Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mobile Apps I Depend Upon

A few years ago, we didn’t know what they were.  Now, we can’t live without them. Without what?  Apps.  The mobile apps we use on our smart phones and tablet computers.

Here are a few of the apps I’m finding I use a lot…

Planner Plus

One of the greatest handheld tools of all time was the Franklin Covey version of the Palm.   The friggin’ Palm.  That’s practically caveman technology.  And yet, it’s a better organizer than anything available today despite the presence of awesome digital tools like iPads and Androids (I’ve got each). 

Why doesn’t Franklin Covey have an app?  I don’t know.  All I know is I like their system, but don’t want to carry around a paper planner. 

I’ve tried a lot of planning apps.  The best is Planner Plus.  I consider it the best because it’s the closest I’ve found to Franklin Covey.  Tasks can be prioritized A, B, or C, and then a number.  There’s a calendar and daily note function.  There is a free version, but I purchased the paid one.


Dropbox is cloud storage, mirroring designated folders on your computer.  It’s a great real time back up of your data.  It also is accessible by your phone and tablet.  It’s one of the few really simple ways to move files from your computer to an iPad.

Dropbox is great for collaborations.  Share a folder with other people through Dropbox and any change is automatically updated on everyone’s computer.

There are several alternatives to Dropbox.  These include Microsoft’s SkyDrive (currently offering the most free storage), Box, and Google Drive.  All of these have free versions and paid versions.


The best Microsoft Office substitute for a tablet is CloudOn.  It syncs with your cloud storage so you can access any file in, say, Dropbox.  Even better, it opens in a Microsoft Office type environment for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents.  Now, with a tablet, I truly can access the files I need.  Incredibly, CloudOn is free.


The best mileage app I’ve found is MileBug.  It’s got features I don’t use.  I just like being able to record business miles on my phone rather than a paper log.  The free version is limited to just a few entries.  If you like it, it’s worth spending a couple of bucks.

Social Media

Every social media product has an app for phones and tablets.  I use them all, though Facebook is clunky.  I actually prefer Linked In’s app interface or its website.  All are free.


One of the best music apps is Pandora.  Enter a song or album you like and it will play it and select similar music to stream.  It’s great for the gym.  Pandora is free.

I Heart Radio

This is another entertainment app.  It allows you to select radio stations from all over the country and stream them like they are local.  I find it a great way to keep up with sports talk during college football season (Dallas’ leading sports station talks about everything but sports).


My go to app for locating a restaurant is Urbanspoon.  It’s got the most restaurants and generally good recommendations.  It’s a great app for business travel.


iBooks is the Apple ebook reader.  I prefer it over other because of the interface.  Hey, I like turning pages.  I also use the Nook reader, if only because it’s an easy way to grab the free ebooks that Barnes & Noble continually offers.


Another entertainment app is Annoy-a-Teen.  This app plays sounds at a frequency beyond the range of hearing for most people over age 30, but well within the auditory range of teenagers.  It drives them insane, which can be highly amusing if they’re taking up all of the seating at a Starbucks (or they happen to be related to you).

HVAC Marketing Toolbox

Okay, I don’t actually use this app, but that’s because I put the content together that powers it.  Hit the spinner and a marketing idea pops up.  Though it’s oriented toward HVAC, it actually will work for any service business.

What Do You Use?

Of course, there are dozens of other apps I use.  These are my go to apps.  What about you?  What apps do you like?  Email me your list of favorites.

© 2013 Matt Michel

Friday, February 1, 2013

Marketing With an AK-47

A few months ago, an AK-47 rifle sold for $600 or so.  Today, they bring triple the price… IF you can find one.  AK-47s are hot, hot, hot!


Last week I was in Cabela’s at the gun counter.  Gun guy was talking with Cabela’s Guy. 

“You can’t believe all these people buying ARs,” said gun guy.

“Sure I can,” replied Cabela’s guy.

