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,

I want to rework the way I get the flow of materials to the guys in the field and also in and out of my warehouse. The reason is there are too many mistakes.

Is there anything I should do to help smooth this bumpy process?

Material Flow

Dear Material Flow,

To take charge of the warehouse and truck stocking flow, you need to standardize what you stock in the warehouse, you need to set minimums and maximums for triggered reordering of each item, and then you need to track what flows in and out of your warehouse at least four times a year. This constant feedback will let you know what material is and isn't moving, so you can continue to reduce overstocking.

The other key is that the trucks must have a standard stocking list and materials stored in a way that it's easy to keep the minimum and maximums for each item stocked current. This minimizes running around needlessly tracking down parts as well as needless overstocking.

Bar code scanning can be very helpful in this whole process. The one caution is that you must be diligent about using the bar code scanning process all the time or the information about what's in stock will be wrong.

Nowadays, you can have hand-held scanners that can beam a signal back to either your warehouse to begin the restocking process or directly to your key vendor so they can begin the restocking process.

Do these steps and watch how smoothly your material will flow.

Al Levi


Dear Al,

Installers leave the shop and every day one of them calls in to say they're missing something they need to finish the job. So we have to scramble around and get stuff out to them. This is very frustrating. Sometimes they don't have what they need and they don't tell us, which is worse!

Is there some way to minimize this from happening?

Scrambled Up

Dear Scrambled Up,

Are you using Standardized Task Material Lists for doing installs? I doubt it. Many times you end up blaming the installers when it really starts with the salesperson failing to create the detailed materials list, failing to take digital photos of the job to prepare the installer, and failing to have an in-depth discussion with the installer before they left the shop for the jobsite.

All of these things create the need to scramble around or, worse, not finish on time, which causes you to lose time and money. It's also very frustrating to your customers.

You'll find that you do many similar installations over the course of the year. If you create job templates with standardized material lists for each type of job, it's much easier for the salesperson to go along the "menu," selecting what's necessary and in what quantity.

When the installer gets to the jobsite, their first order of business, after covering the walls and floors, should be to check that they have everything on the material list and, if not, this would be the time to let the office know.

Do this and scrambled up will only be the way you order your eggs.

Al Levi

Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes, as his Web site says, in "Making Contractors' Lives Less Stressful and More Successful." Through private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs, Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large family-run HVAC and plumbing business. Learn more by visiting You may also contact Levi by e-mail at or by fax at 212-202-6275.

Publication date: 07/10/2006