Monday, December 27, 2010

Are you ready to drop the ball for 2011?

It’s that time of year again with crowds in Times Square, Dick Clark (or his protégé) rocking New Year’s Eve, and the crystal ball dropping and ushering in the New Year. The dropping of the ball represents the move from the old into the new, the dying hopes to the new hopes, the aged thinking and ideas into the new and bright ideas. But wait a minute!

Haven’t we had 30, 40, 50, or more New Years to bring on the new, the bright, the exciting, and the change? I have had 63 of them. But I don’t remember all of them since I was a child for a number of those (my wife would say too many of them). I didn’t care when I was a teen or a young adult. I may have celebrated too much at a couple of them, but I have had 63 of them.

So many of us have had the real New Year’s Eve experience, we have dropped the ball. We have dropped the ball on making the changes that would make us better, healthier, nicer people. We didn’t quit smoking like we said we would, we didn’t lose weight like we said we would, we didn’t work hard to change ourselves into better people. We dropped the ball.

We dropped the ball when it came to our families. We were going to spend more time with the kids, we were going to have regular date nights with our wife, we were going to mend fences with our brother, and we were going to call Mom and Dad regularly. We dropped the ball here too.

The same goes in our businesses. We are going to follow a budget, we are going to work on our business not in our business, we were going to improve Customer Service, we were going to improve our website, we were going to pursue new business lines, we were going to clean-up the warehouse, we were going to make a budget and track our results. None of it got done. We dropped the ball again.

Well the Lord has blessed us with another New Year to celebrate and make changes that will affect us in such positive ways that we can’t even imagine. Try to think what it would be like if you were healthier, if you spent more special time with your wife and kids, or if your business became profitable (or more profitable). It’s really hard to do, but I assure you it can be done. A few dedicated people do it every year. The answer may be as simple as writing your goals down for 2011 and thinking about them constantly. Keep reminders everywhere, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the dashboard of the car, on a 3x5 card in your shirt pocket, on your IPhone or Blackberry in a spot you see often. Don’t ever give up! You can do what you pursue! Go get your new life in 2011!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are You Too Blessed?

I recently talked with a friend who has started to help out at a church that assists homeless people. I asked her what she knew about the people that came seeking help. She told me about one gentleman that her husband had met and spent some time talking with. The gentleman had lost his high paying job about three years ago. He searched for a new job. He then lost his house, car, and most everything he owned. But that's not the worse part, his wife left him with their two children and disappeared from his life. He didn't have a minimum wage job but has a college degree and had a good paying job. He had a nice 4 bedroom home in the suburbs, he was living the American Dream as many of us are doing.
I then asked her what they do for these homeless people. She told me they give them the basics of food, clothing, wash their clothes for them, provide showers, provide things like toothpaste and other basic human needs. But the thing that seems to mean the most to these less fortunate individuals, is the time the volunteers give to talk with them, do basics for them like washing their clothes or providing a warm shower.
I expect you are saying, "Another sad story, oh well." Could you share some of the blessing the Lord has provided to you? "But Dan, the kids want, the kids want, the kids want!" Sure they want and you can provide them with at least some of their wishes this Christmas season, but you could also teach them the joy and satisfaction of helping people close to home in need.
Yesterday I heard on the radio that the Detroit Salvation Army was significantly behind on donations as many of the charity organizations are today. Could you cut back on the gifts a bit and donate to the Salvation Army, Gleaners Food Bank, your church's local outreach, or directly to a homeless shelter close to your home. You could also volunteer to work at one of these facilities. You could contact one of them and offer you plumbing, heating or electrical services to someone desperately in need. You may have other skills you could provide. You could adopt a family for the holidays. You could get your whole family involved.
If you were to do one or more of these, perhaps the I want, I want, I want would change to the I am truly blessed, I am truly blessed, I am truly blessed!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mystery of the Toilet

