The Start of Plumbing Season

The plumbers of Lombardi Plumbing crowded into the training room. It was early. Most of the public was still asleep or just starting to rise for the day. This was life for the plumbers. They were at the shop by 7:00 a.m. to attend a service meeting and get their trucks restocked.

Danny Jameson sat down next to Buddy Baker. Buddy was one of the old hands and Danny was one of the newbies, assigned to work with Buddy.

Vinnie Lombardi walked in holding a pipe wrench, which he set on a table. Buddy groaned a little. “Here we go again.”

“What?” asked Danny.

“He does the same thing every year,” said Buddy.

Vinnie interrupted Buddy, saying, “Buddy, why don’t you get us started.”

“Yes sir,” said Buddy. “Everyone let’s face the flag. Join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The room rose to their feet in unison. Everyone put their right hand over their heart and joined Buddy, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

“Thank you Buddy,” said Vinnie. He liked to start every service meeting with the Pledge. Vinnie was patriotic and like many in the service trades, a military veteran. He liked to remind his team that they were fortunate to live in the United States.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Vinnie had everyone recite the company’s mission statement together. They said in unison, “At Lombardi Plumbing we put our team first so they can put the customers first and protect the health and sanitation of our community.”

After they finished, Vinnie held up the pipe wrench. “Gentlemen, and Lady,” he said with a nod to Jen Franks, the company’s female plumber, “this is a pipe wrench.” Most of the plumbers in the room joined in, finishing the sentence.

“Alright,” laughed Vinnie, “You’ve heard it before. Well, you’re going to hear it again because our business is built on good fundamentals.”

“So, is this a technical class?” whispered Danny to Buddy.

“Nah, just wait.”

“All of you are good mechanics, even though experience levels differ. If you weren’t you wouldn’t be here. The problem is every service call involves broken plumbing and a broken customer. If you don’t take care of the customer, you’ve only made half of a repair.”

Vinnie continued, “What this means is we need to make the people feel comfortable when we arrive, assured they called the right plumber and delighted when we depart. This starts with our appearance. You guys know we belong to the Service Nation Alliance. Every other year, they survey the customers of Alliance members, including ours. That’s a lot of customers. Anyone guess what the most frequently mentioned concern about plumbers for our customers and the continent as a whole is?”

“Showing up late,” shouted Danny.

“That’s a good one and it sure is important, but it’s not the most frequently mentioned, especially by our customers. Does anyone know why showing up late is less of an issue for us than the country as a whole?”

“We’re fast drivers,” said one of the plumbers.

“Better not be,” cautioned Vinnie. “Remember, if you speed I get an alert from GPS. The reason we show up on time isn’t due to your efforts. It’s due to our dispatchers. Take the time to thank them from time to time because, without their skill, you would show up late more often. And what’s it like when you show up late?”

Buddy jumped in. “The customer is irritated and cranky.”

“And we all know how much Buddy likes cranky customers,” said Vinnie, eliciting laughter all around. “But back to the most frequent concern. Any ideas?”

Vinnie looked around the room. “It’s poor grooming.”

“Grooming?” asked one of the plumbers.

“Grooming. Tell me, what is the stereotype for a plumber?”

“Three hundred pounds, shirt untucked, greasy hair under a dirty cap, and a buttcrack,” offered Jen, the company’s female plumber.

“Exactly. Customers are letting you into their homes. Their home!  When you show up neat, clean, and professional, you are sending the customer a sign of respect. It’s respect for the customer and it’s self-respect for yourself.”

“Some of our customers need a little self-respect,” said one of the plumbers.

“Remember the lady who wouldn’t throw anything away?” asked another with a shudder.

Vinnie took control back. “That’s true, but even if a customer lacks self-respect the customer deserves our respect. These are the people who keep the lights on here and who allow us to feed our families. So, every morning, I want you to shower, shave, except for you Jen, tuck in your shirts, and show pride in your appearance. Every person here represents the entire customer when you are out there.”

“When you show up looking sharp, the stereotype goes out the window and the customer says to herself, ‘Wow, these Lombardi guys are different.’ So, what else matters?”

“Parking,” said Buddy. “Park at the end of the drive so the truck doesn’t obstruct traffic, but get permission from the customer to leave the truck there and move if asked.”

“Yes sir,” said Vinnie. “And when you park at the end of the drive, perpendicular to traffic, you maximize the exposure of our beautiful vehicle wraps to more people.”

Vinnie looked at Danny. “What do we do next?”

“Um,” said Danny, shifting in his chair. “Uh, breath spray?”

“Nailed it,” said Vinnie to a beaming Danny. “We want to look sharp and we want to emit no odors whatsoever.”

“Aw come on,” said Jen when the plumber next to her loudly passed gas, causing everybody else to crack up. “Don’t tell me you’ve been saving that up.”

“Who? Me?” the guilty party replied innocently.

“Okay, smart guy,” said Vinnie, “Or, should I say fart guy? What’s important in how we interact with the customer?”

The plumber rolled his eyes but knew the company processes down cold. He said, “We want to respect anyone with a concern about the virus by keeping our distance and asking if the customers want us to mask up, even though dispatch had already told us. We want to make eye contact, smile, and nod to acknowledge the things the customer tells us and repeat them back to make sure we got it right.”

“And,” added Vinnie, “We always want to thank the customer for the opportunity to be of service. Remember, the customer pays for everything around here. The customer pays your paycheck and mine. She pays for your trucks, tools, insurance, and training. The more ways we can serve the customer, the more the customer pays us. How can we do that?”

Danny’s arm shot up. He said, “We ask questions and present options. We never decide for a customer. We let customers choose to repair a problem, replace a product, or upgrade.”

Vinnie held up an invoice. “What do we call this?”

“Paperwork,” was the shouted answer.

“Do we ask the customer to sign the paperwork?”

“No,” said one of the plumbers. “We ask them for their approval or authorization.”

“Excellent,” said Vinnie. “We want to use soft language and avoid terms like paperwork, signatures, and signing. And, we always want to conclude every call by asking if there is any other way we can be of service, thanking them for their business, reminding them of the importance of referrals, and finally, as a personal favor, because your boss measures you on this, ask them to scan the QR code to provide a review.”

