Most plumbing businesses in America start in a similar way. The story goes like this.
Jim is working for Acme Plumbing Corporation and is doing a good job. He satisfies nearly all customers and the boss likes him. Over time, he has become the go-to plumber for difficult jobs or when someone else gets stuck. Jim makes a decent living but can’t help to think he could be doing so much better if he owned his own shop. He sees how much the owner collects from the invoices and how little of that goes in Jim’s pocket. Over a period of weeks, this over the shoulder whisper of discontent becomes a loud shout and eventually it’s all Jim thinks about. Finally, he has had enough and feels like he is being taken advantage of. “I’m starting my own business”, he thinks to himself. The next day, he leaves his two week notice and the wheels of change are in motion.
Armed with money from his savings, he buys a truck and secures a business name. At first, everything is great. He is doing fantastic work and the word is getting around. Soon enough, he can’t do it all and runs out of time in the day. He finds a buddy he used to work with and he becomes employee number 1. Over time, Jim ads 4 more plumbers and has a mini fleet on the road.
The first breakdown in communication happened soon thereafter. Customers call frequently and say their appointment time was missed or the plumber was late. The once stellar reputation the company was founded on is being tarnished and it infuriates Jim. Adding to this insult, cash flow is getting tight, not because the company isn’t making money, it’s because invoices are taking too long to go out. Even when they do, they are incorrect too often due to the sloppy notes from his technicians.
Its clear to Jim that his dream of having dozens of trucks doing business in multiple cities is farther away than he thought. As it turns out, running a business is harder than he anticipated. Keeping details in his head just isn’t working anymore and its overwhelming. Growing his business is out of the question now. He spends everyday chasing down problems and being reactionary. He keeps up the fight for a while, but it’s emotionally draining, and he is certainly not having any fun.
If that sounds just a little too familiar, it’s because it happens time after time. In hindsight, we can pinpoint the exact decision (or lack of decision) that sent Jim down this self-destructive path.
Early on, Jim was thinking about technical details like what kind of tools he needs or how he would secure customers. Of course, these are essential, but failed to think like a business owner and ahead about how he was going to manage the business when it grows beyond him.
In the book E- myth, the well-known author and speaker Michael Gerber talks about why some companies survive and yet others struggle and fail. His major word of advice is to set up your small business like it will be a big business. This means solid processes, procedures and utilizing technology to deliver your service better, faster and cheaper than your competitors.
In hindsight, Jim should have started with a software specifically built for plumbing companies. Such a tool helps manage everything from invoicing, on-site customer payments, truck tracking, and inventory management.
So, the question is, why don’t smaller to medium sized plumbing companies use this ready and available tool to manage operations?
The team at ServiceWarrior has the answer. “The biggest roadblock we see plumbing service companies have is with what we call digital apprehension. This is a term we use to describe the initial hesitation to adopt new technology into their business. Most of the entire industry still uses triplicate carbon copies and 2-way radios to communicate with drivers. While that can be effective, there are far too many potential failure points that can ultimately cost a company their profitability.”
Large companies like UPS have figured this out long ago. Drivers have handheld devices that track packages, accept signatures and keep drivers accountable. It’s not just a better way to do business, it is how to do business. What used to be cost prohibitive for the smaller company is now more affordable than ever. Companies typically pay a per month/per user fee that should more than pay for itself as quickly as the first month with more efficient routing, increased productivity, faster payment collection, and cost control.
Operating the software and tablet is like that of a Smart Phone. Just like your phone , tools like the one ServiceWarrior provides have been engineered to be incredibly intuitive. The digital apprehension usually goes away after the first demonstration.
The best way for service companies to see what they are missing is to give it a test drive. Try it for two weeks, see what it can do and see if it can improve your business.
There may be hope for Jim yet.