INDIANAPOLIS — “The smart technology we are most familiar with in our business is the connected thermostat. As customer needs change and new business opportunities evolve, we will need to be better prepared with technology solutions.” That’s according to Jonathan Moyer, president of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC). Moyer was president-elect of PHCC when The ACHR NEWS caught up with him; Joel Long, then-secretary of PHCC; and Hunter Botto, then-vice president of PHCC. All were readying to move on with new association duties during the PHCC CONNECT 2019 annual meeting, held at the Westin Indianapolis and Indiana Convention Center, Oct. 4-6, 2019.
Moyer is the president of Cocalico Plumbing & Heating, Denver, Pennsylvania. Long is CEO/president, commercial divisions of GSM Services, Gastonia, North Carolina. Botto is semi-retired from the Botto Brothers Plumbing & Heating firm of Hicksville, New York, and is a transplant to Bradenton, Florida. All shared their thoughts on several fronts for what will be required of PHCC members to remain competitive in both the plumbing and HVAC industries.
ACHR NEWS: What do you hear from customers about smart homes?
Moyer: Some customers are asking about it. In my own master bath, we can program the shower, and I can open or close the garage from anywhere that I have a phone connection. My HVAC system is connected to the internet. I can control that from anywhere in the world. Even for an old guy like me, I’m interested in some of the new connectivity. I can only believe that younger generations are definitely going to be on board with the connected home. It’s something we as service businesses need to get better at understanding. In fact, PHCC has offered several seminars and webinars on smart technology topics, and has developed a special online technology business interest group for PHCC members.
Our companies need to look at this as an opportunity to change our business for the future. We don’t want to end up in a position where somebody else is telling us what to do on a project. In other words, we could become a third-party participant, just installing smart thermostats. We need to be investigating the smart home opportunities to figure out how to make it an advantage for us instead of a disadvantage. The amount of change is a dangerous thing for our businesses unless we look at it as an opportunity.
ACHR NEWS: How do you recruit and retain new employees?
Moyer: It may sound simple, but one of the things is asking our current employees to ask their friends if they are interested in working for us. We are also involved in the trade schools in our area; I sit on the advisory board of one local school. We are always looking for talent, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the technical skills that we need the most. Someone who has the right attitude and the soft skills can be more important. I can teach technical skills, but I can’t teach good attitude.
Long: We’ve been down a lot of different avenues trying to hire people. About seven years ago, we decided we wanted to grow our own people and quit trying to hire people for a quarter more an hour. Every spring rolled around and companies were trying to steal our people, so we just started really upping the ante — we hired a full-time recruiter. She is constantly working to find talent.
We recruit people straight out of the high schools and put them in the apprenticeship programs and create career paths for them. The biggest thing we’ve seen with kids and their parents is we have to market to them on a higher level, such that they see our industry as a career path and not just a job. And it’s got to be a viable alternative to going to college. Gone are the days when we put the guys that really can’t do much into what was called shop class. That’s not what this industry is about any more; it’s an unbelievably valuable career that requires top-notch talent. That’s how we are approaching young people to come into our industry: by discussing the need and the value. We host open house recruiting events at our office in the evenings. We advertise these events, and often have 30 to 40 people show up at our office. We are constantly hunting for people.
ACHR NEWS: What about hiring and retention?
Botto: We would bring people in young, and we would send them to any training that was available through PHCC and our vendors, and through our local voc-tech school resources too. We ended up developing our own techs, and they stayed with us on average about 18 years. We gave our guys a good work environment, we paid them well; we always paid them above scale. We made sure we took care of them and really did treat them like family. That formula was key — and it still is, because really, without them, we’re nobody. It was a different type of formula. (I learned that through a lot of the PHCC contractors that I became extremely good friends with, even though some were my competitors.)
ACHR NEWS: How do you see the economic picture right now? How do you prepare for any type of downturn in your own businesses?
Long: We try to have a blind eye to that downturn talk. We just refuse to participate. One of the things we’ve done over the years is the diversification I talked about earlier. We have gotten away from reliance on just one business set, such as new construction, and now have a variety of business avenues.
Specifically, we try to save a lot of money preparing for any possible downturn. I attend and listen to quite a few of the economists’ presentations when I can, and 2030 is when I’m expecting a very noticeable change in the economy.
ACHR NEWS: What is the one thing you wish contractors were doing today that they are not?
Moyer: I think if you want to be in this industry, you’ve got to give back to the industry, and being a part of the PHCC is a good way to give back because it makes the industry better. It may sound trite for a PHCC member-officer to promote membership, but it will really do a ton for a contractor’s business and personal life. It’s amazing what our company has learned and implemented from our PHCC affiliation.
Long: I agree. I believe contractors have got to change our thinking about being involved in associations. I’ve been in that situation before. It’s easy to say there’s not enough time to prepare for the future, not enough time to read about the industry, not enough time to train. If you believe something like the PHCC can change the future of your business and you start getting involved, it will change your business. Then, it makes your family life better. It gives you better outcomes personally. You’re going to meet people that are smarter than you are, receive great advice every day, and you’re going to solve a lot of problems. I wish I had gotten involved 10 or 12 years earlier in the PHCC than I did, because my life’s a lot better now than it was before I joined.
Botto: Join an association. Period. I don’t care if it’s a PHCC association, another association, or even local business groups like Rotary Club. When you start to communicate in an industry, the information you learn from those guys is amazing. I would tell the younger guys not to go through the school of hard knocks. You can learn so much from your competitors; all you have to do is talk to them. You know, this association has gotten me where I am right now in my life. Without it, I’d still be in New York doing my 12-hour days, beating my head against the wall, worried about payroll, worried about how to run a business. I am good plumber, but became a good businessman with the help of PHCC. This is something you can't get on social media. Be part of the solution. That’s the advice in one word: association.
ACHR NEWS: It is said that generational changes are sometimes the toughest challenges in a business. What’s your story as a fourth-generation owner?
Botto: Yeah, transitions are tough. I went through two of them, and, no bones about it, it was the toughest part of my life in this industry. When you deal with family money, it sets up an entirely different dynamic for leadership changes. Now I like to mentor people who are going through that and give them pointers and tips to face the elephant in the room early, before you get to a point where you can’t transition.
For more information on the PHCC, visit www.phccweb.org.
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