Our daughter, Melissa and Son-in-law, Kevin recently moved into their new home near Orlando. The house is about 3 years old and was a short sale. The previous owners moved out about a month before Melissa and Kevin closed and moved in. It is a larger home since they have 4 children and need some space of everyone.
Lynn and I are in Florida for the fall months. Since we could not move into the home we are staying in for several days, we bunked in with Melissa and Kevin and the 4 grandchildren. I noticed that the toilet in the main bath did not flush properly. Of course being a plumber that was not something that could go unfixed! And as a guy who likes tools and working with my hands, I brought my trusty tool bag properly outfitted with us to Florida. I was fairly certain that one of the grandkids or a child of the previous owner had dropped something into the toilet that should not have been deposited there.
It was Monday morning and the two grandsons left for school thus removing some of the chaos of four kids wanting to know what Grandpa is doing. The toilet was a builder’s model but the other similar toilets in the house flushed well so I was sure I would find a comb, a toy, a jar lid, or some other item in the trap-way of the toilet. I did not have a toilet auger with me (they don’t fit well in a tool bag), so I removed the tank from the toilet and pulled the bowl.
This is where it gets interesting and my point of the story. I gently place the bowl into the bathtub on a rubber mat so I can check the closet bend for the “object”. There is no “object” but there is standing water at the bottom of the closet bend. I immediately thought that the “object” has gotten lodged in the lateral piping from the closet bend to the stack. I stopped and unfroze my brain and evaluated the issue. The trap-way is the smallest diameter of the water and waste pathway so an “object” logically would not make it into the lateral without continuing on its path through the system. My next thought was some sort of construction debris, a rag, a chunk of a 2x4 or something similar was the culprit. But then my brain got into gear and said to me that it would not just be a slow partial flush as the toilet was operating, but a total blockage and a potential overflow of the toilet, which did not occur. Also the water remained in the lateral at the bottom of the closet bend even after several minutes. Being a well-trained Master Plumber for over 35 years, I remembered the basics of plumbing. Hot is on the left, “stuff” flows downhill and payday is Friday. The lateral must be going uphill!
I removed the screws holding the closet flange to the floor and tried to pry up the piping. If it didn’t work, I would need to open the living room ceiling to make a repair and that was not my first choice of solutions. Slowly the PVC closet riser came up but the water was not leaving. I decided that I would continue to pry it up since there was not much to lose. If the line broke or a joint broke that wouldn’t be an issue since I would need to open the ceiling for a repair anyway. The pipe kept coming up. The water began to drain. I continued to pry it up. At four and ½ inches, the water finally drained out completely. Having cleared hundreds of plugged or partially plugged toilets over the years, I had never seen this problem before.
What do I do now? Thinking about the alternatives of opening the ceiling to provide support for the lateral or just cut the riser down and glue a new flange on to the riser to support the lateral, I decided to just depend on the closet flange to hold up the piping. Not the way I would do it if I have access to the lateral piping, but with a substantial gluing surface on the flange I used, I was counting on the flange glue joint to support the piping. With everything put back together, the toilet now flushes perfectly for a builder’s model.
But how did this happen? The installing plumber didn’t support the lateral properly and the finish plumber didn’t test flush the toilet to assure that it was working properly. Perhaps a carpenter or the tile man pushed down the riser and broke the hangers. In any event, the details of a job are as important as the core task of the job. Be sure to remind your technicians of the importance of details especially testing of the finished job whether plumbing, HVAC, or electrical. They too may find a unique problem!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lazy Hazy Days of………

Perhaps you remember the song lyrics,
“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer..” by Nat King Cole. I heard the song the other day and it brought some thoughts to mind.

Well, “the lazy hazy days of summer” are not what I was thinking about! I’m referring to the typical days of a contractor. Day in and day out they are too lazy to do what needs to be done to fix their business. Or it’s as if they have a haze around them and can’t see the issues that need addressing. In either case they let the days slip by without maximizing the income and profit they deserve for the efforts they put into their business. It becomes frustrating to a consultant when you pass along information that will make a substantial difference in the top line or the bottom line of a business and the owner or manager is too lazy or hazy to implement the change. I see it very often with contractors and as a very strong advocate for business owners and managers, it is so disappointing. The changes would make their life easier, or more fun, or more profitable, or protect their business, yet they remain in their lazy hazy mode. It appears to be an epidemic in the contracting business.

Recently, an old friend in the contracting business closed up shop. I had always admired him for the niche market he had carved out in the plumbing business. But he refused to move with the times, prospect for new customers, or add services to attract new customers and have additional sales to existing accounts. There was nothing to sell at the end except a small building and then bankrupt the business. There was nothing to pass to the next generations, nothing for retirement, and nothing to give to his favorite charity. He is not a pauper but his decisions left hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars lost. I have several other friends in the contracting business moving towards the same situation. What a shame after decades of struggling, sacrificing, and under-compensating themselves, they will not be able to enjoy a successful retirement in a few years.

I have been a member of associations, groups, been to hundreds of seminars and saw and still see the same thing happening to so many contractors. The epidemic has shown up everywhere.

Now some do have issues beyond their control that affect the profitability of their business. These can include health issues, accidents, unscrupulous owners or general contractors, theft, and family problems. Some of the results cannot be overcome but once again I have seen the lazy hazy contractor letting the situation control them.

Are you caught up in the lazy hazy days of business? You probably know exactly what you need to do to make your business a success. DO IT! If you don’t know what to do to make your business a success, then find a consultant to help you. Only do this if you truly are willing to change.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

No-See-Ums on your P&L?

