As our world moves more and more into the technical age and we must communicate by voice mail, e-mail, etc., one important fact remains very constant: People still like to do business with people, and especially with people they know.

I'm going to talk about one of the foundations on which we have built our company. It goes by the sometimes uncomplimentary term of "networking." While networking may be considered a relatively new term, the practice that it refers to has been around for decades.

My dad began teaching me over 50 years ago about the importance of being involved in one's community and industry. I learned clearly along the way that it is extremely beneficial to be involved in as many organizations and clubs as you can work into your schedule. The results are very noticeable to us.

Little gestures can mean a lot. For instance, each year we send a thank you card just prior to Thanksgiving to every replacement customer for whom we have performed a job in the last 12 months. (As an aside, it is a very good idea to send cards like this. People receive few Thanksgiving cards, so your message really stands out. If you only pick up that idea from reading this column, then it will have been worth your time.)

I personally hand sign all of the cards, and when the person is someone I know I add a separate personal thank you message. As I read through the list of cards each year, I am continually amazed at how many are a direct result of our networking.

Organizations in which it is worthwhile to get involved include chambers of commerce, church groups, outside boards of directors, such as a bank board, as well as industry organizations including the Better Business Bureau, Home Builder's Association, and the Associated General Contractors. Private clubs such as dinner or country clubs offer introduction to large quantities of potential customers. Even efforts associated with these organizations can be beneficial in spreading your name.

On The Links

As an example, the club to which I belong held a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tournament for six years. I was quite involved and served as tournament chairman in 1999. In the process, I had the opportunity to meet and get to know many of the St. Louis media personalities.

One of the local radio sports anchors has become the host of her station's morning show. When a cold spell hit in late September, she remembered me and called and asked if I would do a live spot on her show telling the audience what they should do to prepare for the heating season. Naturally, I did so enthusiastically, and thousands of people in St. Louis saw us for over three minutes as the local furnace experts. It resulted in both some immediate calls, as well as excellent public relations.

I could give you literally hundreds of other examples of jobs we have received as a result of acquaintances we have made through the years. One, however, stands out as a classic.

My wife, Carol, and I were scheduled to play in a mixed doubles tennis event on the only hot Saturday of the summer. One of the couples arrived and said they were happy to be out playing because they had left their kids and babysitter at home with no air conditioning. They were new in town and didn't know who to call.

My wife heard the story, and, as I was a few minutes late, she took charge. She two-wayed our service manager and we had someone at the home in 30 minutes. They were ecstatic! Besides telling everyone at the function that evening about their experience, they recounted it before dozens of people the next day when we encountered them at our club's swimming pool. Word of mouth testimonials can't be bought, but they are invaluable to the success of any company.

One word of caution: I never solicit any of these friends or acquaintances for business. A major turnoff to me is to meet someone, feel you are making a nice acquaintance, and then receive a note soliciting business from you.

During normal conversations you will typically have the opportunity to let people know what business you are in. Remember, eventually everyone is going to need the services of an HVAC contractor. Be patient. Be professional and you will be amazed at how much business will develop. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 11/10/2003