Occasionally, people ask me to describe what it’s like to work in the HVAC industry. After a moment of reflection, I respond that it is a diverse industry with businesses both large and small at the contractor level. I tell people many of those businesses are legacies, put together piece by piece, day by day, with the unyielding sacrifice of a family patriarch. He, or sometimes she, built the business from the ground up. They had a penchant for quality, service, and delivering no more, or no less, than the best solution for their customers. They built this success on quiet but steadfast integrity. It was all about doing things right, because they knew their reputation was the primary driver for financial success. Many of the founders were great businessmen. They knew how to manage profit and loss, and they understood each item on the balance sheet. More importantly, they were great people, and they keenly understood that their success was built by many hands.
Some of the most successful and most memorable of these businessmen were those who invested time in recognition and appreciation. As a wholesaler, there was always a host of things that needed managing to meet every contractor’s needs. When things went wrong, you did your best to recover and make events right as quickly as possible.
I remember an instance when we were out of a key product. This was an important job for our customer, and it was critical that he be able to install the job first thing the next morning. Our salesman drove a couple of hours to another branch, got the product, and arranged to meet someone at the shop long after closing hours. That salesman got a call late that night from the owner. The salesman’s wife asked what was wrong. He told her nothing was wrong. It was about something that had gone right. He told her that a customer was calling to tell him he had done an outstanding job. The salesman was pleased and proud that his wife heard the message, and he slept very well that night. The next morning, the product was on the job. A negative sales event had been averted.
The owner, however, did not stop there. He invested a few minutes more in the young man’s career. There was an email to the salesman from the owner, who forwarded copies to the salesman’s boss and then to his boss’s bosses. He taught the young man that extraordinary service did not go unnoticed. He advised the organization that the service he received was a crucial part of why he kept his business there.
This approach was not an isolated incident. It was part of how the contractor conducted business. It did not cost him a cent, but it gained substantial benefit for his business. Many contractors deal with a multitude of problems each and every day. Sometimes, all that they convey to key suppliers is what goes wrong. Wholesalers sincerely want to know when things go wrong. They want to know how to prevent a repeat failure. If they are going to do the best job for their customers, they also need to know what goes right so they can properly gear their business plans to the contractor’s needs. Great businessmen are usually not “the sharks” who believe the business is all about and for themselves. Great businessmen understand business is a finely tuned balance of relationships with customers, employees, and suppliers. They also understand the balance involves giving credit and showing appreciation along with the things that need to be corrected.
These are often the customers wholesalers covet — good businessmen with great character don’t hesitate to speak strongly for their businesses nor miss an opportunity to recognize those who have played a role in its success. They gain respect and admiration. They are the ones whom their wholesalers recommend when asked for a reference. They are the ones who get priority service when needs arise. They are the ones you remember when you speak well of the industry.
Publication date: 4/6/2015