A friend of mine is a very successful restaurant owner, with several different locations. The man is a workaholic with a great sense for the restaurant business and for customer service. He is good at what he does and it shows in his popularity in the communities he serves. Based on what you have just heard, you might ask, "What more could he want?"

I figured that maybe he'd want a few more customers. After all, the restaurants aren't always packed with customers. So I proposed that he get a Website. I told him that a lot of commerce is generated through cyberspace, meaning that many potential customers will learn about him from a source other than word-of-mouth. If for no other reason, at least he had a place to post his menu specials other than on a chalkboard at the front door.

Having convinced him to get a Website, I then proceeded to ask him about his carryout business, which has been a good source of revenue but not as good as it could be. I said that a lot of people who love his food don't always have time to sit down in the restaurant and enjoy it.

Having an active carryout business would be another way to increase sales. By having a Website and e-mail address, customers could e-mail their orders in or fax them using the numbers listed at the Website. Then they come in and pick up the order - pretty seamless and pretty easy.

But my friend said he couldn't spare the people to watch the fax machine and he didn't have a computer with Internet access at the restaurants.

Even though he could add more business and more customers, he didn't think he had the resources to do so. I explained that watching fax orders come in would be the easiest task, even if he chose not to take e-mail orders. Still, the extra business would be a burden.


Imagine being too busy to want more customers. Take that one step further. Imagine being too busy to need customers. But it happens all of the time - even to HVAC contractors.

I have recalled visits with several contractors who have told me that they have more business than they can handle. They wind up turning away new business because their existing customer base is enough for them. Enough? Wow, is there ever such a thing? Then again, there is a difference between running after sheer numbers, and going after those quality customers who truly sustain the health and profitability of the business, any business - including publishing. We all want as many quality customers as possible.

Call me old fashioned but I thought that growth had no ceiling and that in order to succeed, businesses had to continue to cultivate their customer base and grow by addition, rather than standing still.

Yet there are businesses that simply cannot grow because of their own business model. A smart man told me that once an HVAC contractor reached a certain annual sales figure, he or she would have to spin off another company to handle the new business and remain manageable. Is that true? Can a business become unmanageable because it takes on too many new customers? The answer is yes.


But just because a business cannot handle more customers because of staffing or - and I hope this isn't your excuse - lack of shop space to store inventory, it's no reason to shut off the spigot to a growing customer base.

I empathize with contractors who cannot grow because they don't have enough people. This has been a problem that has plagued the HVAC trade for years. It is a legitimate reason to turn away new business. You simply can't satisfy a customer who needs service or replacement work in a timely manner if you are two to three weeks out on appointments. (Wouldn't you all like that dilemma, eh?)

Yet there are alternatives to turning away business. For example, do you have any on-call employees who are working full-time somewhere else but are available for part-time work with you? Do you ever share employees with your local competition in order to meet the workload? Don't laugh, it does happen. Are you a member of a larger contractor group that could lend you workers in times of high demand? Do you have a plan for adding people during peak weather seasons? You can add more customers without adding more stress. Be creative.

Now about the lack of shop space ...

Publication date:09/18/2006