I hope most of you feel that you have the best company in your market area. Common sense tells you that the best customers naturally will seek out and continue to work with the best contractors.

So, what makes you better than your competition? I have been asking myself that question for nearly half of this century and discussing the options and consequences with clients for a quarter of this same century. I am constantly amazed at the number of contractors who do not even think about it let alone consider their options. Most of those clients are also amazed at how little those options cost compared to the profit produced.

Trying to be the best contractor in town in your customers’ eyes, however, is far simpler than providing the best job in town to attract and keep the best employees. The sheer fact that your customer is paying you and you need that income to survive automatically creates that “customer is always right” sales attitude. On the other hand, you are paying your own employee’s wages and tend to start expecting rather than appreciating their efforts. Good customer relations start with good employee relations. If your employees are not happy with the way you treat them, common sense should tell you how they will treat your customers! Your percentage of repeat business and referrals emphasizes that fact.

In my opinion, the most critical component to be better than your competition is to hang on to the good employees that you already have on your payroll.

What’s The Pay? It may sound like a worn out record, but you need to pay top wages! All the other employee relations options are important but you cannot deny that one basic factor that “money talks.” I am now getting two or three phone calls every week from clients who are losing key employees to proselytizers who are literally “buying the best” at top dollar prices. This includes the aggressive union locals who are now offering attractive financial wage and benefit packages to steal the best craftsmen from low paying open shop contractors. The Minneapolis plumbers local has ongoing ads in their local newspapers for “non-union” plumbers. As you might suspect, those ads are quite productive.

Many times I’ll hear the lament, “I can’t afford to pay that kind of wage and I can’t afford to lose them!” Every time I hear that frustrating statement my response is, “How can they?” Instead of asking what you’re doing better than the competition, often times you should also ask, “What is my competition doing better than me?”

Let’s look at what they may be doing better:

  • Not the cheapest price. Customers who are only looking for the lowest price are not the best and certainly not the ones who you want or need as long-term partners. Your charge or bid should cover all of your costs and overhead and include a fair profit. The best customers know and respect that. You must maintain a lean and efficient operation to remain competitive when you tackle a hard bid job, as well as remain attractive in the negotiated market.
  • Honor your word! Do what you said you would do. As most of you have already discovered, the best way to keep your promises or commitments is to put them down on paper. Eliminate any assumptions or misunderstandings and trust absolutely nothing to memory. Any work or material that you intend to be paid for should be clearly defined as “scope of work” included and not included. Work or services that you intend to “horsetrade” or “barter” should always be documented and dated to eliminate any future “lapse of memory.” Beat or at least meet all schedules and time commitments. This is naturally more of “honor your word,” but deserves its own heading because of today’s critical labor crisis. In addition to meeting jobsite schedules, you should make a hard fast rule that your service techs will never be late. It is an arrogant insult to make anyone wait for you! You are blatantly telling them that their time is not important. Naturally this same on-time commitment covers everyone on your payroll, as well as yourself attending meetings, etc. Produce a quality product that you are proud to have that customers brag about. Your workmen should always project a proud and professional image with the proper tools and good equipment to do their work. Naturally they also must have whatever material they need available on that site. In addition, working safely to eliminate any injuries, fines, embarrassment or lawsuits goes hand-in-hand with producing a quality product. You should also comply with all local codes, ordinances and regulations for the very same reason. Respect your customer’s needs and concerns. Be a problem-solver rather than a problem-creator. That is why the customer chose to pay more to get the very best! This is possibly the single biggest advantage of using your “Gold” retirees to value engineer each project to produce the very best job at the most economical price. Respect your customer’s premises. This is extremely critical when you are working in occupied areas and even more critical with interruptions, shut downs or tie-ins. Always offer your company’s flex-time availability to meet their needs, as well as to respect your own employees’ personal schedules. Your employees need to be very careful not to damage anything and always leave that site cleaner than they found it. This respect includes not smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking or using any disrespectful language or behavior.
  • Maintain a proud and professional company image throughout your market area. You should have all of your vehicles painted the same color with an attractive and eye-catching logo and very visible phone number. Your trucks need to be clean and your drivers need to be cautious and courteous. You also need positive publicity in your local news media for your in-company training, certifications and promotions. You also need to get involved in newsworthy civic projects to keep your name fresh in peoples’ minds.
  • Warranty your work! There is absolutely no better way to get future work than by standing behind and taking care of what you did in the past.

I hope this list is already in place in your company. Having been a contractor all of my life makes me doubt and question every decision or change before I initiate or adopt anything. You should review each of these options individually and put a “dollar cost to your company” number beside it. Compare that actual cost estimate to what you feel your return would be. Then you can make a good business decision.