Dan Foster (second from right) of Jackson & Foster Heating & Air Conditioning accepts the 2004 ISL Contractor of the Year award in the under $1.5 million category from Bill Efird (far right). Joining the two on stage are (from left to right) Foster’s sister, Colleen Bauer; Foster’s mother, Wanda Post; another sister, Julie Moenning; and wife Kim Foster. (All photos provided by ISL.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In his opening remarks, the new president of International Service Leadership (ISL) talked about change. And it started with Milt Baum.

ISL's newest leader actually wore a suit.

It's rare to see the contractor wearing a tie, much less formal attire. Spotting the opportunity, many members had a field day poking fun at (and with) Baum when he was not addressing the ISL throng from the stage.

"You can tell the new owners of ISL," quipped Baum to the association's membership. "They are the only ones in this room wearing a suit."

Dave Squires went a step further. When it was his turn to take the stage, Squires confessed his biggest challenge since becoming ISL's new vice president of technology was wearing a suit. He jokingly remarked he was wearing suspenders "in order to keep my pants up."

"Now, every time I shrug my shoulders, that does not mean I don't know an answer," said Squires. "It's my way of pulling my pants up without missing a beat."

If you have not guessed by now, there was some levity mixed in with more serious business at ISL's first official meeting since it changed ownership on Feb. 1. Service Experts Inc. sold the group of independent contractors to existing ISL members Baum, Squires, and Bob Wilkins, who is now the association's vice president of operations.

The theme of the April 14-16 gathering was "It's A New Day At ISL" - and the new owners explained the changes to an approving membership.

Kael Brown, Mike Dawson, and Elaine Hill (from left to right at table, all in red shirts) of Palm Desert Aire pay close attention to the presentation at the recent International Service Leadership (ISL) conference.

Changes On the Way

As the opening speaker, Baum noted that ISL was not changing just to change. "We're changing for the better," he emphasized.

According to Baum, ISL used to measure success by how many trucks a business had. The next measuring stick was net profit. Under the new ISL, Baum said the focus will be "the people that work with us."

"We have to start thinking of our members," he said, adding he was proud to announce that ISL's overall slogan is now totally accurate since Service Experts, a subsidiary of Lennox International Inc., is not in the picture. "We are ‘For contractors - by contractors.'"

That announcement drew loud applause from long-time members, including Baum's predecessor, Bill Efird.

Speaking for both Squires and Wilkins, Baum - who doubles as vice president of Keil Heating and Air Conditioning, Riverdale, N.J. - added, "We bought the company because this is an opportunity to give back to the organization."

In addition to pointing out the new ISL management, Baum walked through the association's history. He noted that member services offerings will include conferences, camps, and networking events; business skills workshops; a more comprehensive preferred vendor program; technical training; technology and Web site services; plus online networking and bulletin boards.

"Technology is going to allow us to do so much," he promised his troops.

One of Baum's first official acts was to change the structure of the advisory board. Instead of one, large collective board, Baum trimmed it to three positions: chairman, vice chairman, and member relations. Voted into those respective roles were Frank Harrison, owner of General Air Conditioning and Heating, Thousand Palms, Calif.; Jacki Bradbury-Guererro of Coastal Comfort, Ventura, Calif.; and Kirk Miko, J&D Heating & Air Conditioning, Nampa, Idaho.

Before closing, Baum noted that ISL would be participating in Comfortech 2005, and would follow that up with a performance conference Sept. 22-24 at the Renaissance in Nashville.

Former ISL leader Bill Efird (left) is given an outstanding leadership award from new ISL president Milt Baum (right).

Web Site Tips

Squires stated more Internet and Web site technical support is coming for dues-paying members. At www.isl.intranets.com, Squires promised more instant online help; threaded discussion topics; a complete, self-maintained member directory; a document library with complete security control; a searchable marketing material database; a future online conferencing center; and an area for application sharing and presentation capabilities.

In addition, Squires, who is also president of Online Access Inc., Port Huron, Mich., is looking to offer a regional networking area online. This way, he said, members will be able to talk business online among contractors who they do not compete against. He compared this to the MIX® groups of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

"Our Web site will be a communication tool," he said, adding that future online projects include having an extended member profile, preferred vendor reporting, and a possible ISL "leader board."

Squires encouraged each member to keep up with their respective Web sites. He said never assume that customers know what you do, adding that the target of a Web site should be your customer base. He said a Web site "can go where no newsletter has ever gone before."

In the end, he gave the following four simple strategies for Web site guidance:

  • Follow what he termed, the "supermarket strategy." In other words, put everything out there that you want your customers to know about you, your business, your services, etc. And, change it from time to time. "Never expect what you don't inspect," he said, meaning the contractor/owner must review his own company's Web site to make sure all is in order.

  • Include an online employee directory. Squires said it was OK to include personal information, too. For instance, if an employee is married and has children, go ahead and say so. "People deal with people," said Squires. "Give them information that people can relate to."

  • Use your Web site for sales. "Perception may not be reality," he said, "but it ‘rocks' when it works for you."

  • Coordinate the Web site with Yellow Pages ad ("...and other ‘overpriced' real estate," he added). His bottom line: Include your Web address in every print ad. The idea, he said, is to pull potential customers to your site. In the end, he said a contractor can reduce the size of a print ad, saving marketing dollars.

    Kitting Is In

    Wilkins had the floor for the majority of the two-day meeting. He introduced a new way of doing business: standardizing installations. Sometimes referred to as "kitting," it is a process designed to simplify the handling of materials by utilizing a vendor to kit and stage the parts and equipment, which are later installed by the company in the customer's residence. Each member was given a proprietary booklet describing, in detail, the process, which Wilkins instituted in his own business. (See related story, "The Basics Behind Standardizing Installs," in this issue.)

    "I am telling you, this process works," he said, claiming that, once in place, callbacks are minimized, if not eliminated; inventory is minimized; labor rate can be reduced; warehouse operations are streamlined; it converts all installations into one method, which all techs and installers must follow; closing ratios increase; customer satisfaction is enhanced; and net profit is increased.

    "If you are not getting a replacement job done in a day, you are losing money," said Wilkins. "If you design it first and nail down your materials, your costs are going to go down."

    Publication date: 05/16/2005