Vinnie wrote on the board…

SOFT SKILL FUNDAMENTALS

1.    Neat and Clean

2.    Odor Free

3.    Park at the End of the Driveway With Permission

4.    Respect Customer Health Concerns

5.    Make Eye Contact

6.    Smile

7.    Actively Listen

8.    Confirm Understanding

9.    Ask Questions

10. Present Options

11. Never Decide For the Customer

12. Use Soft Language

13. Thank the Customer

14. Ask for a Review

“Now,” said Vinnie. “Let’s get outta here and go serve some customers!”

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

Why

Willie McGarn looked forward to the monthly local association meeting of his fellow contractors. He thought the programs could use a little spicing up, but they were just icing on the cake for him. This was a chance to discern how other contractors in the area were doing. For himself, Willie wasn’t doing well. He was close to hanging it up and shutting the doors.

When he arrived at the hotel where the meeting was held, he headed to the bar. Sure enough, other contractors had already arrived. As he approached the bar he heard the unmistakable drawl of big Sam Henderson. “Well if it ain’t Willie McGarn! How you doing, Willie?”

“Hi Sam,” said Willie, purposefully dodging Sam’s question. “How are you?”

“Why if I was doing any better, it would be illegal,” said Sam jovially.

“I certainly see enough of your trucks around town. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you do it? No matter what the weather or economy, you seem to truck along.”

“Well,” said Sam, “Why don’t you drop by one day and I’ll show you my operation.”

Willie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sam Henderson was one of the most successful contractors in the area, heck, in the state! And he was willing to let one of his competitors see his operation from the inside? No way. Willie decided to call him on his bluff. “I’d love to see your shop.”

Sam pulled out his phone and began scrolling on it. “How about Friday morning? I usually head out to the deer lease on Thursday, but Wilma’s got me going to some performing arts thing Friday night and threatened me good if I tried to skip out.”

“Uh, sure,” gasped Willie. “How about 9:00 a.m.?”

“See you then, brother. Now, what kind of program are they having tonight? I hope it’s something more interesting than that guy from the city permitting office we had last month.”

***

Sam pulled into the Comfort Commander lot and parked in one of the spaces marked for visitors. He wondered what people would think seeing his gleaming white McGarn Air truck in front of half a dozen of Sam’s green and black Comfort Commander trucks. Probably think I’m getting purchased, he thought to himself.

He entered a small foyer and pressed a button next to an intercom. “I’m here for an appointment with Sam Henderson,” he said to no one he could see.

“Well come on in,” a woman’s voice answered through the intercom and the door buzzed.

Willie pulled it open and walked through. What he saw was amazing. The large, open office was buzzing with activity. Lots of people with headsets were facing large computer screens, talking with customers. The screens danced with schedules and time blocks. Others were looking at different data entry or accounting screens. Willie wasn’t sure which. Large LCD screens on the walls displayed company key performance indicators, salesperson rankings, technician rankings, and so on. One screen cycled through customer reviews.

A woman rose from one of the desks to greet him. “Hi. You must be Willie McGarn. I’m Patty, the office manager. I was told to expect you.”

“I am,” said Willie. “Thanks.”

“Follow me and I’ll take you to Sam.”

Sam was seated in a glassed-in office at the very end of the hall. The office was paneled in Oak, boasting a well-appointed bar, conference table, and battleship desk where Sam sat. Several hunting and fishing trophies were mounted on the walls.

“Hello Willie,” said Sam coming around his desk and motioning to the conference table. “Have a seat. Want coffee?”

“No thank you. I’m fine.”

“Let’s chat for a few minutes, then I’ll take you on a tour.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Willie.

While they were talking, Sam essentially told Willie everything about his company. He shared his sales, margins, profitability, average service ticket, average installation, and on and on. Sam couldn’t believe he was being so open. On the tour, he showed Willie his training room, technician lounge, meeting rooms, warehouse, including his stocking system, and let him listen to a call between one of his service managers and a technician who was on the job. Willie was fascinated with all of it.

As they headed back to the office, Sam stopped at a large printer and said, “Hey, look at this. This is my new toy. It prints vehicle wraps.”

“You mean, you print your own wraps?” asked Willie, in awe.

“Yeah, why not? Buying the printer is easy to cost justify and we’ve got enough trucks. I switched to our wrap design a few years ago. It was hard to swallow the cost at the time. I realize now it wasn’t a cost at all, but one of the best investments I’ve made. Comfort Commander trucks pop. They are distinctive. Because of our trucks, we’ve got the best brand awareness of any HVAC company in the area. You should wrap your trucks. No offense, but one white truck pretty much looks like another white truck. It’ll make a big difference in your business, I promise.”

“I’ll think about it,” remarked Willie, who hadn’t really thought about it before.

“Heck,” said Sam. “With this thing, I’m thinking about wrapping furnaces and maybe even condensing unit caps. I can make mine look different and maybe even charge more. If I ever get into plumbing, I’m sure as heck going to wrap water heaters and disposers.”

***

“So what do you think?” asked Sam when they returned to his office. “What are your questions?”

“Wow, well I’m a little overwhelmed. I mean, you’ve opened up some possibilities I never considered. You know they don’t teach this at the trade school.”

“Don’t I know it. Too many guys in the trade know more about turning a wrench than turning a profit. It’s why they price so stinking low. And ‘cause they price so stinking low, they can only afford to provide a stinking level of service.”

“I might be one of those stinking guys.”

“Well heck, son. Change. It ain’t hard. What are you charging? Wait, no, don’t tell me. For some reason, it’s illegal for us to compare prices. But we can talk in generalities. I can give you my pricing calculator. Punch in your numbers and it’ll tell you what you should charge. Low pricing is the single most common problem in the trade. It’s also the easiest to fix.”

“I don’t get it,” blurted Willie. “Why are you sharing all of this with me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m your competitor,” said Willie, before stopping as he saw a blank look on Sam’s face.

Sam stared at Willie for a second, then burst into laughter. “Son, you’re not my competition.”

“I’m not?”

“For starters, which one of my satisfied customers are you going to take from me? None of them. The only way one of my customers would ever consider your company was if I screwed up. If I did a crappy job and then blew the service recovery, I might piss ‘em off so bad that they would look for someone else, at which point they would no longer be my customer.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“And take someone who’s a prospect-at-large. Do you know who my competition is for that guy?”

“Other air conditioning contractors.”

