Getting it right: The systematized plumbing house call

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student and plumber

High school co-op student Conor McLean with plumber Geoff Compton

My wife’s bathroom sink was blocked.  Mine was, well, slow.  We tried the usual home remedies, but none were working.  Time to call a plumber.

This is a basic service but, for me, proved to be a good opportunity to test out marketing and business best practices first hand.  Vivian took responsibility to solve the problem — she had the blocked sink, after all.

She remembered the last plumbers in our house. The last one, who worked as a sub-contractor for the general contractor handling our kitchen renovation, didn’t leave her either negatively or positively impressed.  In any case, this guy didn’t seem to think much about marketeting or building any sort of direct relationship to the consumer.  (This may have been rational; he may have been fully booked as a sub on larger projects.)

The previous contractor, who unclogged my sink, left Vivian with a decidedly negative perception.  The guy fixed the problem okay, but left a mess behind.  She didn’t much like his attitude or appearance, though, in fairness, he did the job properly.

So, now it is clean sailing for someone new to arrive on the scene and win our business.  (This is important) — Vivian, thinking about the need for plumbing contractors, started “noticing” trucks out there offering plumbing services.  She saw one that “looked good” but when she called, the contractor seemed uncertain about the time of appointment and something just didn’t ring right in his attitude.  Then she saw one of DS Plumbing‘s trucks.

Now, I stood back from the selection process.  I’m not sure exactly how she checked the company out, but imagine she went to the website.  After the work had been completed, she remarked that the initial phone conversation was friendly, effective and trust-inducing.

Geoff Compton

Plumber Geoff Compton with the StraightForward Pricing (TM) booklet

Plumber Geoff Compton showed up at our house, a bit early (this can be a minus, in some circumstances) with high school co-op student Conor McLean.  Some powerful first impressions.  They were neatly dressed in not-to-overwhelming “uniforms”.  Then Compton, on entering the house, put his hand to our dog’s nose and gave her a warm greeting.  Both McLean and Compton quickly removed their shoes and put on slippers they had brought from the truck.  No risk of messing the upstairs carpet with dirty work boots, here.

Within minutes, Compton had assessed the problem, inviting questions and observations about possible additional work (planned future renovations, leaking water in the toilets, etc.) form my wife, showing her the fixed prices for various services with a prepared booklet (which is backed up by the invoice and the trademarked StraightForward Pricing system.)

I took a few pictures, identifying myself as a publisher and blogger, as the work proceeded.  Compton said DS Plumbing is a member of PSI (Plumbers Success International) and he has been to St. Louis for training.

Hmm.  What can we learn about PSI?  The PSI website includes a diversity of intriguing resources and marketing materials, but doesn’t go into the service’s costs.  Instead, plumbers are invited to register to attend a free Success Day (also trademarked).  PSI is part of  Success Group International, which offers similar support resources for a diversity of other residential trades.

Fair enough.  I checked on the internet for PSI and quickly arrived at PlumbingZone.com, where I could read a 15-page long thread about PSI.  Reviews are definitely mixed.  Some plumbers who use the service say, indeed, it saved their business and allowed them to grow and thrive.  Others describe less-than-warm experiences, suggesting that PSI trains plumbing contractors in selling techniques that verge on the unethical and the program costs are so high that plumbers need to set unreasonably high retail prices to stay in business.  (I saw none of that sort of behaviour when the Ottawa DS Plumbing representatives were in our home.)  The biggest (and potentially most valid) complaint:  For the start-up costs, monthly fees and add-on costs, you are really increasing your business overhead, for systems you could introduce yourself at much lower cost.

In the end, any business training or management system is only as “good” as three key elements: The system owner’s management, the competence and character of the people implementing the system and the willingness of particpants to suspend disbelief and go with the flow — in other words, to follow the system and not change things unilaterally.

I’m sure the “best practices” for appearance and in-home behaviour provided by PSI could easily be emulated by reading relevant forums and resources here.  You might be able to obtain the training and support for various aspects of your business.  If you are interested in some free marketing and business management resources, you can read my earlier blog posting about Leonard Meglolia’s Bestline Plumbing in Los Angeles — and download his operating manual from my website at no charge.

Right now, however, I’d say that PSI and DS Plumbing have scored quite well from our own family’s experience.  When the plumbers left, we felt we had been treated fairly, paid the appropriate price and would consider using the business for more substantial projects.  And our family isn’t typical, after all.  We’re skeptics about BS and, while I enjoy traveling first or business class, I never actually pay anywhere more than the basic economy fare for the travel.  My sense is that PSI may be especially useful if you are struggling, and you feel the cost is high.  If you decide to go for the program, because you’ll be sensitive to the actual investment, you’ll follow the guidelines and do what you are told to do — and you will probably succeed as a result.  At some point, you might elect to break free and leave the system.

 

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