“They don’t even know how to break ‘em down.  They can’t clean ‘em.  They just bought ‘em ‘cause they think they aren’t gonna be able to get ‘em.”

And that, in a nutshell, is it.  Tell people they can’t get something and they want it.  If they didn’t want it before, they want it now.  They REALLY want it now.

The sales term for this is, “the takeaway.”

We want what we can’t have.  Offer us something, take it away, and we want it all the more.

Entire businesses have been built on the takeaway.  Perhaps the single best known direct mail letter in the HVAC industry is John Young’s “winter replacement letter.”  The letter stressed that a limited number of products were available at a special price, spurring consumers to act before they were gone.  This was an example of the takeaway.

How can you use a takeaway in your business?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Difference Makers

Every industry has people who made a difference, who nudged the industry, altering the course, and changing things for those who follow.  Often, those who benefit from the difference makers are unaware of their contributions.  At the Service Roundtable we assembled a list of 25 difference makers in plumbing and HVAC.  Two parts of this list were previously published, the not the final group.  Here, the entire list is included.  You may not like our list.  You may not like everyone on our list.  If so, tell me who else you would include.

Ron Smith

The biggest difference maker in the HVAC industry is Ron Smith.  Period.  Ron literally created the residential service agreement.  He was the first contractor to bring a national focus on the residential service and replacement side of the business.  He hired the first retail salesperson in the industry.  He was one of the first contractors in his region to integrate his company.  He was the first to hire women technicians.  He started the Service America franchise system, which was HVAC’s first franchise and first independent contractor group.  He taught more contractors about marketing with his Dominant Market Share program than anyone in the industry.  He was COO of Service Experts, transitioning it through the acquisition by Lennox.  He brought the HVAC industry Tom McCart, Charlie Greer, Ruth King, Al Roach, and others.  John Young worked for him.  He’s in the Contracting Business Hall of Fame and is a Service Roundtable Servant Leader.

Frank Blau

Ron’s peer on the plumbing side is Frank Blau.  Frank taught thousands of plumbing contractors how to make a profit.  He beat the difference between mark-up and margin into the heads of tradesman who didn’t know business.  He created the first flat rate system in the trades and was the first to utilize hand-held digital pricing tools (i.e., the old Sharp Wizard, which has less computing power than today’s low end digital camera).  He helped contractors understand their numbers and built up their esteem so they understood their worth to society and were able to charge what they were truly worth.  Frank was also the first guy to recognize the potential in the yellow pages, taking out full page ads before they cost an arm and a leg.  In many ways, we have Frank to thank for the whole yellow pages explosion in the trades (gee, thanks Frank).  Frank showed us how to turn a union shop into a profit machine and how to win the loyalty of employees to the company over the union.  Frank was also a co-founder of Contractors 2000, which later became Nexstar.  He is a Service Roundtable Servant Leader.

Dan Holohan

If you’re work in the hydonics market, you are familiar with Dan Holohan.  Dan is the hydronics rock star.  He has a cult like following that’s reminiscent of Steve Jobs, Apple, and Harley all rolled into one.  Dan is the focal point for this segment of the industry, giving it a voice, and even a sense of identity.  The “dead men” imagery Dan created after reading old steam heating engineering books (written by “dead men”), gives the hydronics practitioners a bad boy flavor, hydronics contractors have adopted.  Dan brought this about, largely by writing.  Starting with The Lost Art of Steam Heating, Dan has produced a steady stream of excellent and highly influential books and columns. 

Doc Rusk

One of the original industry evangelists for business professionalism was Doc Rusk.  Doc wrote numerous columns and spoke frequently, helping to mold an entire generation of contracting professionals from technicians-acting-as-owners.

