Recently, I was advised by my doctor to contact a dermatologist concerning a minor skin irritation. My surprise was that the first two dermatologists I contacted, both referrals from close friends, told me that they were not taking on any new clients.

"What?" I said to the receptionist in both cases. They were not interested in my business even if it meant setting up an appointment for some time in the future. The receptionists were getting a little annoyed that I was pushing the issue.

I knew from the referral that neither of these doctors was nearing retirement and therefore likely to be phasing out his clients. I also thought about the fact that surely the doctor loses some clients. People move, pass away, or just stop going. Wouldn't you think they would have at least taken my name and phone number as a possible future client?

Coincidentally, not long after, I sought bids for an in-ground sprinkler system at our home. After 26 years and an extremely hot summer, we have tired of watering. To my surprise, after contacting two companies, again from referrals, I had difficulty arranging an appointment for someone to come out to give a bid. Granted the weather was hot and dry and I suppose the sprinkler business was busy - but I shouldn't have to call two or three times to set up an appointment to buy a rather expensive sprinkler system.

What do the dermatologist and sprinkler company have in common? These four "companies," in two completely unrelated fields, gave the impression that they didn't need any new customers. This made me stop and think about our operation. Are we making sure that we are not giving the impression that we "aren't taking anymore clients"?

Are We All "Too Busy"?

It has been a very hot summer and everyone has been very busy, but I sure hoped we weren't giving the impression that we were too busy to take on new business.

I also wondered how many of our competitors were so busy that they were giving the wrong impression, too. So I tried calling several to see what they were telling callers. Based on some of the responses I received - such as it would be at least a week before they could make a service call for me - they were about as receptive to new business as the dermatologists.

I compared that to what I heard within our own service department. I'm happy to report that our people were really doing a nice job of handling new clients, fitting them into the schedule without improperly inconveniencing our existing customers. Granted, this is a very difficult task to achieve.

While I want new clients, I feel strongly that it is not proper to give better pricing or treatment to a new client than you would a customer who has been loyal to you for many years. You've probably heard ads for companies who say that their promotion only applies to new customers. How is it fair to give a better deal to someone new off the street than someone who has been loyal to your company?

The main point I want to make is that in our business I believe we always need to be readily open for new customers. We need to show it in the way we answer the telephone, the way we handle their issue when they contact us, and in the way we respond to their call. I don't believe we in the HVAC business can ever hang up a "No Vacancy" sign.

Even if we have as many as we can handle at any given moment, natural attrition is going to require us to continually add new customers. I recommend that you make sure your company welcomes new customers regardless of the current workload.

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

Publication date: 10/03/2005