009
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Butch Welsch

We experienced the seventh coolest July on record here in the St. Louis area with three days over 90°F and none over 95°. Sometimes in the evenings, at outdoor events, it was necessary to have a jacket or sweater.

What’s the deal with global warming? Did it skip us? The purpose of this article is not to get into a discussion of whether or not we are having global warming or global cooling, but rather to discuss the things we, as contractors, need to be doing regardless of the weather.

We are only hurting ourselves if we sit back and complain that business is bad for any number of reasons. Sure it has been cool and sure the economy is an issue, but look around and you will find contractors who are surviving quite well and in many cases, even prospering in these times. How are they doing it? I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I believe these are a few that will help.

1. Use all of the tools that are available out there. The $1,500 tax credit when properly used is money back for your customer and you should be selling it. Most of the manufacturers are offering rebates for using their equipment, usually for the higher-efficiency models.

In addition, in some areas, utility companies are offering rebates for higher-efficiency equipment installations. And here, our local sheet metal workers union is helping us by providing a rebate for a furnace and/or air conditioner installation. Since rebates are so popular, we have been providing our own company rebate to our prospective customers. We tell them that we know that everyone is concerned about the economy and the money they are spending for anything they buy, and therefore we are trying to do our part to ease their financial burden. It takes time to explain all of these rebates and discounts, but it is what the customer is expecting in these times.

2. Don’t reduce or stop your marketing efforts. Since there are likely fewer customers than ever out there, you need to be sure that you are doing all that you can to keep your name in front of as many of them as possible.

I have talked to contractors - both HVAC and other trades - and have had several tell me that they are spending more on marketing than ever. While they are spending more to get the customer and the job, they all agree that it is worth it to cover some overhead, and to keep their key people busy. Further, they feel that as the economy turns around they will already be reaching a larger audience and be better prepared to capitalize on the increased amount of demand when it comes.

3. Work even harder at selling maintenance agreements. I know the public is worried about where they spend their money. That’s why now is the time to sell maintenance agreements. Tell the customer how a clean unit operates more efficiently and saves operating costs; tell them how a maintained unit is less likely to require costly repairs. If you would like a copy of our maintenance agreement and sales brochure, just contact me at the e-mail address shown.

4. Be more prepared this time if the downturn continues or increases. I believe that this winter could be extremely difficult for all contractors. I realize times have already been difficult and we have done many things in order to survive. I just want to encourage you to be prepared to hunker down and reduce your overhead costs again or even more to get through another slow season.

Hopefully by continuing your marketing, using all the tools you have available, and pushing even harder to sell maintenance agreements, you will be in a great position to rebound when the time comes.

Publication date: 09/07/2009
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