This spring I had the privilege of presenting a seminar for a trade association. I love the opportunity to see “what’s up” in the industry. I stopped by the trade show between seminars to visit with folks and schmooze a bit.

I noticed a young woman at the show, flying from one booth to the next. She was asking questions, making suggestions, handling all the techno-gizmos on display — having a blast! I checked out her name tag. Let’s call her Sally Smith of Bob Jones Plumbing. Not their real names. You’ll understand why I make them up.

I introduced myself and Sally and I talked girl-talk — you know, hydronic heating systems. Sally is a diehard “wet head.” She loves hydronics.

She certainly seemed to understand the technical stuff. A crowd of wet heads gathered around us, hanging on to her every word. She probably looks forward to the weekend so she can tear a boiler apart and put it back together again. Wearing a blindfold. For the fun of it.

But what really impressed me was how she related all the technology to her customers and their heating systems. This stuff was cool because it would help Mrs. Smith regulate the temperature in the sun room that often overheated. Mr. Jones was tired of high fuel bills and that new outdoor reset control would help. Sally really cared about the folks who counted on her to keep them safe and warm.

I wanted to be one of her customers. I’m telling you, Sally is the service technician you all wish you had working for you.

Bob Jones is fortunate to have Sally work for his company. And she is fortunate to have Bob as an employer. He is a progressive, business-minded contractor with selling prices that allow him to offer a great compensation and benefit package. Customers will pay a premium for Sally to come to their homes and save the day.

Enter Captain Blackbeard: Now brace yourself. Sally used to work for someone else. She chooses to work with Bob now.

You see, good employees are out there — hard at work for someone else. If you want to grow your company, you just may have to lure people away from other companies, other industries — other contractors!

Shiver me timbers! I am violating the industry’s unwritten code against pirating employees from competitors. You betcha. My friends, this is America. In America you can choose with whom and where you want to work. Employers can choose whom they want to hire (well, for the most part).

Frankly, most good workers already have jobs. Someone who is already employed may approach you for a job. Conversely, someone already working for you may be looking for greener pastures. No one is obliged to work for you.

But, you have the power to create a compensation package and company culture so compelling that your employees would sooner die than leave you for a competitor.

Recruiting Tips: Create a great job with great pay, benefits and training, and you will attract service techs from other companies. Use other industries to help you decide what defines great pay. (Check out the March issue of PHC Profit Report for a thought-provoking article about this.)

Alas, our industry has few examples of good compensation. This is the cause of your “I can’t find any help” woes. Offering a good job is the most powerful recruiting tool of all.

Sounds simple. It’s not easy. Everyone I know in this industry struggles with recruiting.

I’m not suggesting that you sneak around jobsites and whisper surreptitiously to workers through the chain link fence. Feel free to post your “help wanted” posters at the supply house, though.

Many contractors hold lifelong grudges against the competitor who “stole” his employee. However, every time I hear the “he done me wrong” story, I wonder why the employee wanted to leave in the first place? You keep good employees by being the best employment option available. If you are not, you deserve to have your employees leave you for a better gig.

If you have a training program, you can go outside the industry to find help. I have heard from several sources that car mechanics make the best heating technicians. Why does the handy kid in high school go to work for GMC repairing cars? Better pay and benefits, that’s why. Yours needs to be as good or better to compete for talent. Meet these guys by advertising in their trade magazines. Befriend their teachers at the vocational school.

Another recruiting tool is the Internet. Check out Bob Allen’s Job Bank. Bob says it’s the first of its kind for plumbing contractors. He found his current sole employee through the Job Bank and claims at least three other success stories. The Job Bank is located at: (I learned about this on the Plumbers’ Discussion List. If you would like to sign on to the PDL, e-mail me at

Catch & Release? Suppose your recruiting efforts are successful. You have a hot prospect in your office. He heard you are a great guy to work for and is ready to go. Now what?

Let him talk. Don’t ramble on about yourself and your business philosophy. You know what you already know. Find out what he knows. Compose a list of questions to have on hand at interviews.

Always conduct a second interview. Don’t hire on the spot. That just looks and feels too desperate. Later on you will question your snap judgment. Think about the decision for a day or two and invite the applicant back to your shop. How about the two of you hopping in your truck and taking a “cook’s tour” of your market area?

Bottom line: can you stand spending LOTS of time with this person? Trust your intuition. A small shop leaves no place to hide. Certainly, look at the hard data. Does the applicant have a license or not? Check out the DMV report. Test his tool and parts knowledge. BUT, let your heart cast a vote. If you like the person, you will have an easier time communicating and training.

If your heart and head give you the green light, hire him. Establish a probationary period during which either of you can call it quits for any reason.

Pirate-Proofing: Your small shop can get lots bigger by adding another tech. It’s more responsibility, but you’ll have more billable hours and someone to share the load. Work to keep your new hire by building your company. The things you do to make a career for this fellow is what will attract even more applicants. Cool, huh?

In March, Contractors 2000 hosted “Tech Day” at Super Meeting XI in Miami. The members were encouraged to bring their service technicians to the convention. Good idea for getting the field staff to “buy in” to the company program. Naturally, many members were concerned about introducing their employees to other groovy contractors. Non-compete and no-solicitation forms were signed to communicate that it was off-limits to approach technicians about employment.

I observed many interactions between employees and employers over that weekend. There was a contractor and four of his technicians holding an impromptu meeting after one of the programs. I don’t know this contractor’s compensation package, but I caught a glimpse of his company’s culture. All five of these guys were assembled in a circle, each sitting on the edge of his chair. Opinions and fresh ideas were flying back and forth. They obviously enjoyed the game they were playing together. Looked like you’d need a crowbar to pry these guys apart. Probably wouldn’t need a no-solicitation agreement.

Made me want to go to work with them.