Boy, I was way off. In my 1999 Super Bowl prediction (“Green Eggs And Ham,” January 1999), not only did I not pick the Broncos to win the Super Bowl, I arrogantly asked “Denver who?” I extend my sincerest apologies to all those who wore a horse-shaped hat for weeks after the Broncos’ thrilling victory.

I suppose it had to happen. I did so well predicting the outcome of last year’s Super Bowl — including the exact score. I guess I got a little cocky. I figured I could pick just about any team I wanted, and will them to Super Bowl victory! So, based on uniform colors — I love purple and aqua — I picked Minnesota and Jacksonville. Of course, neither team made it to the Super Bowl.

I do my darnedest to put out a meaningful column every month. I try to be helpful, to add light to a dark world. I get nice letters sometimes from folks who say my column touched them. But, hands down, the Small Shop Talk column that elicited the greatest response was the 1998 Super Bowl prediction.

So when I botched this year’s Super Bowl bet, I expected a little heat. And I got it. “Ellen who?” e-mailed one dear reader. “Don’t quit your day job,” advised another. Some Denver fans took it a bit more seriously. John Ward owns Applewood Plumbing and Heating in, er, Denver, Colo. John started faxing over pictures of John Elway right after the semi-finals victory over the Jets. You know, full color photos of Elway don’t fax well. They come across all black, dragging half a toner cartridge with them as they ooze out the fax machine. John sent me enough Elway pics to wallpaper my basement. Thanks, John. You made your point. From Jan. 24-31, I wore a hair shirt and poured ashes over my head.

This year’s Super Bowl wasn’t much fun for me.

Except for the commercials.

Watch The Commercials: Super Bowl Sunday should be called The Day of the World’s Best TV Advertisements. $1.6 million for a 30-second commercial. Why? Because 83.7 million people watched them. Why don’t plumbers band together and put together a few commercial spots? Here are a few sure-to-make-the-phone-ring ad ideas:

  • Chandler sits at the kitchen table. His nose is a bloody mess, all smashed to one side, two blackened eyes. A woman places a few items on the kitchen counter: a scalpel, a bottle of antiseptic, a threaded needle, a disk grinder and a can of Play Dough. The voiceover announces, “Sure, you could do your own nasal reconstruction surgery. But why not call a professional?” Switch to a shot of a gurgling toilet bowl. “Sure, you could fix your own toilet, but … ”
  • Show off one of the radiantly heated turf football fields. Have Shannon Sharpe reclining on the 30-yard line, espousing the comfort of radiant heat. “Give me more warm floor!”
  • Enlist Bill Goldberg and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash to star in a 30-second slot: “Hey Goldberg, why did you and Kevin Green leave the NFL to join the ranks of World Championship Wrestling?”

“No contest, Kevin! Have you ever seen the NFL’s locker rooms? Cheap, white toilets, chrome faucets and ice cold tile floors. The WCW locker rooms are fit for a world champion! Faucet handles that are expertly installed and custom fitted to my hands. The toilets are specially designed to handle my heavyweight needs. And the radiantly heated tile floors sure make my size 22 footsies stay comfortably warm. After a night in the ring, I like a little pampering in the locker room.”

What a great way to create some positive images for our industry! What’s holding us back? The PHC industry spends millions of dollars on advertising. But no one is explaining — to the homeowner — why he would want a professional to handle his plumbing and heating repairs and remodeling projects. A big chunk of money is spent on product ads aimed at the contractors. Like in this magazine. However, manufacturers that create homeowner-friendly ads are deemed traitorous by contractors. (“Those #&%#& are selling direct!”) So Home Depot markets to the consumer, assuring homeowners that they don’t need you, the professional plumbing contractor. What a mess we’ve made!

So where would the co-op funds come from to purchase a few hot spot ads in next year’s Super Bowl? Plumbing professionals could raise their prices and ante up $10,000 apiece. Call it the Use-A-Pro campaign. PM sends out 44,000 magazines each month. Suppose 20,000 PM readers pitched in $10K each. That would be $200 million dollars. You could do some pretty good marketing with $200 million.

What’s $10,000 to you? You probably spend that much on two months worth of Yellow Pages advertising. The Use-A-Pro campaign could cut across all party lines. Manufacturers, trade associations and contractors could participate. Consolidators as well as mom-pop shops could sign up. Envision the “Got Milk” campaign that revitalized the dairy industry. You could do the same thing.

Trade In Trade Shows: Certainly, you could all pitch in to create a terrific marketing campaign. You could also reassess where the current ad budget money goes. A portion is spent on print ads. And the lion’s share is spent on trade shows.

Forgive me for being sacrilegious here, but, exactly what do y’all need trade shows for? To learn about new products? Perhaps. For the chance to escape the business and spend time with one another? Could be. But do trade shows make money for the contractors or the manufacturers? Really? Or are there dozens of trade show events every year because that’s just the way things are done in this industry.

Trade shows have become so stale, so homogenous, that I can hardly tell one from another anymore. How about you? Picture a trade show. Rows of 10 foot by 10 foot booths. The very same manufacturers with the same displays like last week’s trade show. Once in a while you discover an enthusiastic representative of their product. What a pleasure it is to talk about new features and the latest available colors. This individual stands out. Primarily because most booths are manned by grumpy, apathetic salesmen who have been on the road for four weeks straight. How many booths are empty?

I ran into a friend at the airport the other day. He works for a heating manufacturer and was heading home after working a big trade show.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Same as always. Saw the same people. We spend about $100,000 on trade shows each year. Every year we talk about skipping this show. A few of us representing different heating lines get together and say, ‘Let’s skip this year and do some national co-op advertising instead!’ We all agree. Then, our biggest competitor decides to secure the corner booth at next year’s trade show. And we all get booths because we are afraid not to. If we are the only one that doesn’t go to the show next year, what purpose will that serve? So we go too.”

Sure, national advertising for the PHC industry won’t be easy. The PHCIB bureau has tried. What’s it going to take for the industry to band together, pony up and reach out for the homeowner with some knock-your-socks-off advertising?

Maybe you could make the difference. One person needs to lead the charge. Pave the way for change. Are you up for it? It’ll be quite a challenge, but what an opportunity! You could be the one to round up the whole industry and take us to the Super Bowl.

Heck, I bet you could even get the Budweiser lizards to help out.