“Nope. Given the price of a new system these days, my competition is anyone who offers something more compelling in the same general price range. My customer is the spa guy or the 4-wheeler guy or the river cruise vacation guy. They all want the same $15 to $25 thousand I want and their offering is a heckuva lot sexier than mine.”

Willie had never thought of it that way before, but he could see that Sam was right. “But,” he interjected, “No one can live without air conditioning, right?”

Sam grinned. “Right. So, while my competition might win this year or the next, there’s a finite limit to how long we can keep an old system working. Sooner or later the customer will be mine and I’ll make his life better, not for a few months a year or for a week, but for years and years.”

“Makes sense.”

“But let’s get back to you. How are you doing?”

“Not well,” Willie confessed. “Maybe it’s me. It just all seems so hard.”

“Then do something else.”

“What?” asked Willie. Of all of the things Sam could say, this was the last thing he expected.

“You spend most of your waking hours at work. Life’s too short to spend most of the time doing something you hate. Do something else.”

“I don’t know anything else.”

“Why did you get into air conditioning.”

“Dad was a refrigeration mechanic. He told me air conditioning was where it is at and I should go to trade school, so I did.”

“That’s why you started. Why are you still in it?”

“Like I said, I don’t know anything else,” said Willie. He was feeling a little defensive. Was this why Sam asked him here, so he could talk him out of the business and reduce the number of contractors?

“Let me tell you why I’m in it,” said Sam. “I’m older than you are. I grew up in the south in a big old, historic house that was constructed in the twenties. It didn’t have air conditioning. My parents were proud of the house, but either didn’t have the money to retrofit it or weren’t willing to spend it. Three rooms had window units. One was my parents’ room. I shared a room with my brother. When he got asthma, we got a window unit for our room but were only allowed to use it at night. The third was in our TV room. Guess where we spent all of the time?”

“The TV room,” Willie answered.

“Right. The TV room. In this big old house, we spent all of our time crammed into one of the smallest rooms because it was cool. The rest of the house was hot and muggy most of the year. The smell of mildew was everywhere.”

Sam continued, “You see for me, this business is more than a way to make money, though I do that. It’s like a calling. People are miserable when a Comfort Commander truck shows up at their house and comfortable when we leave. We keep people cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We represent a good night’s sleep. We contribute to home safety because air conditioning makes it possible for people to close their windows and lock their doors. Most people literally could not live in this town without air conditioning. What we do is important and we’re darn good at it.”

Hearing Sam describe the industry, Willie felt better about himself and what he did. He could hear the passion in Sam’s voice and see it in his eyes.

Sam paused and said to Willie, “Sorry, I get a little carried away. But that’s only part of it for me. I’m also here because of my team. I love to see people develop and grow. Now, how about you?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Son, that’s your problem. It’s your biggest problem. Figure out why you’re in business and other things will start to fall into place.”

Willie thanked Sam and left. He had a lot to think about.

***

Willie asked himself, why was he in business? And why HVAC? The easy answer was to make money, but that seemed insufficient. He could make money in lots of ways besides HVAC. Given his total take-home, he could probably make the same or more working for someone else. Plus, he wouldn’t have the hassles of all of the government paperwork. So why was he doing what he was doing?

His train of thought was interrupted by the phone. “McGarn Air, Willie here.”

It was Sheila, his wife, dispatcher, and CSR. “Willie, we’ve got a no cool and Jim and Dave are both tied up. The customer sounds like she’s up there in years. Can you take it?”

“Sure,” said Willie. “Text me the address.”

***

Willie rang the doorbell, stepped back, and put on his game face smile. A short woman with gray hair pulled back into a tight bun answered the door. Perspiration was dripping off her face as she fanned herself with a hand fan. “Oh, thank the Lord you’re here. I think I’m going to die of a heat stroke. Come on in. Come in.”

“Yes ma’am. Can you tell me what the problem is?”

“Lord, I don’t know. It just won’t get cool. I think I’m going to die of heat stroke.”

“Okay, let me take a look. Don’t worry,” reassured Willie. “One way or the other, I’ll get you cool today.”

Willie started down his diagnostic process. It didn’t take him long to zero in on the problem. Ants in the contactor. He told the old woman what the problem was and recommended replacing the contactor.

“Do whatever you have to do,” said the woman. “My son and grandson will be here for a visit this afternoon. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t get the house cool. Thank you so much.”

When Willie gave the woman the invoice after he finished, she looked sort of startled. “Is something wrong,” he asked, certain that she was going to complain about the price. They all complained about the price.

“No, there’s nothing wrong,” she said, handing him a credit card. “Why don’t you add $20 to the bill as a tip.”

“You don’t have to do that ma’am.”

“No, I want to. You’ve saved my family’s visit and made such a difference.”

***

At dinner that night, Willie said to Sheila, “You know, I went by Comfort Commander today.”

“So you told me.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking.”

“Uh huh,” said his wife, eyeing him skeptically.

“Yeah, I know. It’s dangerous for me to think too much. But I’ve been thinking that maybe we need a price increase.”

“We’ve raised prices every time the manufacturers jacked up equipment pricing.”

“I’m not talking about that. Well, maybe I am. But, I was really thinking about raising the labor component of our service pricing. I guess I’d do the same for replacement prices.”

“How much are we talking about?” asked Sheila.

Willie told her and watched while she made mental calculations. “Do you really think we could get that?”

“Yeah, I think we’re probably underpriced. I mean, what we do is important. We make people’s homes cool in the summer. We ought to get rewarded for it.”

Sheila smiled. “Do you know what a difference this could make?” She opened the calculator app on her phone and punched in a few numbers. My gosh, Willie, “We could pay down our credit cards. By the end of the summer, we might even have enough to take a real vacation. It would be a short one, but it would be a start.”

***

The rest of the week was busy. In between running service calls and babysitting his techs, Willie didn’t have time to think about Sam Henderson’s challenge to him. Saturday morning, Willie woke around 4:00 a.m. with a start. He sat straight up in bed. That was it. The old woman said it. His wife said it.

