Since we are a 108-year-old company, for many, many years we have emphasized in our advertising the number of years we’ve been in business. In fact our company logo even includes “Since 1895.”

It was therefore somewhat distressing for me to read that in a Better Business Bureau (BBB) survey, the number of years a company has been in business finished dead last in a survey about the factors that influence a customer’s decision to do business with a particular company.

As a past chairman of the BBB that serves St. Louis, Eastern Missouri, and Southern Illinois, I recently received the results of a survey the bureau is conducting on its Web site of consumers who inquire about businesses and their performance.

The survey asks questions regarding the consumer’s “Factors Influencing Decision to do Business,” and the bureau separates the responses based on the type of business involved. The category that most closely fits our industry is “Contractors/Home Remodeling.”

Quality, Ethics

Even though “number of years in business” received the lowest number of responses indicating it was a “very important” factor influencing the decision, on the positive side, I believe our company excels in those areas that most consumers consider most important. The factor cited most frequently by respondents is the “quality of the work performed,” which was considered very important by 94 percent of the survey respondents.

The second most important factor is “business ethics,” listed by 90 percent of respondents as very important. Eighty-four percent of those responding feel that “responsiveness” is a very important factor, while a company’s professionalism, complaint record, and selection were next in line, all with scores of about 70 percent. While it often appears to us as business owners that the consumer is mostly interested in pricing, it actually finished seventh on the list with 62 percent.

The remaining items included “speed of service,” “friendliness,” “convenient,” and “referred.” The number of years in business was a very important factor to only 21 percent of respondents.

Probably the most important fact we as heating and air conditioning contractors can take from this survey is that quality of the work performed and business ethics are the most important factors influencing a customer’s buying decision. This is important because these are things we can influence. We can strive to improve the quality of our work, and we can make sure that we are completely ethical in our business dealings.

Helpful Information

Many of you, I’m sure, think of your BBB as a “complaint department” that only deals with consumers who have problems with a company, but the fact is that the BBB system is much more than just a complaint department.

Our area bureau handled over 500,000 inquiries about businesses in 2002 while receiving about 19,000 complaints. By sponsoring seminars and conducting surveys like the one I have quoted in this article, the BBB is providing us with information that allows us to better manage our businesses.

While I must admit I’m disappointed that the number of years in business is so unimportant to our customers, it is very valuable information for us to have as we plan our advertising and marketing.

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

Publication date: 08/11/2003