Did you ever have a business idea that was so good you felt you just had to share it with others? Fortunately for readers ofThe NEWS, some HVAC contractors who entered our Best Business Tips (BBT) contest were generous with their success and willing to impart some of their wisdom on others. Our first-ever BBT contest drew over 30 good tips from contractors and the entire 10-person NEWSeditorial staff judged the top three tips.
AND THE WINNER IS...The winning entry - and the $500 cash prize - belongs to Peter Vagovic of Vagovic Heating and Air Conditioning Corp., Augusta, Ga. Here is Vagovic’s entry:
Since we are a very small company, two mechanics, our customers have the luxury of seeing the same technician almost every time. Our motto is “Make it Personal.” Every service call generates an entry in a tickler file. We look for things that need attention such as duct leakage, duct supports, filtration, etc. But we also look for non-HVAC related issues. If we are in a crawl space, we look for cellulose on the ground, termite damage, water issues, etc. If we are in the attic, we look for signs of roof leak, rodents/pest activity, etc.
We write all issues on the invoice, and bring it to the homeowner’s attention. Those issues make it to the tickler file. Next time at the customer’s home we check to see if these issues have been resolved. During slow times we open the tickler file and get busy.
Vagovic told The NEWS, “When I started my company, I wanted to be different, to give personalized service that goes beyond just providing HVAC service. It is especially important when we go into the homes of the elderly. We may see a light bulb that is out and we don’t want them getting up on a ladder so we’ll change the bulb free of charge. They appreciate something so simple.
“When we are in a crawlspace, we may look for obvious signs of termite damage and we bring it to their attention, even though they may already have a pest control company that is supposed to be protecting the home from termites. We look for water seepage through the foundation. We aren’t the experts at repairing these things but some things like directing water away from the foundations by aligning the downspouts correctly is something we can do during slow times.
“We have installed dehumidifiers after seeing moisture and mold problems during inspections which has created substantial income for us during slow times and kept our techs busy. The technicians realize that this keeps them busy during slow times. But you have to manage this program and constantly ask technicians until they understand what you are trying to do.”
SECOND PLACE GOES TO...The second place entry - and a $300 cash prize - goes to Jimmy Kaiser of Star Service Inc. Baton Rouge, La. Here is Kaiser’s entry:
We are a contractor with seven offices along the Gulf Coast, and recently invested in a summer internship program that’s already paying big dividends for the company. We created the intern program as a solution to the ongoing challenge of finding, qualifying, and cultivating sales talent.
Earlier this year, one of our sales managers worked with Louisiana State University staff to identify three college seniors who expressed interest in pursuing a sales career. After determining that the students had the basic skills necessary to succeed in sales, he trained the temporary hires in the company’s specific sales process - modeled after a proactive sales cycle - by condensing a typical three-month learning curve into three weeks. The results were immediate, and highly beneficial.
In just three months, we invested $14,899 in the internship program (for hourly wages, bonuses, car allowances, etc.), while the interns booked $54,784 in business, consisting mostly of service agreements. Moreover, two of the three interns will soon join the business as full-time sales professionals as the company increasingly looks to the collegiate ranks for ambitious, fast-learning, competitive young sales talent.
Kaiser toldThe NEWS, “There seems to be a huge disconnect between the sales world (the highest paid profession) and college graduates interested in sales. Through this experience, Star Service feels that they are one step ahead of any sales organization seeking college graduates. The use of interns allows the company to court the intern before an offer is made.
“One intern has joined us and the other has committed after graduation. The biggest benefit to us is to open a channel to the school.”
THIRD PLACE BELONGS TO...The third place entry - and a $100 cash prize - goes to Michael Palazzolo of Safety King Inc., Utica, Mich. Here is Palazzolo’s entry:
No doubt you have already learned the value of refilling the fuel tanks each day the vehicle is used so that each one is ready-to-go every morning with no surprises or delays from an empty fuel tank midway through a job. This tip is about when to refuel each day. We require our technicians to refuel at the end of each day, rather than at the beginning. The reason for this is the huge number of commercial fleet vehicles that refuel at roughly the same time of the morning.
Years ago, before we learned this lesson, we always refueled in the morning. This often meant waiting lines at the service station, with our technicians drinking coffee on the clock while all those giant fuel tanks on all those trucks got filled up for the day.
A much smaller fraction of the fleet vehicle population fills up at the end of the day. This means no waiting in line at the pump, or at least less waiting. Also, the end of a service day is a broader time frame than the beginning. All the fleet vehicles in town have just about the same narrow range of time for the start of their day. But the end of the service day, for us at least, could be anytime within a three or four hour time span. This translates to less likelihood of a waiting line at the fuel pump anytime in the late afternoon or evening. By doing this over time, we’ve experienced a considerable payroll savings because we are no longer paying for waiting time at the pump.
Palazzolo toldThe NEWS, “The trucks should be back in the barn each night fully fueled up. It makes it so much easier for the guys the next day that won’t have to line up behind the lawn maintenance guys who are filling up all of their tanks in the morning.
“My son called me up at 10 o’clock one evening and said that I hadn’t returned the truck with a full tank of gas. I said ‘so what’ and he reminded me that I have to follow the rules, too. So I got out of bed and went down and filled the truck. Nonproductive hours spent filling gas tanks are not billable and affect the bottom line.”
If you would like a copy of the 25 best tips, including the three winners and some humorous ones, please e-mail Business Editor John R. Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to read the complete story of Star Service’s “Leveraging College Interns to Sell,” visit our Extra Edition page and click on the Web Exclusive story.