He got out of bed, grabbed a notebook, and started writing. When he finished, he leaned back and smiled. He read the page…

The reason why I’m in business is to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I will make a positive difference in my customers’ lives through the work the company performs by improving the comfort and air quality of the buildings where people work and live. I will make a positive difference in my employees’ lives by giving them meaningful work, fair pay, and opportunities to grow and advance according to their desires. I will make a positive difference in my family’s lives through the profits the business generates so they can enjoy an elevated lifestyle with tangible rewards and rich, intangible experiences that help us enjoy fulfilling lives. I will make a positive difference to the best of my ability.

Yes, he thought to himself. This is why I do what I do. I can make a difference.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

The Decision

Jim was feeling the pressure. He was getting it from his friends. He was getting from his parents. He was getting from his teachers. Everyone wanted to know where he wanted to go to school. His problem was he didn’t want to go anywhere. He had to decide what he was going to do.

Jim was a decent student. He did well on his SAT’s and he always figured he would go to college like everyone else. But lately, he was having second thoughts.

First, Jim overheard his sister and brother-in-law talking. He’d gone over to their apartment to swim in the pool. After he was done and toweling off, he went to their apartment to say goodbye. They didn’t hear him enter. He paused when he heard them in a pretty intense discussion in the kitchen.

“Kim, we just can’t afford it,” said Frank, his brother-in-law. “We can’t even afford a decent place to live.”

“But the government keeps pausing the loan repayment and there’s talk of the loan forgiveness.”

“Nothing’s been forgiven yet,” said Frank. “I don’t think we can hope for that. I mean, we do owe the money.”

“It’s just so unfair. I mean, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We’ll never be able to pay our college loans back.”

“Now Kim. Don’t say never. It’s just going to take time.”

“Take time? We’re going to spend a decade or more paying back loans from four years of college. At this rate, we won’t be able to afford to start a family until we’re in our thirties.”

Jim heard his sister softly crying and quietly slipped out without interrupting the couple. What he heard was a shock. He knew college was expensive, but wow. And he knew his parents would help as much as they could, but they didn’t have that much money and Jim had two younger brothers.

If he went to college, he would have to take out his own set of loans. One of Jim’s better traits was his frugality. He didn’t want to go into debt, especially not big-time debt.

While the conversation he overheard from his sister was giving him second thoughts, one of his best friends gave him more to think about. Dale had already applied to Tech and been accepted. He wanted Jim to attend with him.

“C’mon Jim,” urged Dale the other day. “Get off your butt and get your application in. It’ll be great. We can room together and pledge my big brother’s fraternity.”

“I don’t know, man. I don’t even know what I want to major in.”

“It doesn’t matter. The classes are all bull anyway unless you want to major in engineering,” said Dale before making a retching sound. “My brother says the profs let you know what they want to hear and you just repeat it back for the grade.”

“What do you mean?”

“Except for the engineering professors and a few of the business professors, all they want is for you to give them some politically correct, woke crap on tests and you’ll ace everything. It’s just like Mrs. Warren’s government class. Argue and she beats you down. Agree and she passes you.”

“So what’s the point of going to college?” asked Jim.

“Par-tays,” replied Dale enthusiastically. “Mixers with sororities. Four freaking years of sowing our oats. It’ll be awesome.”

Jim just shook his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t like fun. He did. But shouldn’t he learn something? All he felt like he learned from Mrs. Warren was he hated politics. If that was the norm in college, why should he go into debt for four years of political indoctrination? Did he have to go into debt to meet girls? Well, maybe that was a dumb question. Did he have to go into a decade’s worth of debt?

His problem was he didn’t know what he wanted to do if he didn’t go to school. He had considered the military. When he talked with Mr. Simpson who lived next door, that died.

“Look Jim,” Mr. Simpson explains. “I’m the last guy to tell someone not to go into the military. It made me who I am. I mean, I flew fu-, uh, freaking jets off aircraft carriers. Do you want to know one of the scariest things in the world?”

“Yeah, I know,” said Jim. “It’s landing on an aircraft carrier at night in a storm.”

“Hmm. Guess I’ve told you about that.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “And I get it. But I don’t have to fly jets. I might go into the Marines.”

“Do you know why the navy allows the marines on ships?” asked Mr. Simpson.

“Yeah, I know, so the sailors will have someone to dance with,” said Jim.

“Guess I’ve told you that one too.”

“Maybe once or twice,” said Jim. “But I still think the marines are bad-ass.”

“Let’s hope they still are,” said Mr. Simpson. “I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track with what’s going on in the service, but, and I say this with a little unease…”

“What?” demanded Jim.

“I’m worried about our fighting forces. The military seems more worried about politics than our ability to make war. I saw a navy training video recently where the entirety of the video was about the proper use of pronouns. Training should be about defeating the enemy, not fu-, uh, freaking pronouns.”

More politics, thought Jim. It was everywhere. “Okay, Mr. Simpson. I get you. I just have to figure something out.”

Jim went home. At dinner, his parents asked him about his college applications. “I don’t know if I want to go to college,” he answered.

“What?” asked his dad. “You are going to go to college.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s how you get ahead in this life.”

“You mean the way Kim and Frank are buried under their loans?” asked Jim.

“Hey,” said his father.

“I don’t want to be an engineer and I don’t want to tell professors what they want to hear simply to get grades.”

“Peace,” interjected Jim’s mom.

Needing to get in the last word, his dad added, “If you don’t go to college, you can’t expect to hang around here without paying your way. You need to get a job.”

“Fine,” said Jim.

“Fine,” said his dad.

After dinner, Jim started scrolling through the job ads on his phone. The first looked promising, but then he realized it was selling overpriced cutlery. That sucked.

The next after that was setting appointments for door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales. That sucked more.

Then, he saw one that seemed appealing. It stated, “Are you mechanically inclined? Are you a people person? Are you also money motivated? We’ll pay you $17 per hour for a training wage. Attend our academy, get paid to learn, earn more down the road, plus benefits. We offer careers in an essential industry that protects the health of the nation. Call King Plumbing at 555-1221 for more information.”

Jim was familiar with John King, the Plumbing King. His ads were everywhere. But plumbing? He didn’t want to be a plumber. How do you get girls when you’re a plumber? He kept scrolling. But one after another, he either didn’t qualify or the jobs sucked.

At school the next day, he kept thinking about the Plumbing King ad. It wouldn’t hurt to find out a little more. After school, he called the number. “It’s a great day at King Plumbing where we treat our customers like royalty. How can I serve you?” answered a cheerful person.