George Brazil

One of the best known contractor brands in plumbing is George Brazil.  George revolutionized the plumbing industry by creating a multi-location operation that spanned the west coast and ventured inland.  George plastered the side of his large panel vans with an image of the All-American plumber, dressed in all-white.  He made a science out of studying the yellow pages in the highly competitive California market to position and promote his company.  George and Frank Blau co-founded Contractors 2000, which became NexStar.

Jim McDermott

When Jim McDermott took over Contracting Business Magazine, the trade press was technical.  Jim added a business focus to Contracting Business, which added one to the industry.  More significant was the work Jim performed behind the scenes.  He took an “industry first” approach and encouraging contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to work together for the good of the industry.  More recently, Jim helped with the launch of HVACR Business Magazine.

Samuel Oscar Blanc

Sam Blanc created the drain cleaning industry.  He invented the first power auger and sold the machines during the Great Depression for $250 each.  Before Blanc, drains were cleared by digging up the pipes.  His company, Roto-Rooter, became the trades first franchise operation and first contractor group.

Charlie Greer

Most people know Charlie Greer for his sales training, Tec Daddy DVD training program, and Slacker’s Guide.  Charlie has had more influence in the industry than most realize.  Charlie helped form the Contractor Success Group, the service trade’s first business alliance and precursor to Service Experts and International Service Leadership.  Charlie recruited the majority of CSG’s initial members.  Later, Charlie helped kick-start the consolidation movement when he was approached by investors at a PHCC show about the consolidation concept.  Charlie connected the investor group with the contractors who became the foundation group for American Residential Service, the first consolidator for the service trades.  Charlie is a Service Roundtable Servant Leader and the first recipient of the Tom McCart Consultant of the Year Award.

Dominick Guarino

While Dominick Guarino was Editor-in-Chief at Contracting Business, he helped create HVAC Comfortech, the HVAC industry’s premier residential/light commercial conference and trade show (Comfortech is joined by PlumbTech and HydronicsTech this year to become Mechanical Systems Week).  Later, Dom was president of Residential Excellence Alliance, the leading alternative group for contractors seeking to remain independent during consolidation.  When Dominick founded the National Comfort Institute, he became the industry’s leading evangelist for taking a holistic comfort “system” approach, rather than focusing on boxes.  It’s hard to imagine now, but 15 years ago, few contractors paid attention to the duct system or even knew how to measure static pressure.

Jackie Rainwater

Ron Smith may have created the residential service agreement, but Jackie Rainwater was the biggest advocate of the service agreement, which he only refers to as a maintenance agreement.  Jackie spread the message about the benefits to more contractors than anyone else.  He was an early innovator in contractor pricing practices, flexing some prices up and others down to maximize the bottom line.  He is a member of the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

Wallace Lee

Wallace Lee virtually created the design/build approach to commercial contracting.  His business innovations allowed commercial contractors to make a profit on commercial new construction, not by wielding the sharpest pencil, but by delivering a creative value proposition.  Wallace was a National Chairman of ACCA and member of the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

Jeff Forker

The late Jeff Forker was the most influential person in the HVAC industry.  Although he was Publisher of Contracting Business Magazine, Jeff’s influence exceeded his positional authority.  He brought the industry together in a way that no one can or does today.  He brought conflicting parties from across the channel together and used the force of his personality to resolve problem and bring about consensus.   An example is NATE.  Initially, ACCA and RSES both had their own certification program.  It was the direct result of Forker’s influence that both associations gave up their programs and backed NATE.  Without Forker, NATE probably would not have survived.  Jeff was a Service Roundtable Servant Leader.

Jim Abrams

A Missouri contractor, Jim Abrams changed the industry in numerous ways.  He was the founder of the Contractor Success Group, which was the first independent business alliance and helped prompt Frank Blau and George Brazil’s creation of Contractors 2000.  Abrams took a core group of CSG contractors and entered the consolidation movement with Service Experts, before eventually selling his ownership.  Later, he formed VenVest, which formed AirTime 500, Plumbing Success International, and similar groups in electric and roofing.  From PSI contractors, the Ben Franklin plumbing franchise was formed.  From AirTime, the One Hour Air franchise was created.  The BuyMax buying group was created.  Eventually, Abrams sold AirTime, PSI, Ben Franklin, One Hour, and BuyMax to Direct Energy, giving the British utility the largest utility presence in the contracting world.

