Businesses don’t succeed in a vacuum — and that is true in all industries, including plumbing, HVAC and electrical contracting businesses. Thankfully, contracting business owners are not on their own and don’t have to learn to “reinvent the wheel.” There are a number of industry associations and best practice organizations available to help. 

I was lucky enough to be invited by one such group — Nexstar Network — to attend a brand new event it hosted in Incline Village, Nevada, next to beautiful Lake Tahoe in March. I always love attending these types of events as it allows me to get out and meet more contractors face to face —something I no longer take for granted after a two year travel hiatus thanks to COVID. 

“We came up with the idea for the Networking Retreat because members have always asked for more time together,” said Julian Scadden, president and CEO of Nexstar Network. “And they really missed the spring events, which we had paused for a period because they had low attendance due to spring break and busy businesses, but we thought we’d go for it again, and this time, make it less about the content, less about the operations and more about what members really want: Networking and time with their peers.”

And truly, Nexstar delivered on their goal. The entire event had a more relaxed, less structured feel, with a list of networking activities attendees could choose to participate in from a yacht cruise on Lake Tahoe, skiing at one of the local resorts, brewery tours to snowmobiling. There was definitely a lot of networking happening during all three days of the event.

However, my key takeaway from the entire event was from the keynote speaker, Mick Ebeling, founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, and author of “Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn't Be Done.” Now, in my role, I’ve sat through what seems like an infinite number of keynote presentations. Ebeling was one of the best I’ve ever seen — he was engaging and excited as he told his story, and, in turn, he hyped up the audience with his message, which was simply, do good. 

Ebeling shared the story of how he founded Not Impossible, and some of the projects he’s been part of, including 3D printing arms for Sudanese amputees, giving a “voice” to an ALS patient who hadn’t spoken in 15 years and creating wearables that let deaf and hearing people alike feel music in a surround body experience. His challenge to Nexstar members was to tackle social issues within their own communities. 

“This concept of doing good — it’s good branding,” Ebeling said. “And in today’s day and age, customers, whether you’re Intel or a business like yours (plumbing, HVAC and electrical contracting), customers will make a decision on whether they go with company A or company B based on their perception of whether that company stands for something greater than just what they make, say or do. And there is droves of data on this. It’s not just me espousing this. Harvard did a study on the concept of growth and actually standing for purpose. Companies that stand for purpose and have something bigger than just what they do or sell or make, acutally grow significantly faster than companies that are just best of breed within that particular space.”

Ebeling also noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has completely “reset the deck,” when it comes to how people think about their employers. 

“The way the world used to be was I go and do my work, then I go home and volunteer or whatever, but what I do and who I am don’t necessarily have to coincide,” he said. “That’s not the way it is anymore. COVID didn’t effect one generation, it effected the entire population. Everybody had their world turned upside down. That’s why you saw people say wait a minute, ‘I want to be an investment banker, but I also want to live on a farm! I can do that now, I’m moving to Idaho!’ You didn’t have this attachment to where I live and what I do. Everything got reset. Now, what I do for my work and who I am are one in the same. People want to be associated with companies that stand for something more because that’s how they’re spending the majority of their lives. We’re spending the majority of our lives at work doing work, so we want to feel like there’s a purpose because the last two years just taught us that Chicken Little may have had it right. The whole world might come crashing down around us, so I want to spend my life doing something meaningful and purposeful for me right now.”

Ebeling’s message here was that doing good is not only good for business, but it’s also good for recruiting new employees and retaining current employees.  “If doing good for the community is good for the community, and doing good is good for my business, do you know what that’s called? It’s a technical term, it’s: ‘Winner, winner, chicken dinner.’”

Now, let’s think about plumbing and HVAC contracting business owners. They’re in a unique position to help the community. Plumbers and HVAC techs are the ones out in the community, interacting with members of the community. They talk to people and find out what they care about. It wouldn’t be hard to find a cause to support to help benefit the community. 

Oil Heat Cares is one example of how the industry gives back to local community members. Each year, it helps replace the heating equipment of people in need. Another contracting company donated a new HVAC system to a local animal shelter whose air conditioner was in need of replacement. I’ve also heard stories of companies supporting local food banks and creating sales campaigns to donate a portion of proceeds to a charity of choice that changed monthly. Really, the options are endless. And, as Ebeling already noted, it’s just good business. 

“This is the question I want everyone to ask yourself every single day when you come up with something you feel needs to be done,” Ebeling said. “If not now, then when? And if not me, then who?”