“Uh, hi,” said Jim. “I’m calling about the ad for the academy.”

“Oh terrific,” replied Miss Enthusiastic. “Let me connect you with our recruiter.”

Jim heard the phone ringing. “This is Stephanie,” answered a woman. “How can I serve you?”

“Hey Steph, I’ve got an inquiry about the academy on the line. I’ll hang up and you can take him.”

“Uh, hi,” said Jim. “My name is Jim Marshall and I’m sort of interested in the academy, but I’m still in school.”

“No worries,” said Stephanie. “We have another class starting mid-June. Will you be out by then?”

“I’d better be.”

“Okay, so you are aware, we require a personality test and mechanical aptitude test before we accept you into the academy. Should you pass those, we will conduct background checks and administer a drug test. There won’t be a problem will there?”

“Uh, no ma’am. But, well, it’s just that…”

“Yes.”

“Well, I don’t know if I want to be a plumber. I don’t know if that’s right for me.”

“I see,” said Stephanie. “Can I put you on hold for a second?”

“Sure,” said Jim. He wondered if he should just hang up. Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.

“Mr. Marshall,” said Stephanie returning to the line. “Would you be able to drop by our office later this afternoon? Mr. King would like to meet you and talk with you about the plumbing profession to assess if it indeed is right for you.”

“Mr. King? Like the guy on the ads? John King the Plumbing King?”

Stephanie laughed a little. “One and the same. Would 4:00 or 4:30 be better for you?”

“I guess 4:00.”

“Okay, are you calling from your mobile?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll text you the address.”

Just like that Jim found himself with an appointment to meet a guy who was somewhat of a local celebrity.

***

When the time came, Jim entered King Plumbing’s offices. There was a large reception area. “You must be Mr. Marshall,” said a peppy woman who sounded like the person Jim talked with on the phone. “Take a seat and I’ll ring Stephanie.”

Stephanie arrived and handed Jim a stack of forms. “This is a personality profile. Just answer it as honestly as you can. We use these to help ensure that we are putting people in the right seats. In other words, we know the type of personality types who do well in the different positions we offer. We won’t try to put you into a job you won’t like or succeed at. The next test is the mechanical aptitude test. This helps us assess whether you have the innate ability to do the work. Next, is our application, which you will need to complete. Finally, here are brochures on the academy and on the company.”

“Wow,” said Jim. He was a little overwhelmed. His stereotype of plumbers was that they were little more than knuckle draggers, but so far King Plumbing seemed like a professional, sophisticated organization.

“You can complete this and bring it by at your convenience. Just don’t wait too long, because June will be here before you know it and we generally fill all of our academy slots,” said Stephanie with a smile. “Now, let’s go meet Mr. King.”

Stephanie led Jim to a large, glassed-in office. He recognized John King from the ads. The man was large and somewhat heavyset with a jovial expression. He was pacing back and forth energetically while talking on the phone. He waved them into the office as he finished his call.

King immediately walked over to Jim, thrust out his right arm to shake Jim’s, and grabbed his forearm with his left for a two-handed shake. “You must be Jim. Come on in and take a seat. I’ve got it from here Steph,” he said dismissing his recruiter.

“Uh, yes sir,” said Jim.

Jim found that it was impossible not to like the man instantly. King smiled broadly and dove right in. “Do you know why you want to be a plumber?”

“Uh, why?”

“Because every mother wants her daughter to marry a doctor or a plumber.”

“What?”

“Think about it. Mothers want the best for their daughters. Both doctors and plumbers are useful. And both make good money. Well, both can make good money. A lot of plumbers don’t realize how important they are to the world, but I do. And, all of the plumbers at King Plumbing do.”

“What’s good money?”

“I’m glad you asked.” King nodded at the big window fronting his office. One of his plumbers was walking by. He was wearing khaki pants and a King Plumbing polo. “Take Jerod there. He’s 25 years old and he’s on track to break $100 thousand this year.”

Jim’s jaw nearly hit the floor. Was it really true? He had no idea that plumbing could be so lucrative.

King launched into the importance of plumbing to society and how there would always be a need for plumbers. He talked about the freedom and independence that comes from operating a service truck. He talked about the career opportunities that exist. Then, he talked about the academy and everything he would learn. Before Jim realized it, an hour had come and gone.

“There’s only one catch,” said King. “If we take you through the King Plumbing Academy, you agree to work for us for two years. We’re going to invest quite a bit of money teaching you the plumbing profession. If you quit before the two years are up, you’ll owe us for a portion of the training. If we decide you won’t cut it, no harm and no foul. You keep what you learned and won’t owe us a thing.”

“How many people wash out?” asked Jim.

“Oh, probably 30% of the class won’t make it to the end. And that’s okay. It just means that this wasn’t the right profession for them. It’s better to end the relationship sooner than later. So, what do you think?”

“I think I’ve got a lot to think about.”

“Well, let me give you something else to think about. Once you learn a trade, you can always fall back on the trade. You might decide you want to go to college down the road. Plumbing can help you pay for it. It’s how I paid for school. The old man wasn’t going to help.”

“You went to college?”

“Yes. I have a degree in finance. You see, I didn’t start King Plumbing. Dad did. I thought I wanted to get as far away from the trade as possible. I thought a finance degree was the ticket to a nice desk job in an air-conditioned office.”

“And?” asked Jim, fascinated with this turn in the conversation.

“And I made more money working for Dad as a plumber,” laughed King. “I didn’t like being broke, so I picked up my tools and asked Dad for a job. Over time, I bought the company from him and slowly began applying what I learned in school and what I learned from attending conferences and from an alliance of plumbing contractors. King Plumbing took off. Now my biggest challenge is growing my team, which is why I’m talking with you.”

***

Jim went home and reviewed all of the material Stephanie had given him. King Plumbing Academy sounded like an interesting opportunity. They would teach him how to troubleshoot and repair plumbing problems, how to interact with customers, and even how to manage his personal finances. It seemed to Jim that he would get more practical knowledge from KPA than from college. Plus, he wouldn’t have to deal with politics. He took the tests and filled out the application.

***

Two years later, his buddy Dale was home for Christmas. Jim drove over to see him on Saturday. “Duuude,” said Dale when Jim pulled up in front of his parent’s house. “Nice ride.”

