The ebb and flow of the ocean tide is consistent and rarely changes. The same can be said for the flow of businesses and industry, but especially in the arena of heating and air conditioning.
When your business is at its high tide, the phones are ringing off the hook, the schedule is booked days to weeks in advanced, and your managers are typically pulling their hair out on a daily basis trying to figure out how to fit everything in. These are the times that most companies seek out new employees and it is at these times that companies typically find themselves making money. Business is good and bosses are happy.
But if you’ve been in business long enough you will have discovered that this industry falls into a low tide at least two times a year. Not every company experiences the lows at the same time, but a low tide will eventually hit. By this point, you’re begging the phones to ring, you have more employees then you have work for, and your managers are still pulling their hair out as they try to keep everyone in full time hours.
After being in this industry for 12 years, I’ve observed my fair share of low tides, either due to normal industry lows or due to economic shifts. No matter the cause for the lows, the game is still the same: figure out how to survive the waves. Over the past years, I’ve learned and been taught techniques and tips that can help get the phones ringing again.
Below are just a few of the tricks our company has tried or fully implemented over the years to help keep us afloat.
Create a customer base not made up of individuals who use you every now and then, but instead by committed service maintenance agreement customers. These are the individuals who believe in your services so much that they pay a year in advance for priority service, no overtime charges, discounted rates, and semiannual or annual seasonal inspections. These are the customers who do the most referring of your services, and these are the customer’s whose unit replacements you are essentially a shoo-in to get. It is this customer base that a company pulls from to help supplement their service department when work is slow. Maintenance agreement contracts can provide a year-round steady stream of man hours with inspections, part replacements, and “B” work side items that the customer needs or wants to get done. These are the customers that when the phone gets slow are a huge aid in keeping your employees in service hours.
Rebates & Discounts
Industry rebates and seasonal discounts are another tool that a company can use to help promote the business, the brand, and your services. Discounts on seasonal cleanings can help boost business during the slow times, giving technicians a head start on the season (especially during the dreaded oil season). Not to mention that coupons and other discounts are good for attracting the attention of new customers who may have never used your services before. Half the battle is getting in the door, once you are there it is up to your quality service/maintenance staff to show the customer what your company is capable of. Of course, getting into the home early before the weather shifts too drastically also allows the opportunity to replace the system if needed, when the schedule is slow. This also gives the customer a better chance to take advantage of those seasonal rebates. While many fledgling businesses may be hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of industry rebate programs, your veteran companies know the advantage they can have over the competition. With most manufacturers offering “instant” or “mail-in” rebates to replace a system now rather than later, your company has the opportunity to help your existing customer base, while also hopefully attracting new customers into the fold.
Seasonal Price Adjustment
Some companies modify their pricing structure depending on the time of year and the rate and flow of business. Slashing/cutting prices during the low tides help stimulate more accepted proposals, leading to steadier service man hours and cash flow.
Blast from the Past
When the tide gets really low and you have to dig deep for business, there is no better place to go than the past. Digging through old service records on customers will identify those systems that have been leaking for years and are in need of replacement. Recommendations made by technicians at the time of service, paired with letters generated from the office during rebate season, can help boost the likelihood of the phone ringing to set up a well-needed sales consultation. Whereas contacting older system customers and reminding them of the age of their system can help foster a dialogue that can lead to possible system replacements as well. With the average home owner completely unaware of the actual age of their system, you would be amazed at how many may be interested in upgrading now in an effort to avoid out of warranty/costly repairs in the future.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
When the tide is out and business is slow, the way to keep everything rolling is to get your name out there as much as possible. The common thinking during slow times when money becomes tight is that you need to curb all spending. While it is prudent to monitor inventory and overages, advertising is one area that you should never try to skimp on. When others are cutting back on marketing funds it is when you should be spending more. In the day and age of electronic media and advertising, it is easier to get your name out there, and sometimes all that is required is a little bit of imagination and time. Below are just a few arenas that can help boost or foster growth during the low tides of business.
- Facebook: The media giant has morphed from your average day to day catch-up with friends and family as a means to not only advertise but generate business and grow your customer base. With advertising blast campaigns that help attach and share your ad all across Facebook pages, you are given the ability to target area codes, demographics, and even specific types of households in your search for new customers. With the availability of numerous free or low-cost design sites, with a little bit of time and creative input you too can create attractive eye-catching ads to help promote your services, advertise rebates, sponsor events, and celebrate your company and its employees. Add this to the fact that as your customer base grows so can your online presence, the age-old “word-of-mouth” advertising method becomes digitized as customers “Like” your page, share posts, and leave reviews to help promote your business and its services.
- Door Hangers: While this method seems highly antiquated to some with the growth of the digital age, for some rural areas where internet is spotty or in some cases almost impossible, the old fashion door-to-door techniques are still a great way of getting your companies name out there. A method that can be tedious and time consuming? Yes, however, when the tide is low and times are slow, you may find yourself with extra helpers on the job who can take a few minutes during those services/maintenance calls, to visit neighboring homes and distribute the door hangers.
- Newspaper & Radio: A couple of other seemingly antiquated methods in the presence of the digital age should not be completely overlooked. For smaller rural areas where the local newspapers and radio stations still hold their presence, keeping up advertising in these arenas is a great way to keep your name out in the public eye. Brand recognition becomes key for setting your business apart from the competition. Logos, jingles, key slogans, and catch phrases become ingrained in the customer’s psyche, making them more apt to identify your company and to reach out and contact when needed.
- Semiannual postcards, mailers, or email blasts: Whether you are trying to generate new customers or keep in contact with your existing customer base, semiannual postcards, mailers or email blasts, or a combination of all three are a great way to keep in touch with your customers. These methods can be especially effective when advertising rebates, special programs, or incentives. The coverage can go as broad or as narrow as you would like and you have the option of handling the work in-house or out sourcing the process, depending on your skills or budget.
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