Brendan Reid

Brendan Reid brought building science into the HVAC industry with Retrotec and the Comfort Institute.  Before Brendan, contractors gave some thought, but little else to the building envelope, which was the sole province of the building scientists.  Brendan helped contractors see the house as a system and was ahead of the curve on building energy and performance contracting.

Jim Kimmons

Jim Kimmons may not have been the first to bring flat rate to the HVAC industry (that goes to Frank Blau), but he made it mainstream.  He wrote an article about flat rate for Contracting Business Magazine that caused the phone to ring so much he quit his day job and became a full time flat rate publisher.  Later, he joined Callahan Roach and we know the current evolution of this original system by the Callahan Roach Products & Publications name today.  Because of Kimmons’ efforts, tens of thousands of contractors were able to turn a corner and start becoming retail contractors.  Few people have done as much as Jim to generate wealth in the HVAC industry.

Jim Norris

At one point in time, Jim Norris personally knew more contractors in the HVAC industry than anyone else.  He saved ACCA (the first time it was saved), returning it to fiscal soundness and raised the organization’s profile within the industry and on Capitol Hill.  Norris raised significant funds for ACCA’s PAC and used the funds to strategically influence legislation, which he considered one of the organization’s most important roles.  It’s not surprising that contractor influence in Washington reached its pinnacle under Norris.  Upon leaving ACCA, Norris took the helm at GroupMAC, one of the early consolidators.  When he retired from GroupMAC, he joined Excellence Alliance, an alliance formed to give contractors an alternative to selling to a consolidator, before retiring.  No one who knew him, ever doubted Norris’ commitment to contractors.

John Keeler

One of the early proponents of best practices and operational excellence, John Keeler was one of the industry’s first business and management trainers.  In a day before the Internet and organizations like the Service Roundtable, thousands of contractors benefitted from Keeler’s manuals and collections of contractor collateral, called “Keeler’s Unique Methods.”

Tom McCart

The first person to sell $1 million in residential retail sales was Tom McCart.  When Tom did it, the average system cost a fraction of today’s prices.  Moreover, Tom sold $1 million in a one season market where he had to generate many of his own leads.  Tom was introduced to the industry by Ron Smith and became a top industry sales trainer after Ron sold Modern Air and launched Service America.  Tom is a Service Roundtable Servant Leader and member of the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

Vicki La Plant

In the early 80s, Lennox Industries started a revolutionary new program to partner with their dealers and select key dealers for special training.  The “Dealer Marketing Advisor” program was created by Vicki La Plant.  It not only improved the performance of hundreds of contractors, but brought dozens of top contractors to the industry.  After leaving Lennox, La Plant continued to help contractors as a consultant and trainer.  She was instrumental in the formation of the Joseph Groh Foundation, which helps people in the trade who suffer life altering events.  Vicki and her husband, John are each Service Roundtable Servant Leaders.

Harold Goodman

One of the most visionary contractors in the history of the HVAC industry was Harold Goodman.  Goodman specialized in tract home and apartment equipment installations in the robust Houston market.  Competing in this price competitive market, he recognized the potential for no-frills products that came without incentive trips, advertising programs, or anything else that added to costs.  Goodman started manufacturing flex duct and registers, then bought Janitrol, relocating the tooling to Houston.  When Goodman couldn’t find distribution, he built his own.  Eventually, the Goodman brand became HVAC’s top selling line of unitary equipment.