Jim looked at his new F-150 King Ranch Edition truck, smiled, and shrugged. “I like it.”

“So what’s it like,” asked Dale, “plunging people’s toilets.”

“It’s not what you think. What I do is really important. Today, for example, I went to look at a water heater that kept turning off. It turned out that some idiot had blocked the vent. I’m pretty sure that I saved a life or two today.”

“What? How?”

“Well, the vent is supposed to remove carbon monoxide,” answered Jim. When he could see Dale still wasn’t getting it, he added, “You know, the clear, odorless gas that’s a byproduct of gas combustion and can kill you quickly?”

“I guess.”

“So what are you up to?”

“I just finished my finals, staying up all night studying stuff I’ll never use. I have to take calculus next semester,” Dale said as he rolled his eyes. “Can’t wait.”

“We have to use a fair amount of math in plumbing, though a lot of guys just use rules of thumb. Everything we use is practical. Since I’m mostly in service, I don’t do as much as the new construction plumbers and the commercial guys.”

Dale looked at him like he was an alien. “Hey, let’s go grab some beer. Tech is playing in a bowl game. Let’s kick back with a couple of brewskis and watch it.”

“Why don’t we go to my place,” asked Jim. “Your parent’s TV is kind of small. I’ve got a 72-inch with surround sound.”

Dale just stared at Jim. “What?” Jim asked. “I make pretty good money.”

Over Dale’s Christmas break, Jim spent less and less time with Dale. They were living in different worlds. It seemed to Jim that college was like a halfway house towards adulthood and Dale wasn’t growing up. Meanwhile, Jim had become a much more serious person.

As he thought about it, Jim realized that he had shouldered a lot of responsibility. He drove a company truck worth tens of thousands of dollars with around $8 thousand of inventory. While he reported in after every call, he was largely working on his own unless he ran into something he needed help with.

After graduating from King Plumbing Academy, Jim moved out of his parent’s house and was on his own. While he was spending money, he was also saving it. Yes, he was given a lot of responsibility and was acting responsible, but he was also independent and enjoyed a sense of freedom his friend Dale couldn’t comprehend.

Jim thought about the decision he made. His friend was in college, amassing a pile of debt, and it seemed, learning little practical knowledge. Jim had started a career, one that he found he really enjoyed and was learning a lot about his trade and life. Not only was he largely debt free, but he also had money in the bank. If he wanted, he could always go to college down the road. For now, the decision to join the plumbing profession seemed like the right one to Jim.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

A Can of Success

Tommy was having a bad day. It started at breakfast. The Ikea chair he assembled the night before collapsed when he sat on it. It went down from there. What he didn’t know was that fate was about to intervene.

When he got to work, his boss called him into his office. “Son,” he said, “I’m sorry, but corporate asked me to make a headcount reduction. You’re the last person hired, so, unfortunately, you’re also the first to be laid off.”

Just like that, Tommy was jobless. Could this day get any worse, he thought? Then, his phone rang.

Tommy smiled when he looked at the caller ID. It was his girlfriend. “Hi babe,” he answered.

“Tommy,” she said. “We’ve got to talk.”

Uh oh. He pulled over and turned off the car. “Why? What’s up?”

“We need to talk in person.”

“What’s wrong with now?”

She sighed. “If you insist. I got offered a job today. I’m going to take it.”

“Hey, that’s great.”

“The job is based in New York. I’m moving in two weeks.”

“New York. I can’t move to New York.”

“I know Tommy. I don’t expect you to follow me to New York and, I really want this job. So, I guess this is goodbye.”

“Is that it?”

“I’m sorry Tommy. I told you this was a possibility. Look, I’m getting a call from my new boss. I have to go.”

She hung up and Tommy just sat there. If he was honest, he knew it wasn’t the greatest relationship or that she probably wasn’t the right person for him, but she was someone he felt he could attract. I can’t believe this, he thought to himself. Fired from a crummy job and dumped by a crummy girlfriend on the same crummy day. What else could go wrong and make the crummy day even crummier?

When Tommy started his car, he heard a clicking sound and nothing. Freaking great. Just freaking great!

Tommy got out and kicked the tire. Hard. “Ow,” he screamed. “Crap that hurt.”

Tommy could feel his heart racing. He needed to calm down and cool off. It was hot and humid outside, so he stepped into the store next to where he parked. Stenciled on the front door was, “The Fate Store.”

As he walked in, a bell chimed. “Welcome to The Fate Store,” proclaimed a short, bald, Asian man. “Have you come to choose a new fate for yourself?”

“Huh,” said Tommy. “What are you selling?”

“I sell fate. Fate brought you here so you must need to change your fate. Come, come. You see the cans of fate. Find your fate.”

Tommy looked around and saw stacks and stacks of small cans. Each was neatly labeled. Tommy grabbed one at random. “A Life of Misery,” read Tommy. “Who would want a life of misery?”

“You would be surprised,” said the proprietor. “Many people choose misery. Why? I don’t know. People decide they want failed marriages. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Tommy examined more cans. He discarded “A Life Spent Living in the Past,” “A Life Obsessed With What Could Have Been,” and “A Life of Mistake After Mistake.”

“Uh, sorry,” Tommy remarked to the proprietor, “But these suck.”

“Ah,” said the proprietor, “Many fates ‘suck’ as you say, but they are very, very popular. People love to select them.”

“YAW!” screamed Tommy, dropping the can titled, “A Life of Misfortune.” “I’ve had enough of this.”

“Then keep looking,” encouraged the proprietor. “Keep looking. Your fate is here. You merely need to choose it.”

“Hey, look at this one,” said Tommy. It was labeled “A Successful Life.” “This is more like it. How much does this cost?”

“Ah. What is the price of success, of a successful life? It is something that you pay for over time. A lot of success costs more than a little success.”

“I don’t know,” said Tommy. “I don’t have much money now.”

“No money down. You can sign,” said the proprietor. “Here, here. Sign this.” He pulled a piece of paper from a drawer.

Tommy read it. The headline was “Bill of Sale.” It read simply, “I, the undersigned, do hereby commit to paying the price of a successful life in accordance with the success I achieve.”

“It still doesn’t say how much. I don’t like committing to an open-ended charge.”

“Ah,” said the proprietor. “That is because the payment is entirely up to you. You decide how much to pay, when to pay, where to pay, and how to pay. Just sign.”

