What's Right With This Industry
- Pride in craftsmanship. Many say this isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t see it anywhere close to disappearing. One of the sublime pleasures of my job is driving around any given town with contractors or their people as they point out various buildings where they have performed work — as they always do. Their enthusiasm lifts the spirit as they describe the state-of-the-art systems they put in, the difficulties overcome, how much effort went into doing the job right. I regularly hear this kind of talk from the biggest mechanical contractors right down to the one-man operators.
It’s often been noted that most PHC contractors are great mechanics but lousy businessmen. This may be so. But whoever flushes a toilet, takes a shower or snuggles up next to a radiator in the middle of winter ought to thank their lucky stars for great mechanics.
- Honorable work. The work you do is critical to human well-being. Yours is not some slick telemarketing scam, or a money-trading scheme that shifts wealth around without creating anything of value, or litigation aimed at sucking the lifeblood out of productive citizens.
Instead, you build complex systems that are essential to the health, safety and comfort of every person. You fix things that are broken. Your work adds incredible value to otherwise static products. You are worth every penny you make and then some. You can hold your head high and sleep with a clear conscience.
- Opportunity galore. Lots of capital and a complex organization are needed to start a magazine publishing company and most other business endeavors. But the PHC industry has comparatively few barriers to entry. A plumber who wishes to set out on his own needs relatively little money and hard goods to get started. The American Dream is alive and well in the PHC industry.
Moreover, this is an industry that is never going to disappear — at least not until the human body evolves out of its need to eliminate waste and sustain itself within a narrow temperature range. In this age of consolidation and utility deregulation, profound questions exist about who will be the business survivors. But rest assured that the work you do will continue to be in demand for as far into the future as anyone can imagine. It’s not like being a blacksmith at the turn of the 20th century, or an offset printer leading into the 21st. Opportunity in the PHC industry is changing shape, but not going away.
- An industry of givers. As buyers and sellers you dicker with one another in day-to-day commercial transactions, but not when it comes to improving your trade and other worthy endeavors. PHC industry people are some of the most generous folks around when it comes to donating time, money and sweat equity.
Epitomizing the industry’s charitable spirit is the annual HEAT’S ON program administered by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America. It has grown to a coordinated effort nationwide that takes place each fall involving thousands of participants and millions of dollars worth of donated goods and services. The objective is to maintain, fix and even replace the heating systems of deserving citizens who otherwise can’t afford to do so.
Less visibly, many companies in our industry routinely support worthy causes with money and in-kind services. How many contractors have “forgotten” to send a bill to certain customers who’ve fallen on hard times or otherwise needed a favor? How many wholesalers have “carried” certain contractors until they can get back on their feet? How many manufacturers have extended payment terms to wholesalers who were down on their luck? You don’t see these stories published in this or any other trade magazine, because the people involved don’t think it’s any big deal. That’s the kind of industry it is.
- Salt of the earth. PHC contractors, wholesalers, manufacturers and reps as a group are among the most congenial, unpretentious people this lucky soul has ever had the good fortune to associate with. This is not to say that I’ve never met a phony in my 21 years of PHC industry service. But they never seem to hang around long. They flit around the industry for a year or two, then disappear never to be heard from again.
It’s because the PHC industry is a culture shock to such people. Phonies cannot thrive where handshakes still serve as binding obligations, and where status counts for almost nothing.
As the seasonal song puts it, these are a few of my favorite things. God bless all of you, and may the holiday season bring you the happiness you deserve.