There’s something about flipping the calendar to a brand new year that suddenly fills me with optimism. I know it’s an arbitrary thing, but the New Year is the perfect time to say, “Starting now, I’m going to be better than I was last year.”
If you had a bad or mediocre year last year, then figure out how to turn it around starting now. If you had a good year last year, then build off it and make this an exceptional year. Call it a resolution if you must, as long as you plan to be successful.
To help you make this your best year ever, I solicited advice from a handful of successful contractors — Greg Mericle of Hurlburt Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Durand, Wisc., Mike Nicholson of Nicholson Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Holliston, Mass., Wendy Staso of Huckestein Mechanical in Pittsburgh, Jason Stom of Clear the Air Cooling & Heating in Alvin, Texas and Ryan Williams of 128 Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electric in Wakefield, Mass.
How do you plan to accelerate growth?
Mericle: We’re nearly quadrupling our advertising budget for 2018. Some of that is targeted marketing, however, since we’re looking to establish our presence in a new market, the majority of our spend will be general branding.
Nicholson: We already have strong momentum, so we intend to continue to expand into additional trades and hire additional technicians for existing trades.
Staso: We’re moving into geographic areas beyond our local union’s jurisdiction.
Stom: We’re taking a look at the root efficiencies of our operation, to find better ways to do more with less. We also plan to reduce advertising costs by focusing on customer referral building and providing as much value as possible.
How do you plan to be more profitable?
Nicholson: Educating our entire staff on how to excel in their specialty is the key to our success. When you pursue excellence, the by-product is a profitable bottom line.
Williams: We want to increase efficiency. We’re optimizing our stocked warehouse by getting materials to technicians as soon as they need it.
Staso: This year, we’re going to tightly managing manpower and overhead costs.
What do you plan to do differently this year?
Mericle: One of our biggest changes will be switching to flat rate for our plumbing service. This will allow us to charge what we should be, lower back office labor and improve the customer experience.
Staso: We’ve established key performance indicators (KPIs) for every employee in the company.
Stom: By looking at our processes and seeing where we can improve on service and installation delivery, we can exceed customer satisfaction.
What is your main goal for 2018?
Mericle: To standardize and improve our processes. This will hopefully give better guidance to our staff and improve customer experience.
Nicholson: To recruit more talent to join our growing team. It’s important for everyone to know we’re hiring, as well as the incentives and benefits attached to working at Nicholson.
Williams: To master scalability for our current offerings and keep procedure aligned as we grow. We’re going to achieve positive scalability by creating a plan, following and sticking to it week by week, and changing it and accepting when it needs to be tweaked.
Staso: To create a lean operation using the KPIs mentioned earlier, and engage with every employee in designing a workflow for their role.
What’s your biggest challenge this year?
Mericle: It’s definitely the field labor shortage. We’ve been hiring young people with aptitude and then pairing them with experts. We also take advantage of manufacturer and supply house training.
Nicholson: Massachusetts requires a five-year apprenticeship to obtain a plumbing or sheet metal license, which has scared a lot of people from the trades. Our long-term plan is to recruit right out of vocational school and train them up.
Williams: Battling the labor shortage is a challenge, but we’re not going to stop looking for great candidates. There is no pause when it comes to recruiting.
Stom: Every year it seems to be finding the best help. We’ll continue to hire the best personalities and train on skills and processes.