Greg Niemi, president and COO of Nexstar Inc., speaks during the group’s Super Meeting in San Francisco.
SAN FRANCISCO - After 12 years, Contractors 2000 has changed its name to Nexstarâ„¢. But that is not the only change in store for this independent contractor organization representing over 300 HVAC, plumbing, and electrical companies. At its 23rd Super Meeting, Nexstar officially introduced its new name and provided attendees with a look at the changes in the organization and new goals designed to help contractors take their businesses to the next level.

According to Greg Niemi, president and COO of Nexstar, the 2004 event was the organization's largest Super Meeting ever. Over 340 individuals from member companies registered to take part in a variety of training sessions.

So what does the name Nexstar mean? According to Niemi, the concept is simple.

"We wanted a name that was forward-thinking and symbolized taking things to the next level," he said.

The name is a combination of the words "next" and "star." The word next conveys the sense of looking toward the next level of success, while the word star represents the contractors in the organization, who are striving to be the best they can be.

But although the name has changed, Niemi assured members that "we will continue to be the most progressive and aggressive organization for independent contractors."

Niemi also suggested that the changes taking place within Nexstar should motivate contractors to make changes within their own companies.

Change was a constant theme throughout the Super Meeting. Nexstar welcomed two keynote speakers to motivate attendees about moving forward and accepting change as a positive force.

Alan Parisse, a professional speaker and former senior executive with Oppenheimer investment firm, opened the event, while motivational speaker John Alston closed the event.

Parisse summed up the changes in Nexstar and the message of the Super Meeting this way: "You cannot create a revolution with your feet in the past."

Al Perri of A.J. Perri (Red Bank, N.J.) discusses business and events over lunch with Paula Quarles of Banks Quarles Plumbing, Heating & Cooling (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) during the Nexstar Super Meeting.

New Training, New Opportunities

During the three-day event, members participated in workshops ranging from finance to business planning.

Other subjects included building legacies, brand management, tax strategies, estate planning, and family/partner relations.

They were also introduced to a number of new educational offerings and opportunities.

One of the highlights of the new offerings is the Nexstar Service Systemâ„¢ training program for technicians.

The Service System training program was introduced at the Super Meeting by marketing expert Mike Braun and Bill Raymond, owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating (Peekskill, N.Y.).

According to Braun, the re-vamped service program was developed with the input of owners and technicians. Nexstar found that the most successful technicians approached their work from their customer's expectations rather than from those of contractor management.

"Simply doing the job is no longer enough," he said.

The program explains to technicians how to deal with customers in a professional way, and how to sell service and attitude, not just parts and installation.

"We have to understand that service technicians have a very tough job," said Raymond. "We have to understand that they are a vital part [of the business.]"

Raymond explained that the service program has three parts. The first component is an in-shop self-study. Technicians view a DVD and study course manuals. The DVD shows a technician from each trade (plumbing, HVAC, and electrical) going step-by-step through a service call.

After finishing the self-study, the technician next participates in the Nexstar Service System School. The course, which travels throughout North America, is designed to bring technicians together to hone the skills they learned from the DVD. Finally, technicians complete a master certification exam.

"The industry has changed and customer expectations have risen since we introduced our Customer Service and Satisfaction program 10 years ago," said Niemi.

"This new program helps technicians better understand what their customers' expectations are and how they, as skilled service providers, can deliver a more comprehensive package of service that meets or exceeds customer expectations. This program is part sensitivity training, part interpersonal skills development, and a good measure of encouragement that these technicians are true professionals at their trades."

Bill Raymond, owner of Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service Company (Peekskill, N.Y.), introduces members to the Nexstar Service System training program during the general session.

Dispatcher Training

The Super Meeting also rolled out the Nexstar Dispatch Trainingâ„¢ program. Recognizing the critical role dispatchers play and the lack of training available, Nexstar developed a course designed to help dispatchers get a technician to a customer's location on time, as well as how to keep customers informed of any changes in the schedule.

Niemi said that the new program will help set up tracking programs for dispatchers and their supervisors to plot trends and identify coaching opportunities for improving customer satisfaction.

The objective of the program is to bring consistency from one dispatcher to another. What-if scenarios have been developed by Nexstar trainers to help dispatchers improve their customer service skills and learn the appropriate responses for the most common situations and challenges.

Attendees of the Super Meeting received copies of the program to take back to their companies. Nexstar is putting together a school that will bring dispatchers together to further develop their skills. Tammy Cagle, former dispatcher and general manager of Gene Love Plumbing Service, will instruct the Nexstar Dispatcher Training School.

John Hucker of Hucker Electric Company (Waukegan, Ill.) listens in on one of the breakout sessions at the Super Meeting.

Select Service Standards

The final big development for Nexstar is the Nexstar Select Serviceâ„¢ program. The certification program will allow members to use the Nexstar logo for advertising and promotional purposes. According to Niemi, Nexstar will begin a promotional campaign to create awareness among consumers about Nexstar service companies.

To receive accreditation through Nexstar Select Service, members must be in good standing and participate in three surveys. The surveys include customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and the financial condition of each participating member. Members must then rank in the upper 50 percent on a composite basis.

They must also subscribe to the Nexstar Code of Ethics, follow the Nexstar Service Modelâ„¢, calculate their financial break-even based on organization guidelines, subscribe to upfront pricing practices, and implement the new Nexstar Service System Training, as well as document tracking of all customer communications.

Still Moving Forward

This is just the beginning of what is in store for Nexstar. The organization intends to continue growing and implementing new educational tools designed to help members succeed.

According to Niemi, Nexstar would like to see over 500 members by 2006. He explains that the development of new training and business tools should encourage more contractors to follow the Nexstar path to business success.

Some of those business tools include the Nexstar Body of Knowledge. This would combine all existing Nexstar educational manuals in one easy reference tool. Also, Nexstar is working on what it calls "business in a box," a tool that would provide a roadmap for launching new business opportunities.

The Web will play a role in up-coming Nexstar endeavors. Under a program called My Nexstar, members will get their own Web site, which will help in tracking the goals and progress for each contractor.

Nexstar will implement a certified trainer program as well. Members who get certified in specific Nexstar educational programs will be allowed to teach Nexstar business improvement courses at member shops to take their training to a personal level.

Publication date: 04/05/2004