“Okay, how do I pay? Do I come here?”

“The universe will collect. Fate will collect,” said the proprietor.

Oh, what the heck thought Tommy. He signed.

“Congratulations,” said the proprietor. “You have started your journey.”

“Yeah, now if I could only start my car.”

“What does the can say?” asked the proprietor.

Tommy looked. “It says shake whenever you need to more success. Open when you no longer need more success.”

“So, shake,” said the proprietor.

Tommy felt foolish, but he shook the can anyway. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he could hear something rattling around in the can.

“Let’s look at your car and see if you can successfully start it,” suggested the proprietor.

Tommy walked out with the proprietor and popped the hood. He tried to start the car, but after the click, click, click, he stopped. The proprietor reached into his back pocket and removed a huge wrench. Tommy wondered where he was hiding it, how he was hiding it. The proprietor suddenly reached out and hammered the wrench against the starter. “Try it now,” he suggested.

The car turned right over. “Hey thanks,” said Tommy. He jumped out to close the hood, but the proprietor was nowhere to be seen. He wondered where he went and tried the door to the store. It was locked.

Whatever, Tommy thought. Now I just need a job where I can be successful. He thought for a moment. Why not? Again, feeling a little foolish, he shook the can of success and pulled out into traffic. Immediately in front of him was a high cube van with a large sign on the back stating, “Now hiring. No experience necessary. Will train.”

Tommy thought this must be some kind of a sign. He followed the truck when it made a couple of turns and pulled into a fenced yard. The building next to the yard had an identical sign on it. The company name was SmithCo. Tommy got out, walked in, applied for a job, was interviewed on the spot by Dan Smith the owner, and was hired. Even better, SmithCo paid more than the warehouse job he just lost. Tommy had never been so successful when looking for a job.

Over the next week, Tommy was offered basic training by SmithCo’s service manager while given a variety of tasks around the company’s shop, such as cleaning, counting inventory, and so on. He was given books to take home and study to speed along his progress. Every morning the service manager would question him on what he learned the day before.

When he was satisfied with his basic knowledge, the service manager assigned Tommy to work as an apprentice for Stanley, one of the senior technicians. “Pay attention,” urged the service manager, “because you can learn a lot from Stanley.”

On the morning he was to start riding with Stanley, Tommy took out his successful life can and shook it like crazy. He really wanted to succeed with SmithCo. When he met Stanley, Tommy took to him immediately. Stanley was in his 50s and seemed grateful for someone to help with the physical work.

“Kid, this is a good company and a great industry,” Stanley informed Tommy on their first day. “Once you learn the trade, you’ll never lack work. Even if you do something else, you can always fall back on the trade. Plus, there are no limits on how successful you can become. If you want to start your own company someday, you can probably do it.”

“Excuse me for asking, but how come you haven’t started your own company?”

Stanley laughed. “Kid I did. I did okay for a few years, but I just wasn’t willing to pay the price to be a successful business owner. I didn’t like marketing. I hated the government paperwork. I just like fixing stuff. One day Danny Smith asked me if I wouldn’t rather sell to him and go to work for him. He said I’d make more money and have fewer headaches. And he was right. I’m happy doing what I like, which is fixing stuff.”

Hmm, thought Tommy. Pay the price. Well, I’m willing to pay the price. Maybe I can run my own company one day.

As the weeks passed and Tommy was learning the trade from Stanley, he was feeling more confident about everything else in his life, especially when he shook the successful life can. He shook it before rebuilding the Ikea chair and it held together. He even shook it when the blonde moved into his apartment complex.

Tommy was hardly a ladies’ man. Asking the blonde out was outkicking his coverage, but after shaking the can of success, he felt emboldened to try. His usual lame approach was to look at his shoes and say something like, “You wouldn’t want to go out with me, would you?”

Instead, when he ran into the blonde at the apartment complex’ mailboxes he asked, “Hey, you’re new here, right?”

“I am,” she said.

He extended his hand. “Tommy.”

She grasped his. “Beth.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Beth. Where are you from?”

“New York,” Beth answered, nearly causing Tommy to choke, thinking about his former girlfriend.

“New York? Wow. It’s got to be an adjustment moving here.”

Beth laughed. “Yeah, it is. There are more good changes than bad changes.”

“What are good changes?”

“I really like the outdoors, the fresh air. Despite living in the city, I’ve never been much of a city girl.”

Tommy jumped in. “So why don’t I show you one of the greatest trails in the area. Don’t worry, it’s well traveled, and the waterfall at the end is amazing.”

Beth pondered and seemed to feel Tommy was safe. “Sounds terrific,” she said.

Go for it, Tommy thought to himself. “How about Saturday? We could hike the trail and have a picnic lunch at the waterfall.”

“Deal,” said Beth, “but I get to pack the lunch.’

When Tommy got back to his apartment, he literally kissed the successful life can. “You,” he said to the can, “are amazing.”

***

Fast forward 30 years and Tommy was cutting his grass and looking at his mobile phone after every pass, watching his bank account. He had just sold his business for a 10X multiple on $3 million of EBITDA and was waiting for the money to hit. He refreshed the web page showing his bank balance. The number changed, increasing by $30 million.

“Yes!” he screamed to no one. He rushed into the house and held out his phone. “Beth, look at this!”

“I can’t even wrap my head around this,” she said, “but I knew you would be a success from the first moment we met.”

Beth hugged and kissed her husband. When they broke, Tommy went to his home office. He opened a drawer and pulled out the successful life can. He read the label, “Open when you no longer need success.”

Tommy reflected. He’d had a great life. It all started when he walked into The Fate Store, which he could never find later. He’d tried to find it many times but never seemed to locate the street. Whenever he asked people about it, no one had ever heard of The Fate Store and its funny little proprietor.

At SmithCo he put in the effort as an apprentice and earned his own truck. While he never started his own company, he did advance to service manager. Later, he bought SmithCo from Dan Smith, who had become one of his mentors, along with Stanley.

Over the last few years, it was Tommy’s turn to serve as a mentor to others. Some were employees. Others were contractors he met in business alliance meetings. One was even a local competitor. So much had been given to him, that Tommy felt called to give back to others. It seemed that whenever he gave, he received just as much, if not more back.

