Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gentlemen, This is a Pipe Wrench

At the start of each season, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi would call a team meeting, hold up a football and declare, "Gentlemen, this is a football." Lombardi focused on the fundamentals, on blocking and tackling. So should you.
Revisiting the fundamentals is a necessary part of any business. It seems especially necessary for plumbing contractors. Most plumbers advanced through their skill at turning a wrench. However, once they hang out their own shingle, they advance by their skill at turning a profit. The skill sets are different and many allow their companies to backslide into bad habits over time, thus, the need for blocking and tackling.
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself about your fundamentals:

Read more at Contractor Magazine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Technology for the Aging

The following article by Matt Michel was published in Southern PHC Magazine...

The number of senior citizens will double over the next 25 years, which means opportunities for the contractors who cater to their needs. Here are ten products you should add to your portfolio.

1. Grab Bars

While it’s the lowest of technology, it’s an essential aid as people age. Every senior should have grab bars inside showers and on walls above tubs.

2. Bathtub Safety Handles

Safety handles fit over the side of a tub to provide something secure to grab when entering or leaving a tub. Typically, these are clamped to the tub wall and not permanently installed.

3. Walk-In Tubs

If the senior is unsure about stepping over the side of the tub, even with a safety handle, a walk-in tub may represent a good solution.

4. Mixing Valves

Seniors and small children are the most susceptible to scalding from hot water. Installing a mixing valve at the water heater is the optimum solution to reducing the risk of scalding by holding the temperature of hot water delivered to the taps at 120 degrees.

5. Hand-Held Shower Spray

Many seniors sit to shower, making hand-held shower sprays much better than standard showers.

6. Elevated Toilet Seats

Seniors can have a difficult time getting up from a toilet. Elevated seats are small risers that raise the sitting height. Many include arms for seniors to grab on to when standing from a sitting position. There are also platforms that can be placed under the toilet, raising it several inches. Some consider these unobtrusive platforms more aesthetically pleasing.

7. Toilet Hand Rails

If no problems are present with the seat height seniors may still need hand rails. These are typically attached under the toilet seat.

8. Large Screen, Simple Digital Thermostats

As people age, vision declines. Backlit digital thermostats with large readouts and simple operation are easier for seniors to operate.

9. Air Cleaners

Not only can seniors benefit from the better filtration of electronic air cleaners or pleated media filters, but the reduced frequency of cleaning and/or replacement give seniors one less thing to bother with. This is especially important for attic and crawlspace installations.

10. Carbon Monoxide Detectors

As with scalding, seniors are more sensitive to carbon monoxide than the general population. This makes the presence of carbon monoxide detectors critical.

Selling to Seniors

Most seniors will be reluctant to admit they might need the aid of disability products. Ironically, they will be quick to suggest these are the exact products needed by friends of theirs. Don’t even hint to a senior that he needs a grab bar even if it’s obvious he does. Instead, suggest that he might want one installed for his wife. Or say that while he might not need it yet, it would probably give his children peace of mind to know he’s taking precautions. Often, seniors take action out of concern for a spouse or children.

Marketing to Seniors

Put together one to two page flyers displaying the products (and remember, use large print). Mail these to seniors you’ve identified in your database and distribute them on service calls. Pass them out at home and garden shows. Talk about home safety at service clubs and networking groups. Mail the flyer to your entire database before the holidays, noting that these can be the perfect gifts for the parent who is impossible to buy for.

As people age, they begin to recognize everyday tasks are more difficult. Yet, they tend to be unaware of the many solutions available to help. Merely making them aware will result in more sales. Sometimes the simplest technology can be the most profitable.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good News: We Won't Run Out of Oil

There's a lot of demogoging surrounding the great gulf oil leak.  Listening to some of the recent speeches, one might conclude that we're about to run out of oil.  Hardly.

In a year old article, Jim Ostroff with the Kiplinger Letter identified America's untapped oil bounty.  He wrote:
The U.S. is sitting on the world's largest, untapped oil reserves -- reservoirs which energy experts know exist, but which have not yet been tapped and may not be attainable with current technology. In fact, such untapped reserves are estimated at about 2.3 trillion barrels, nearly three times more than the reserves held by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nations and sufficient to meet 300 years of demand -- at today's levels -- for auto, truck, aircraft, heating and industrial fuel, without importing a single barrel of oil.
So why not "drill, baby, drill?"  Ostroff says, "Those untapped reserves are located in places that either Uncle Sam has put off-limits for environmental reasons or are too costly to get -- or a combination of both."

And since this article was written, we've made even more finds. 

Rather than flog the oil industry over an accident, we would be better served to promote oil extraction R&D and free up land and close-in coastal areas for safe extraction.  Economically, this could lead to a boom.  Our trade deficit would close.  We wouldn't need to sell debt to foreign powers who are hardly our friends.  The geopolitical importance of the Middle East would lessen.

Our current energy and economic policies are the definition of insanity.

Click to read the Kiplinger article in full.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Impact of Awareness

It’s killing your sales. In fact it may be the single greatest barrier to the growth of your company. It’s prospect and customer ignorance about the products and services you offer.

Read more at Contracting Business.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Laurel & Hardy, Plumbers

We've got a slab leak in our house.  It's not the first time.  I wrote about the first slab leak, repaired under warranty in the PHC Profit Report and entered the article in a national contest by Terry Love about the worst consumer plumbing experience.  It won first place.  While I have much higher expectations from the Service Roundtable member (the staff rotates our plumbing calls among local plumbing members), when my wife texted me, "Giant hole in floor full of muddy water," I couldn't help but remember Laurel and Hardy.  It follows...

