As I shared with you last time, the busy season is when desperate people appear making desperate promises to lure your technicians away from your company and into their desperate business. These owners become sharks just patrolling the waters for fresh blood to use when things get busy and lay off when things slow down. Some of these owners will say and do anything to attract your superstars to their business.

I know because it almost happened to me. Luckily, I was able to deal with the shark attack and save my superstar.

While managing an HVAC company, a shark got a hold on one of my technicians whom we'll call Ted. In the heat of the summer, this competitor promised Ted that he would make him an operations manager if Ted came in and helped him get through the summer.

Fortunately, I had the type of relationship with Ted where he came to me and told me what was promised to him. He thankfully let me know that he was considering leaving.

In that conversation I didn't slam the competitor, but I stuck to the facts. He had been in business for 22 years and had only managed to build a two-truck operation. My question to Ted was, "In 22 years, if this guy has only been able to build a two-truck company, how would he mysteriously be big enough to make you an operations manager in just a couple of months? Do you really think that is realistic?"

The answer was an obvious no. I was grooming Ted to be my service manager, but when someone offered him the instant gratification of being an operations manager, he was willing to jump at it until he looked a little closer at the desperation behind that promise. Even if he were given the title of operations manager with that company, he'd still be running half of the service calls with only a two-truck operation.

Ask Questions

That's not an unusual shark encounter for this time of year, and it's one that your technicians may encounter. In the world of sales, a superstar strategy is to bring out an objection when you know it already exists.

Therefore, I would suggest putting this scenario out there on the table with your team. Talk to them about the possibility of someone approaching them about leaving your company during the busy season. Get it out in the open, and then arm your team with a "shark gun" loaded with the right questions to ask these desperate owners on the street looking for technicians. Here is your ammo in case of a shark attack. Ask these owners:

  • How much growth have you had in the last year? Are they looking for more technicians because they have really been growing at a rapid rate, or are they scrambling to stay afloat?

  • What is your profitability in the last year? If they are continually losing money, nothing you do during the busy season will change that. And it's only a matter of time before an unprofitable business is forced to close its doors.

  • What benefits (medical, 401k, vacation, etc.) do you offer? An extra $2 an hour might not be worth a thing if you're stuck with the bill for health insurance. Make sure you know what's on the other side before you make any decision.

    Owners: You should make sure your team knows exactly how much their benefits are worth to them each year. Put a dollar value on it because it'll carry a lot more weight than an extra $2.

  • What type of training do you invest in? Are you paid for it or is it on your own? Don't underestimate the value of training. Will this desperate owner take the time to train you, and will you have to pay for it yourself?

  • How many service agreements do you have in place? Service agreements are the key to keeping technicians busy when the weather isn't hot or cold. The number of service agreements will dictate how much work there is for you in these off-peak periods.

  • What are your warranties and guarantees to customers? Are they backing up the work they are doing while they're busy, or are they simply turning and burning these customers?

  • May I see the people on your payroll by month for the past two years? This is the big one. Will they lay you off as soon as things slow down? If you see their payroll by month, you'll see what kind of turnover they have.

    Do they have the same employees each month, or do they seem to have a revolving door? Does it fluctuate in certain months indicating the potential for layoffs? If turnover is high, it's only a matter of time before you're out the door, too, no matter what they promise.

    That $2 more an hour in the busy season may be the kiss of death when the weather cools off and you're laid off. Plus, that $2 an hour raise could equate to less money at the end of the year if you wind up with the wrong company.

    So, if you're a technician, it would pay to think twice before you jump ship because there are sharks in the water. Owners, those questions are your shark gun to protect your team. It's your job to arm them so you can all keep making money every day.

    Terry Nicholson is president of AirTime 500. For more information on AirTime 500, call 800-505-8885. Nicholson can be reached by e-mail at

    Publication date: 09/12/2005