Complacency – Are Contractors Slowly Putting Themselves Out of Business?

It is a fact that our brains are pre-programmed to spend more time focusing on negative memories, thoughts and outcomes rather than positive memories and new ideas. Our basic need for self-preservation causes us to focus much more on what can go wrong rather than what can get better. Our thoughts are constantly analyzing and planning a course of action to defend and protect ourselves from danger, loss and injury. At the bottom of the “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid, which is our need to protect and preserve our physiological self. Staying free from harm, having food and necessities for survival. Because of this simply natural response to preserve ourselves first, our brain has a tendency to spend more emphasis and thought on what can go wrong rather that how things can change or adjust to be better at what we do or to improve things for the future.

This “Fear of failure” or “Unwillingness to change” is slowly eating away at the potential continued success of not only contracting businesses, but multitudes of organizations who had at one time been leaders in their field of expertise. Look at the Blackberry for example. There was a time when the Blackberry was the standard of all portable business communication. In 1996 the first hand-held interactive pager that allows the user to send and receive text messages was introduced. By 2002 the first true Blackberry device was introduced that had the ability to also make phone calls. One year later in 2003, they introduced the Blackberry 7230 which changed the world with web browsing capability. The only true competition was Nokia who had gained a larger percentage of the smart phone market. There was a short period of time when these two were the only players in the market. Until June of 2007 when Apple released the first I-phone. The significant difference? The touchscreen. The touchscreen quickly became the industry acceptable standard. About a year later the first Android phone, with a touchscreen, the T-Mobile G1 went on sale. By this time the Blackberry had lost most of its market share and tried various attempts at competing with Apple and Android devices. But it was too late. There was very limited interest in any of their products.

When Apple introduced the first I-phone, the folks at Blackberry laughed it off and never considered the I-phone as a legitimate competitor and something that would never takeoff or sell. Besides, everyone wants a Blackberry. It is almost like a status symbol. How wrong they were. Consumers are the ones who dictate what sells or doesn’t sell. When it comes to loyalty, people will be loyal to whomever provides the best for their particular needs. Unfortunately, the dedicated users of Blackberry products could not wait for their product to catch up with technology.

I see many contractors every year at workshops, conventions and various classes where I may be speaking. During my presentations, I usually present several easy to implement ideas that would make a positive difference in the way they do business or lead team members. I would guess that less than 5% go back to their shops or offices and actually implement anything learned.

I recently spoke at a trade conference in Las Vegas with a business associate who was basically offering a service to a group of contractors and basically guaranteed that they will double their money back in less than 90 days or they would get all of their money back. This pricing system was the best I had ever seen and to me made total sense to at least try, especially since most of the work was going to be done by the vendor, besides if it didn’t work, the contractor would get all of his or her money back. To me this seemed like a no brainer. Yet, to my surprise less than a third were actually interested in getting involved or hearing more. I believe, just like any person, in any business anywhere, people just fear change. In fact, people fear change so much that they would be more than happy to continue doing things in a totally dysfunctional way, simply because it has become comfortable to do so. The problem is that we may be fearing change so much that we will wind up sitting idle while change is happening around us, making us irrelevant.

I refer to a business owner who allows the business to operate with dysfunctional systems, methods and processes, as someone who is driving with a flat tire. They know it is flat, they can tell it is flat because it is difficult to drive, yet they are unwilling to do anything about it to improve the situation. The world around us is changing. Customer buying and decision-making processes are not like they used to be. Contractors need to wake up and realize that their future is at stake. There is a strong possibility that the neighborhood plumber, HVAC service company or electrician may go the way of the local bakery or butcher shop simply because we have become complacent in how we run our businesses and unwilling to focus on our core skills and unique contributions that no one else has the ability to offer. We are just getting by and going along for the ride, hoping to make a good living.

There are several online national organizations that will answer servicing problems over the phone or internet chat, arrange for a local service provider and even ship complete HVAC systems directly to the consumer and arrange for an installer to put it in. All of this at a price much lower than the local HVAC company can do it for to even break even. So how do we even compete, you may ask? One of the best things local contractors have that no online store or national sales group has. . . The ability to troubleshoot, diagnose and repair. The core skills of any contracting business, is having the knowledge, experience and interpersonal skills to repair something and communicate effectively in person with a customer and build a real relationship with them. Unfortunately, many contractors have decided they will simply become a product sales organization, because that is what they have learned from their distributors, manufacturers and even other organizations. This continued emphasis on mainly selling new products, rather than servicing is eliminating the need for those with good technical troubleshooting skills. Why fix it when you can replace. My fear is that the need for a residential HVAC service company may go the way of the appliance and television service technician. Why fix it, when we can just buy a new one? Who needs technicians with technical skills when you can have trained, commission driven salesman. Is that where we are? Is that the future of all residential service? There are options, there is a better way to run your business. Stay tuned . . .

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