Under Tommy’s leadership, SmithCo grew and grew more profitable. He rarely shook the successful life can anymore, yet success still seemed to follow him.

Not only was his professional life blessed, but his personal life also exceeded any expectations he might have had as a youth. He was married to the woman of his dreams and had awesome kids, which he credited to Beth more than his efforts. While he managed to attend the school plays and afternoon sporting events, Beth played a greater part in raising their kids than he could. It was part of the price he paid for growing a successful company.

Tommy rotated the can and read the back. “Shake whenever you need to have more success. Open when you no longer need more success.”

He rocked back in his chair and thought about the success he’d enjoyed. It was time. He walked into the kitchen, grabbed a can opener out of the drawer, and proceeded to open the can of success.

Inside, there were several numbered pieces of cardboard with writing on them. He read the first one. It stated, “Success does not come from a can.”

On the second was written, “Success comes from hard work, the belief you can succeed, and the willingness to take risks and venture forth. If this can helped you to a successful life, it was only because it helped you gain the confidence you need to believe you could succeed, to take the risks necessary to succeed and to venture forth. The hard work was all yours. All you needed was confidence.”

Tommy leaned back and smiled. Yeah, he thought. Before he walked into The Fate Store he lacked confidence in himself. Because of that he didn’t think he could succeed and wasn’t willing to risk the effort success required. The successful life-can was nothing more than a trick to get him to believe in himself. Yet, it was a trick that changed the trajectory of this life.

On the final piece of cardboard, Tommy read, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The successful life is one well-lived.”

Indeed, he thought.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

The Coffee Conversation

Jerry was sitting in the coffee shop, sipping on an overpriced cup of Sumatra coffee, and staring at his phone. The coffee was a small luxury he should have passed on, but he was craving caffeine. He tried to enjoy it. There didn’t seem to be much he could enjoy lately. Yet, when an older gentleman asked if he could share his table in the crowded coffee shop, Jerry’s worldview was about to change.

“Excuse me,” Jerry heard. “Do you mind if I share your table?”

Jerry looked up. The man was cheerful and elderly with a head full of grey hair. Jerry said, “Sure, take a chair.”

“I just don’t get it,” mumbled Jerry to himself.

“Get what?” the man asked.

Jerry sighed. In a rush, he said, “I don’t get anything. I don’t understand the world. I don’t know why everything costs so much, why I can’t get air handlers for my business, why I can’t find employees, why the economy is tanking, anything.”

The old man said, “Yes, that is a lot. What do you do?”

“I’m a plumbing and air conditioning contractor.”

“I thought contractors have been doing pretty good,” the old man countered.

“Well, yeah, but that’s not the future. I mean, things don’t look good.”

The old man took a sip of his coffee. He said, “Do you mean things don’t look good in general or that things don’t look good for you in particular?”

Jerry wondered why the heck he was talking to this man, but it felt good to unload a little. He answered, “For… well, everything. I feel like nothing is in my control.”

“But you own a company?”

“Yeah. So?”

“Don’t you control your company?”

“Somewhat,” said Jerry. “It’s so hard to find people, so my employees know they have me over a barrel. If I ask them to do something they don’t want to do, they quit.”

“You mean you have to persuade them and lead them instead of simply ordering them? And that you control how you address them and lead them?”

“Uh, well when you put it like that it sounds different.”

“I think you have more control than you think.”

“What do you know about it?” barked Jerry. He was getting tired of the old man.

“Whoa. I’m not trying to argue with you or interrupt your pity party. I’m just trying to have a conversation over a cup of coffee. I can leave if you’d like.”

“No,” said Jerry. “Sorry. I’m just frustrated.”

“Well, I can understand that. But you said you can’t control anything. Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“You can control your attitude, right? I mean, you may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond, right?”

“I suppose.”

“You’re the leader of your company. It’s my experience that the people in an organization respond to and reflect their leaders but amplified. If you look scared, they think the worst, expect their jobs are in jeopardy, and start looking for new jobs. It works the same way in reverse. If you’re confident and positive, they will be too. Does that make sense?”

“Uh, a little,” said Jerry.

“Then, you also seem worried about business.”

“I am.”

“But people can’t live without plumbing, heating, and air conditioning, right?”

“There are still fewer calls,” said Jerry.

“So, what can you do about it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What are your competitors doing?”

“Most of them are like me. They don’t know what to do, but they worry about money so they cut spending as much as they can.”

“Why?”

“Why? So they don’t run out of money,” said Jerry.

“So,” said the old man, “they are worried about money because there are fewer calls, which means it’s harder to find a customer, so they cut back on their efforts to find one? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Not when you put it like that.”

“But you don’t have to be like them, do you? I mean, you control your marketing, advertising, and sales, right?”

“Uh, well. Yeah. I guess.”

“Do you or don’t you?”

“I do,” said Jerry forcefully.

“So, what do you think will happen if you put forth more effort to get customers when your competitors are doing less?”

“I’ll get more customers?”

“Kinda what I think.”

Jerry thought about what the man said for a second. It made sense. He said, “So you’re saying I can’t control prices, inflation, or the economy, but I can control my attitude and I can control how my company responds.”

“Exactly, except you can control your prices.”

“To a limit.”

“Really? You just paid $6 for a buck’s worth of coffee.”

“Well, I really needed some caffeine.”

“And you don’t think people really need plumbing? Or heating? Or air conditioning?”

Jerry looked the man up and down. “Who are you?” he asked him.

The old man smiled. “I’m someone who was just like you. I used to own a contracting company and sold it years ago for a few million. I saw you get out of your truck and thought I’d strike up a conversation.”

“Why?”

“When I was coming up in the business and struggling, older contractors helped me. For the longest time, I didn’t trust them. Then I realized they were simply paying forward the help they received. This is a great business. You have more control over your life and business than almost any of the people you see working in the high-rise corporate cube farms surrounding this coffee shop. If there’s a recession, you can decide whether you want to participate in it, or not. Personally, I would advise against participating. I never did.”

“Thank you,” said Jerry simply.

The old man. No, the old contractor shrugged, got up and said on the way out, “Thank me by paying it forward.”

Jerry looked at his coffee. Yeah, he could probably charge more. If he did, he could market more. He sipped the coffee, relishing the taste. He realized that it was up to him whether he enjoyed things or not. Like the old contractor said, he had more control than he thought.

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Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.