No-see-ums are tiny insects that are a bother in the South including the Caribbean. They are so small that they can go right through screen. They bite like a mosquito with the bite welting up into an itchy red spot. You can get dozens of them without even knowing it until the itch comes hours later. Often their bite is more annoying that the mosquito’s bite.
The same thing is happening on many of my clients P&L statements. They were smart and developed a budget before the year began. They break it down into monthly budgets and even weekly budgets and monitor them against actual sales and expenses. They are getting bit by almost invisible expenses from a variety of sources thus reducing their profits. “What are you talking about Dan?” Let me explain.
Since all of my clients are on Menu Pricing, they quote a complete price to their customers. A water heater replacement is quoted including all expenses needed for a complete to code installation. This would include materials, labor, warranty, taxes, and permits. What they are finding is the fees for permits and licensing are increasing as a way for cities, counties, and states to increase income. The taxes for use and sales tax are increasing, and the suppliers are increasing fees for deliveries, returns, and warranty handling charges. Disposal fees of the trash from the job continue to increase. You have these tiny costs and cost increases biting into your profits. These costs were not planned on when they developed their budgets.
Additional “No-See-Ums” include federal, state and local business taxes, business annual inspections, increases in unemployment taxes, base rates add-ons to your utility bills, waste and water bills. Unfunded mandates from the federal government and state governments trickle down to the local level where you are taxes, assessed, fined or charged to cover the costs. Of course the banks continue to increased charges for credit card processing and other services.
Other “No-See-Ums” include additional fees for your vehicles including higher license plate costs, higher tire and oil disposal fees, higher tolls, stricter traffic enforcement (traffic tickets), and stricter D.O.T. enforcement (truck inspections).
I’m sure there are many others I have missed in putting this blog together. It is vitally important as a company to earn a profit to stay in business. Watching the little things on the P&L as well as the big things can help in achieving the profits you planned for when you developed your budget. Break down your expenses into reasonable categories so you can quickly monitor changes from the “No-See-Ums”.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Only People that Lose Baggage are Airline Employees

With 30 plus years in the plumbing and HVAC business, I think I made just about every mistake one could make in hiring new employees. I hired family members, I hired people back after they left for a small raise, I hired without checking references, I hired without the new hire having a drug test and physical, I hired without checking driving records, I hired applicants with poor skills and training. These were some of the most obvious and repeated mistakes I made. There were others, I just erase them from memory to feel better about my hiring skills back then. I have coached dozens of owners through the years who have made the same mistakes and often for the same reasons. Let’s look at some of those reasons.
“I really need someone right now!” How often I have heard this and how often I said this. Without planning and continual recruiting, a contractor puts himself (or herself) in a difficult situation when the season rolls around, the big job comes in, the economy improves, the weather, Joe just injured himself and will be out for several weeks or months, or Tom just quit. Without an immediate list of potential qualified, baggage free candidates, we have little choice, at least that’s what we think, than to place an ad and select from the first few who apply. Occasionally we even get lucky and stumble across a qualified baggage free applicant to hire. More often, we hired someone with baggage, but we selected the one with just two carry-on pieces. The other thing we do is hire someone who keeps calling looking for a job without investigating the entire market of available people. We do this because it’s easy. We probably know the person from somewhere and even know the baggage the carry but it’s quick and easy just to hire them. Here comes two carry-ons, two large suitcases, and two steamer trunks with them.
“He (she) will change once he (she) is working for our company.” Sure they will change or you will change them. A large portion of the fifty percent of marriages that fail are because one thought the other would change or they could change them. That usually does not happen. Most people can’t stop smoking without help from a doctor, a hypnotist, or a drug. Yet we, as contractors, think we are going to change a habit that a person has had for years or maybe their entire life because we are so smart. Face the fact, it is very unlikely that this will happen. Your energy is better placed on taking care of your customers and your business.
We make the mistake of not recognizing or acknowledging the baggage. Baggage can come in many forms. It could be job hopping. It could be anger. It could be drugs or alcohol. It could be a sense of entitlement. It could be sloppiness. It could be poor work habits or lack of skill. Of course there are others, but the point I want to make is that it is so very important to carefully and skillfully hire the very best candidates you can find with careful searching. Evaluate the baggage that a candidate is bringing to your company and how that could affect your company. Remember, “Airline employees are the only ones that lose baggage.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Believer or Follower?

We are babysitting our grandchildren in the Orlando area this week. Our Daughter and Son-In-Law are both out of town so we have the opportunity to enjoy and spoil the Grandchildren. There are four of them, all under the age of 7 and keep Grandma and Grandpa going from sun up to sunset. We were able to take them to church on Sunday. They go to classes and we have an hour or so to relax and enjoy the message and worship. Often I catch an idea from the message that carries over to the business world. And that was what happened this Sunday.
The pastor asked if we were a believer in Jesus or a follower. It immediately struck me that this applies to business in a little different way but still as an important point. Are you a believer in the basic principle of business and management or are you a true follower of those principles?
Let me give you a couple of examples. Do you believe your company should make a profit? Or, do you believe your employees should be accountable for their actions and produce a profit for your company? Do you believe a contractor is as valuable to society (customers) as a doctor or a lawyer? Do you believe in providing the customer with “first class” service?
I am quite confident that you believe in at least three of these examples. I find many contractors don’t believe in their own value to society (customers). I work with contractors and techs to help them realize their value to the health, comfort, and well being of society (customers). The other three are areas almost every contractor I have ever met, believe, but that’s where it ends. They believe but they do not follow. What does that mean? There is a huge difference. You can believe in these fundamentals but the real question is do you follow those fundamentals daily in your business? A follower is one who constantly is working at improving these fundamentals. They have a plan and goals. They have check points along the journey to measure their progress. They don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the little meaningless things of the day. They focus on the issues that make their company profitable, sustainable, and customer directed in every area of the presentation to the customer.
Are you a believer or a follower?