Al Levi
Editor's note:Consultant Al Levi helps HVAC and plumbing contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." He has agreed to let us share with readers ofThe NEWSsome of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

To send Levi your own questions, which if selected will run anonymously, send him an e-mail at or fax him at 212-202-6275.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.


Dear Al,

We've grown to 10 trucks in 10 years and we're looking for some new ways to get more calls other than just the usual Yellow Pages ads and direct mail campaigns.

Got any fresh ideas?

Ten Is Not Enough

Dear Ten Is Not Enough,

There are many great marketing vehicles beyond the Yellow Pages and direct mail. Here are just a few:

1. Home shows

2. Radio ads

3. Cable ads

4. Telemarketing

5. Lawn signs

6. Newspapers

One of the very best things you can do especially now that you've got 10 trucks rolling everyday is to make your trucks eye-catching. There is nothing better than converting a fleet of boring, invisible white trucks into a fleet of vehicles that look sharp and get noticed.

Here are some tips to follow:

Step #1: Pick a color that attracts people's attention first. The kind of color that gets your truck noticed blocks away. The best colors are bright red like Coke, bright green like 7 UP, bright orange like Allied Vans, or a bright yellow like DHL to really attract attention.

Do you remember seeing DHL trucks on the road a couple of years ago? Today, they seem to be everywhere. Why? The trucks used to be a dull gray. Today they're a bright yellow.

Step #2: The name of your company needs to jump off the truck. The test is to take a color photo of your truck and print it out in black and white. If the name doesn't smack you in the face, the color is hiding a bad design.

Moving the lettering toward the back off the truck rather than in the dead center forces the person seeing your truck to move their eyes and that gets you noticed. Our company put our logos toward the back and on an angle. That really made you tilt your head. It was out of the ordinary at that time, and it got noticed.

Step #3: Make it very clear what you do. And make it clear very fast. If you're among the very few who picked a name that actually means something to a customer (rather than your family name or the town the company is located), this step is easier. For the rest of us, you need to spell out clearly what you do.

Step #4: Reduce the clutter. When I first got involved in our marketing, our trucks looked like circus wagons because we had so much writing on them. They had more copy than most big Yellow Pages ads. People didn't know where to look first. So, they didn't look at all. You need to direct their eye to what's most important.

If you have a great 800 number, go ahead and promote it. Otherwise, don't kid yourself; no one is going to say to their spouse while speeding down the highway, "Honey, quick, you got a pen? I want to write down the phone number on that service truck!"

Try these tips on how to make your trucks more eye-catching and you will soon be topping 10 trucks.

Al Levi


Dear Al,

I've raised the prices on all our install work after reading a lot about all the costs that go into being in business. I had to learn what I needed to charge because I was always busy and always broke.

The bad news is when I tell the customer the price they get sticker shock. I know I also struggle getting customers to see the value of what we do.

Any suggestions?

Price Punch

Dear Price Punch,

Good for you for learning the fair value of your products and services. Unfortunately, that's only the first step in the process. You need to learn how to market better so you get in front of the right people. They're what I call the right people when they value their time and protection of their home almost as much if not more than the price they have to pay.

The next key step is practicing in role-plays defending the value of what you do. You need to be prepared on how to defend the value of what you do just like any other skill. If you can't, the customer is right to think you're just like everyone else except way more expensive.

So if you're quoting a higher price, have you reduced it to the ridiculous? This technique takes an item that costs something like $3,650 and reduces it to the ridiculous by saying, "For as little as $1 a day, you and your family can have all the heat and hot water you need for the next 10 years to come. Plus, you'll have saved enough in fuel costs at today's prices that it actually won't have cost you a thing."

To defend the value of what you do, rather than the price: Are you offering longer warranties than your competitors? Do you sell only state-of-the-art equipment? Do you have an extensively trained staff? Do you take extra care to protect the customer's home?

Get better at these time-tested sales techniques and what you'll find is customers who don't get knocked out by your price punch.

Al Levi

Publication date: 10/09/2006