We had a slab leak in our house, while still under warranty. The builder sent technicians from the installing plumber to take care of the problem. The good news is that they seemed to be technically competent to handle the plumbing. As far as the rest…

The leak was located under the slab in the master bedroom closet. I pointed out the general area where I thought the leak was and not wanting to be a pest, I left them to do their job. I was reading in the living room when the first plumber (Call him Laurel) came out and asked, "How do you unlock the closet door?"

"Well," I said, "You don't because there's no lock on the door."

"Oh," said Laurel and disappeared.

I sat for a minute then decided I better check and see what was going on. I went to the master bath room and heard the other plumber (call him, Hardy) exclaim, "Ouch, that hurts" from behind the closet door.

"Watch it," said Laurel, "that's a sharp knife."

"I just figured that out," muttered Hardy.

I asked, "Is something the matter?"

"He's locked himself in," said Laurel.

"I can't see what I'm doing," said Hardy.

No light was coming from under the door, so I suggested, "Try the light switch. It's on the right, next to the door."

Light poured out of the bottom of the door. "Hey, that's a lot better."

"He's trying to take the door handle off," explained Laurel, "It's the only way he can get out."

Remembering the comment about the knife, I asked, "Do you want a screwdriver?"

Laurel just looked at me, like the concept of a screwdriver to remove a screw was foreign to him. Then again, maybe it was.

I went to get a screwdriver, but by the time I got back, Hardy managed to get the door handle off. He was standing there holding the knife in one hand and wiping blood on his shirt with the other. I left the room to keep from laughing.

A few minutes later, I revisited the scene. Laurel was busy trying to reassemble the door handle. He couldn't quite figure out how to do it, so he left it hanging halfway on the door (it only took me five minutes to fix it after they left).

Since Laurel couldn't get the door handle back on, he was afraid he or Hardy might lock themselves in again (even though the door doesn't lock, never had before, and never has since). Laurel decided to tape the door's bolt open (apparently it never occurred to them to simply leave the door open). All he must have had was some kind of super tacky black duct tape because he covered the door with it. Once applied, parts of it never came off. There are still black marks around the door handle that won't come off. Eventually, I'm going to have to repaint the door.

Laurel located the leak. Trying to be conscientious, he carefully moved the refrigerator back from the wall in the kitchen and took everything off the top. "These might come off when we jackhammer," he said.

I appreciated his thoroughness. However, the refrigerator was fifteen feet away from the leak. Laurel failed to move my wife's treasured breakables that were placed around the master bathtub, around five feet from the leak. Of course, once Laurel started jackhammering, the breakables broke.

Laurel finished the jackhammering and located the leak. He then declared he had to run to the supply house, but that Hardy was staying. A few minutes later Hardy came out and asked for a cup. I thought he was thirsty, so I have him one, filled with ice water. He looked at me like I was strange and disappeared back into the bedroom. I went back to my book in the living room.

A few minutes after that, Hardy came walking out the front door carrying a bucket. He repeated the process a few minutes later and again, a few minutes after that.

Curiosity got the better of me and I went to the closet. Hardy was on the floor over the slab leak using the cup I gave him to scoop water from the hole in the slab and fill the bucket. He was using one hand to scoop the water while he held the other, cut hand, in the air so that he didn't get it dirty (or dirtier). The water was gradually rising in the hole.

"Don't you have a pump?" I asked.

"Pump?" Hardy looked befuddled.

I had to leave to keep from laughing.

After a while (i.e., enough of Hardy's bucket trips that I lost count), Laurel returned. They eventually got the water under control, though the cup was ruined in the process.

Laurel came out to tell me someone from the shop was coming by to pick up Hardy for another job, since he wasn't needed to finish up. I decided to run some errands and told Laurel I was going to Lowe's.

"Could you pick up some rebar?" he asked, "I forgot it."

About the time I returned with Laurel's rebar, the mini-pickup from the shop showed up for Hardy. The truck had been hit somewhere down the line. One rear quarter panel was pushed in so far that the top of the tire was exposed. The bumper was bent straight up over the tailgate, then forward, then sideways, then down, in a pretzel configuration that looked more like a preformed radiator hose than something done to heavy gauge steel. By now, this was the type of vehicle I'd come to expect from these guys. My wife and I call their installation truck, the Exxon Valdez, since it's as big as a tanker and leaves an oil slick everywhere it goes.

Laurel eventually finished. He didn't clean up, though he did move the refrigerator back. He left to door handle hanging partially assembled, with back tape holding the bolt. He never offered to replace the cup or pay for the rebar (remember, this was warranty work). Fortunately, he did get the slab leak fixed.

While this sounds like a funny plumber story, it's really a scary one. Later, when the builder was asking about the repair, he mentioned that the plumbing contractor had sent their best crew to our house. Now that's scary.

The Problem with Codes

If you've ever scratched your head about some of the more inane aspects of building codes and energy standards, the following article from the Ludwig von Mises Institute is an excellent article to read.

The problem with codes and regulations is everything gets treated like a nail by the regulatory hammer. This is why consumers living in northern parts of the U.S. who run their air conditioning a few hundred hours a year are required to buy air conditioners so efficient, they'll never pay off (and create dehumidification problems at the same time). It's consumers living in areas without water shortages are forced to buy toilets designed for areas with scarce water. It's why we're about to lose the incandescent light bulb.

Read the article here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fred The Truck

Contracting Business will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the following transcript.
VOICE: Hey Matt!
ME: What? Hey, who’s talking?

ME: Who are you?

VOICE: Your truck.

ME: My truck?

TRUCK: Yeah, your truck. And I’ve got some things to tell you.

Read the rest at Contracting Business.