“How about that ... Abdul Jabbar plays football, too!”
“Whaddaya crazy? Reggie is a minister! He would NEVER hold!”
“What kind of name is Dick Butkus?”
I’m a terrific armchair quarterback. Just like my job as a PM columnist, I can spout off about how the game should be played, from the comforts of my La-Z-Boy recliner. You see, if you are in the middle of the game, you’ll never see what’s really going on.
There are many similarities in “pro football” and “pro plumbing”: teams, keeping score, demanding customers, exchange of money. There are a few differences. Generally plumbing shops don’t have pom-pom toting cheerleaders. There are lessons to be learned about the great game of plumbing by analyzing the great game of football.
I’m going to make some out-on-a-limb-throw-caution-to-the-wind predictions about Super Bowl 1998. (Keep in mind that this article was written in November, so if any of this comes true I will start writing a column in Sports Illustrated).
The team with the most points will win! Real stretch here, huh? But I want to point out that the team with the most heart, the most determination, the best fancy-feet moves only wins if they have the most points.
In pro football the most points wins, and then the winners get more money. Points makes up the score and money comes later. In pro plumbing, the score is kept in dollars. More money going in than out is winning. Pro plumbing championship status comes from solid double digit net profits, after taxes and generous professional salaries and benefits.
So often in plumbing I hear owners justify why they don’t make any money: “I’m not greedy.” “I don’t have time to do the paperwork.” “My wife has a great job.” Play the game for real. Get profitable.
In order to get profitable you have to gather lots of statistics. Behind the scenes at the Super Bowl, there will be hundreds of people gathering data, punching it into the computers and feeding information to sportscasters. The sportscasters will update viewers every few seconds on yardage, pass completions, sacks and total score. The coaches will use the information to create their strategies. Would it be any fun to watch, or play, the game if we didn’t keep the score?
Keep score: Make a commitment for 1998 to learn to keep score at your company really well. Insist on financial statements by the 10th of every month for the past month. Understand each line item on the Balance Sheet and the Income Statement. Hold your accountant by the front of the shirt until he explains what all the numbers mean.
Break the information down enough to understand which jobs are making money and which are the losers. Departmentalize your new construction division and your service division.
In football, if the offensive line is performing well, they will get back pats from the offensive coordinator. If the defensive line is laying down, their coach will, um, offer a few suggestions. Get specific data from your financials so that you can nail down your team strengths and weaknesses.
Home Depot will score points with their “Where people who know their stuff, buy their stuff” ad campaign. Count how many times the Home Depot logo flashes across your TV screen. I predict more than 30 exposures. And their ads will focus on the plumbing professionals who shop at Home Depot. I know every plumber claims that they don’t, but somebody is buying from HD. Is this so bad? Nope. Remember how well the railroads did trying to thwart the development of the airlines industry? I applaud Home Depot for their marketing savvy. Get over it. Learn from them.
Make a commitment to refine your market. If you’re going to compete with Goliath, better latch on to a niche in a hurry. Become a specialist.
Could you create a “commercial” for your company? Answer the question, “What do you do?” in a compelling way in 30 seconds. You could say, “I’m a plumber.” Or, you could say, “You know how hard it is to find a reliable heating serviceman? My company provides personalized home-heating service. We work around your schedule and are committed to making you as comfortable as possible ... by making sure your home is nice and warm, and by being there when you need us.”
No matter how much the players have whined, bitched and moaned during the season, the winning team will LOVE each other after the game. You can buy company t-shirts. Throw a company party. Give out lots of ‘atta boys. You can “cheerlead” until you are blue in the face. But morale is a function of production. You get a profitable game going, you give your team a chance to share in the rewards, you play to win … and you do win! Then, you will have great morale. No matter what kind of dog-and-pony show you put on, your team won’t feel like winners … until they win.
Set the game up so that everyone knows the score. Show them the numbers every month. Set goals based on your predicted costs. Track everything. Coach them ... on sales skills and technical skills until they can play the game well. Hitting sales goals and improving efficiency will skyrocket your team’s morale.
Sears will air a perfect commercial — assuring the customer that no matter what appliance they have or where they got it, Sears will service it. The latest Sears campaign makes me want to call Sears! They are promising peace of mind, no hassles — don’t worry — be happy!! Great ad. I tell you there is an MBA’s worth of education available in Super Bowl commercials.
Study What Works: Billions of dollars are spent in Super Bowl advertising. Don’t get threatened. Study what works. Slip into your homeowner mindset and respond to the ads. I love the Bud-wei-ser frogs and lizards. Man, how about those Ford trucks bumping over the desert? I don’t know much about their gas mileage or engine design, but I sure would like to race around in a bright, shiny, rough and tumble truck. Gatorade is colored, sugared and salted water. What wonderful things marketing can do! What can these ads do! What can these great ads teach you about selling your products and services?
Could you add some sizzle or humor to your company’s identity and advertising? The October issue of PM featured Tom Warner of Warner Plumbing-Heating-Cooling in a Superman get-up. Why not? He certainly stands out from the rest of the crowd.
The smart players will have a back-up career plan. You know, a pro-football player is one serious injury away from retirement. So are you. Notice how the “older” guys (28–35!) purchase car dealerships and take acting lessons? They are getting ready for the day when they can no longer play. Are you behaving as if your back and knees will hold out forever? Face it. You can make only so many trips up the stairs with a water heater.
You know the odds of being physically “disabled” at some point in your life? Virtually 100 percent. At some point, someone is going to have to help you, if only temporarily. Accidents, disease, old age. If you are disabled, can you still generate income?
Insurance is great. Meet with your agent and make sure you’re covered. But equally important is what else would you do in this lifetime? How often one retires, or has a disabling accident, and the non-working life becomes a working death. Dream about your next career. Map it out. Make sure you do what you want to do. Set the wheels in motion to — someday — “hand-off” your plumbing business. Be prepared to play in the fourth quarter — and have fun after the two-minute warning.
The game will be fairly ho-hum and boring, like all Super Bowl games. Except for one “brilliant interception, run back for 50 yards, lateral pitch to the 10–year veteran lineman who has never scored in his life, but miraculously makes it to the endzone” play. And I will miss this play because I was in the bathroom.
Oh, by the way — John Elway will lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl victory. Yep, this is the year. Second place goes to the Packers. Final score 31 to 24. You heard it here. Place your bets!