I imagine there are quite a few contractors who can trace their lineage much farther back than the beginnings of The News. I am humbled by those who say their businesses began over 100 years ago. Heck, I didn’t even think people worried about refrigeration that far back. But they did, and we have the mechanical contractors to prove it.

As we approach our memorable keepsake edition of The News next week, featuring the last 75 years of cooling, I am curious as to how much we have learned in the last seven-plus decades and how much more there will be to learn in the next two-plus decades, leading up to our 100th anniversary in 2026.

Since our trade is so dependent on interpersonal relationships among ourselves and our customers and between ourselves and our employees, I’d like to reflect on the philosophy of a man who also put customers and employees above everything else in his business plan — Sam Walton.

I recently finished reading the founder of Wal-Mart’s autobiography, penned shortly before his death in 1991. I didn’t expect any revelations about his business and the successes he had enjoyed. Almost everyone knows his story, beginning as a small retailer in a Ben Franklin store and emerging as the leader of the world’s largest retail company (over 1,700 stores), which posted $192 billion in sales last year. And that figure doesn’t include the Sam’s Club wholesale stores!

I’d like to devote the rest of my column to Sam Walton’s “Ten Rules for Building a Business,” which I found in his autobiography, Sam Walton — Made in America. If you haven’t read the book, I’d advise picking up a copy. It was published 10 years ago, but Walton’s business practices will endure the test of time. They ring true, especially for small business owners, like hvacr contractors, who want to keep a competitive edge.

The Rules:

1.Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can.

2. Share your profits with all of your associates, and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner, and together, you will all perform beyond your wildest expectations.

3. Motivate your partners. Money and ownership alone aren’t enough. Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting ways to motivate and challenge your partners.

4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them.

5. Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. All of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed words of praise.

6. Celebrate your successes. Find some humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun.

7. Listen to everyone in your company. The folks on the front lines — the ones who actually talk to the customer — are the only ones who really know what’s going on out there. You better find out what they know. This really is what total quality is all about.

8. Exceed your customers’ expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want — and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all of your mistakes, and don’t make excuses — apologize. Stand behind everything you do.

9. Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage. You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient.

10. Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.

As we prepare to celebrate our 75th anniversary, we dedicate ourselves to helping you achieve many more decades of success!

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 04/23/2001