And, that's only part of the show

Everything down to the 304 stainless steel bolts and washers that hold the truck together is designed to give years of optimal performance.

It all started with a 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88. That was 18 years ago. Today, that car has been replaced with several trucks each costing more than $55,000. The trunk of the Oldsmobile had a banana blanket that was used to keep the tools from falling out of holes in the rusted car. Today, the trucks that replaced the Oldsmobile have modular racks of pull-out bins to keep their contents organized and accounted for. Barry and Marty Haley used to park the decrepit Oldsmobile down the street out of embarrassment when they serviced homes. Now, they proudly display their trucks, which are equipped with more than 5,800 parts, florescent lights and GPS tracking systems, in front of the homes being serviced.

Today, Houston-based Haley Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning employs 14 people and uses eight trucks to perform mostly residential and commercial service and repair work. The Haleys identify much of their clientele as high-income households who work for technology firms, gas and oil companies and NASA. On the commercial side, the Haleys work for companies that demand perfection, such as Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch. "If your truck's dirty, they won't even let you on their property," Barry says.

The main factor in the decision the Haleys made to invest in such special trucks was their clientele and its high expectations.

In 1997, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp. organized a seminar that was taught by Frank Blau. Barry Haley knew of Blau from his PM column and decided to attend. To say that seminar changed their lives would be an understatement. After deciding to implement a flat rate pricing system, the Haleys thought they might be able to tweak their business a bit more and decided to join Contractors 2000 in 1998. This is when they realized that out-of-the-box thinking brings excellent results. They chose to upgrade their fleet of trucks to be long-lasting utility vehicles to assist in not only transportation, but advertising, sales, recruitment and a statement of professionalism.

Haley Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning employs 14 people and uses eight trucks to perform residential and commercial service and repair work.

Built To Last

Everything down to the 304 stainless steel bolts and washers that hold the truck together is designed to give years of optimal performance.

The truck's engine is an intercooled, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel by Hino that averages about 12-14 miles per gallon - not bad for a 17,500-GVW truck! "The truck ought to go about 500,000 miles thanks to the diesel," said Barry Haley. "Diesel fuel is also cheaper than regular gasoline," Haley pointed out. Haley estimates that he saves at least $500 a month by using diesel engines.

The box on the back of the truck is made of 180 thousandths-inch thick aluminum. The inside of the box is insulated with polyurethane foam. Its design was inspired by California plumbing guru George Brazil. It has racks of pull-out bins made of polyethylene complete with labels and dividers. Aside from the vast assortment of small parts, the truck is equipped with sewer cameras and machines, freon, CO2, a vacuum, air conditioning supplies, six or seven fan motors, smoke machines, four water heaters, two toilets and one electric jet machine. It also has 40 different faucets to meet the needs of any residential or commercial application.

"Our guys don't need to go to the supply house," Haley says, "That allows them to hit more jobs in a day and keep our gross profit high."

Haley believes the box should last about 25 years, so when the truck dies, the box can be lifted off and placed on a new truck chassis.

The outside of the box has custom-made, reflective 3M decals to employ the truck as a mobile billboard.

The truck is a much more comfortable ride than most service vehicles. It is air-conditioned and has an AM/FM/cassette stereo. The cab is separated from the cargo area, so it is a much quieter ride.

A Selling Tool

Haley's truck sells jobs. Not only do the Haleys use their truck for advertising, but when a client needs a job done and one of Haley's technicians rolls up in a beautiful, $55,000 truck with a ton of high-tech gadgets and other fun things, the client is already impressed. The technician is given an advantage right off the bat. He won't have to work nearly as hard for a client's trust as the guy who pulls up in a rusted-out van with no muffler and dirty heaps of tools in the bed.

Haley's technicians are expected to live up to the image presented by the fancy truck, as well as their generous salaries. They make up to $30/hr. with 18 different bonus plans. If they let the customer down, the value of having such a nice truck quickly depreciates. The Haleys expect their technicians to be professional. Clean grooming is a must. They wear clean, blue uniforms along with carpet protectors. They are drug-tested, security-screened and hired for their people skills, attitude and ability to sell.