John Young

Another Ron Smith employee was marketing savant, John Young.  Young was Ron’s sales manager at Modern Air.  He later collaborated with Jim Abrams to found the Contractor Success Group, which spawned Service Experts and was eventually sold to Lennox.  Young and Abrams got together again to form AirTime 500, Clean Indoor Air, Plumbing Success International, and other companies under the Clockworks umbrella that were sold to Direct Energy.  Greater than his role in forming contractor alliances, Young is best known for his three-page winter replacement direct mail letter.  This letter, more than any other, persuaded a generation of contractors about the effectiveness of direct mail.

Maurice Maio

Another contractor known for marketing, but on the plumbing side, is Maurice Maio.  Maio returned to San Diego from college to take over the family plumbing business.  While it was a stretch to call the two-truck operation a business, Maio would soon make it one, eventually becoming one of the nation’s largest residential service contractors before selling to a consolidator.  A student of the industry, Maio adopted many of the practices developed by George Brazil, Frank Blau, and Mike Diamond and refined them.  He packaged his systems as Maio Marketing Systems and began training contractors from across the country on ways to market their companies.  He created his own flat rate system, which he offered to the industry.  Maio consistently raised the marketing bar for plumbing contractors.

Preston Bond

At Honeywell, Preston Bond created a commercial full coverage maintenance agreement and sales process, transforming commercial service work.  He was instrumental in the creation of the LINC franchise system, HVAC’s oldest continually operating franchise system.  Bond is a member of the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

Earl King

Another individual to impact commercial service was Earl King who created the United Service Alliance (USA), the first business alliance for commercial contractors.   USA was a national force until sold to GroupMAC.  Throughout his career, King has always been willing to help contractors create and offer commercial maintenance programs.  He continues to be a featured columnist in the trade magazines and is a member of the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

Tom Mutz

A financial genius, Tom Mutz created a contracting empire under the Unique Indoor Comfort brand.  Mutz would legally partner with contractors, taking a financial stake in their businesses in return for helping them become more successful.  He was one of the first contractors to successful execute a multi-market strategy under common branding.  Mutz showed how contractors could band together to achieve economies of scale and help each other with financial benchmarking.

(c) 2013 Matt Michel

Friday, January 11, 2013

What I Learned From Branding Gal

The speaker was a nationally recognized branding expert, being promoted by a national business magazine.  The room was packed.  It was standing room only.  And the start was inauspicious.

"Here's a warning," the speaker said, "If you're offended by foul language you should leave."


In a few minutes it became clear.  Branding gal's schtick was to be as offensive as possible.  She dropped more F-bombs than a gansta rapper.  She wasn't branding gal, she was effing branding gal.

Effing branding gal berated the audience for the stupidity of making a status update by phone while she was speaking (and this was after she opened by stressing that she wanted people to use her hash tag when tweeting).  Effing branding gal picked case studies that appeared designed to offend (e.g., a travel website pushing lesbianism, a sex toy company, etc.).

Effing branding gal wasn't just offensive, she was arrogantly offensive.  Branding gal told us that she "had it all figured out."  None of us did despite, as she noted, spending decades on the job.  Only effing branding gal had it all figured out.

I considered the presentation unprofessional.  It tainted my view of the publication sponsoring the conference (and no, it's not a publication I write for).  Nevertheless, I stayed in the room hoping to learn something, though I confess that after a few minutes I was only half-listening.  I was more absorbed reading football blogs on the iPad.  Gotta love, "Out Kick The Coverage."

Eventually, I had enough and walked out.  Surprisingly (to me), I wasn't part of an exodus.  Everyone else stayed.  Everyone else seemed to be entertained.  I didn't get it.  Effing branding gal didn't have much of substance to offer.  In fact, if she wasn't offensive she wouldn't have had anything at all.

That was it.  Effing branding gal didn't have much to offer, but what she did was unique, different.  In a world of sameness, different sells, even if different isn't very good.  Think how powerful your company brand could become if you were both good and different?

How are you going to be different?

(c) 2013 Matt Michel