Their technical skills are the next step in developing them as professionals. Marty Haley, a teacher of air conditioning and heating at San Jacinto Community College, personally trains each technician the skills they will need to perform the work in a manner that meets the high expectations of the Haley brothers. Marty was once a student taking the very same classes he is teaching now.

When he graduated Summa Cum Laude, he was asked by the department chair if he would be interested in teaching. Marty readily accepted for a couple of reasons. One is the best way to learn is to teach. Not only will he have a more thorough understanding of heating and air conditioning systems, but he is able to keep up-to-date on new developments in technology and advancements in the field. Also, his classroom has proven to be fertile ground for picking top-notch talent. This clever recruiting method has enabled the Haleys to get first crack at many quality technicians who are in short supply.

Haley's motto: 'Don't forget the show.'

Perceived Value

Haley says his trucks are all about perceived value. He tells of one customer so impressed he took pictures of the truck while the tech was inside working on the job. "You know you have a satisfied customer if that happens," says Haley.

One of Haley's catch phrases repeated over and over to each employee is "Don't forget the show." What better way to show off their professionalism than to have a spectacular truck in the driveway? Not only will the client of the Haleys' be curious about the truck, but everyone driving past on the street and all of the neighbors will see the fancy truck with the huge, reflective Haley Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning logo on the side.

The Haley brothers operate in NASA's neck of the woods in Houston. A lot of engineers and other high-tech people live there. "These people really love the show," says Haley. "They don't want to settle for second-rate anything when it comes to working on their homes."

A lot of the equipment the Haleys stock in their trucks is high-tech, such as electronic line locators and heat sensors. Haley adds, "Our clientele is typically very technology-oriented. These are the people who put space probes on Mars. They are around technology all the time."

The truck's presence is only part of the whole show. The technician who arrives at the job rings the customer's doorbell with a red carpet rolled under his arm, which he uses as a mat to keep the client's floor from getting grime on it. When he is ready to leave, he follows instructions to "Leave the place cleaner than you found it."

The Haleys' trucks aid in making business satisfying to every party involved. The Haleys and their technicians are happy because they are getting jobs and making money. Their customers are happy because of the clean, high quality work performed by a friendly technician they are proud to refer to their friends and relatives.

Although the Haleys refer to their supertrucks as "mobile supply houses," they aren't neglecting their warehouse friends (although their technicians don't frequent the establishments nearly as often as most plumbers). If anything, having the Haleys' patronage is a good thing. If the Haley technicians can go to more jobs during the month (instead of having to stop by the supply house for each part they will need), they are performing more jobs. If they are performing more jobs, they use more parts. And, when they return to replenish their storehouse with parts they used, they buy more parts in less time.

The Haleys have found an interesting way to replenish their trucks so every single part gets accounted for: the technician is paid commission on each part they use. That way, the technicians will keep careful count in a notebook of each and every part they use and get replacement parts the next morning from the Haley's on-site warehouse.

Haley points out another hidden advantage of his trucks: Recruitment. Picture the plumber stepping out of his overheated, rusty 1985 pickup and seeing a technician from Haley Plumbing and Heating stepping out of his truck. What do you think the two will talk about? Probably the truck, but where does the conversation stray? Probably about working for the Haleys. If you doubt the impact, consider that Haley Plumbing Heating and Air Conditioning employs three master plumbers. For these people, it's better to work for Haley than work for themselves.

Even though they are making an investment in something guaranteed to depreciate in dollars and cents, the Haleys know the investment is not just toward the truck. It is investing in the company's image and morale. There are so many things that money can't buy, such as customer referrals, good community relations and happy employees. The Haleys know they can't buy these things, but they can buy the things that will improve the performance of these intangible qualities every business is chasing its tail trying to capture.