The Heroes & The Plumber
We have reached the end of summer, but there's always time for memories. I would like to reminisce about an important day during that first weekend of the season - it's when I heard the greatest commercial ever presented by a plumbing contractor.
Memorial Day weekend in Indiana is more than the unofficial start of summer - it is when the entire world focuses on the state capital. More than 400,000 people flock to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to enjoy the excitement of the Indianapolis 500.
My son had come home from college for the weekend, and we decided it would be great to head down to the race again. So we loaded up the van with our loved ones (because part of the fun is surviving the long drive with a van full of quasi-race fans) and headed to Indianapolis.
Timing Is EverythingWhile I live in Indiana, Munster is really a suburb of Chicago. I'm only 30 miles from the heart of the city. That puts us two hours and 40 minutes from Indianapolis. Estimating our time of departure, I added 20 minutes for delays from family, and an hour for traffic. This year, departure time was 6 a.m. to make it to the 10 a.m. pre-race festivities.
We departed 20 minutes late, and took two hours and 40 minutes to enter Indianapolis, as expected. We joined the 150,000 other cars in line to get to the Speedway. If you're an old hat at these things, you know that the traffic will be horrible.
But there's no use getting mad and upset that everyone else wants to go to the same race. It's better to sit back, relax and listen to the radio for the blow-by-blow of pre-race activity.
Now A Word From Our SponsorOne Indianapolis radio station has six hours of pre-race coverage. I tuned in as soon as we entered the city. You may be asking, what could you possibly talk about for six hours prior to the start of a lousy car race? It doesn't matter - it's tradition. So I turned the volume up to get everyone in the van excited about the race.
Every five minutes we heard reports on the condition of the track, then we heard conditions of the traffic. There were numerous commercials, all spouting logos and catch phrases, each trying to grab your attention.
But what completely floored me was a certain voice that came on during one of those commercials. Normally, you tune out the breaks in race coverage, but this one was hard to miss. I heard the voice of Denny Smith.
Denny is a great guy and friend. We served together on the Indiana Plumbing Code Review Committee. Like me, Denny grew up in a family plumbing business. He is now the president of Paul E. Smith Plumbing Co. (owned by GroupMac) in Indianapolis, and is very involved with the plumbing contractors association.
As a plumber, Denny is what I consider to be progressive. He is always looking at what is new and isn't afraid to change. He learned early on that some of the plumbing practices we have held for many years are not as good, or sometimes not as safe, as more modern practices.
I have heard him criticized for implementing newer practices, but rather than getting angry, Denny would stay calm.
"Well, I used to think the same way," Denny would say in a soothing tone. "But I found out I was wrong. Sometimes we have to open our eyes to what these learned people are telling us. They are a lot smarter than I am." His mild and gentlemanly manner could convince anybody. You couldn't help but like the guy.
Heart Strings, Not Purse StringsThis brings me back to his voice on the commercial, that same gentlemanly voice that always reassures me. I knew Denny ran radio ads, so I was curious to hear what this ad would say on race day.
First, you need the lead in. For this year's Indy 500, the Speedway and the city of Indianapolis invited all Medal of Honor winners to be honored for their service to the United States. Many of these Medal of Honor winners accepted the invitation to appear in the Indy 500 parade on Saturday, and many were present at the race.
Denny's commercial spot reminded listeners that these great American heroes were in our presence this week visiting the city. He went on to explain that what they had done for the country makes all of us proud. Then he asked everyone that encounters a Medal of Honor winner to go up and thank him or her for his service to our country and our freedom.
As I listened to this commercial, chills ran through me. I was near tears. At the end of the commercial spot, Denny simply stated, "This was a message for Paul E. Smith Plumbing Co." Nothing in his ad said how good his service was. There was no mention of brand names or plumbing supplies, not even a phone number to call. He simply thanked these great Americans for a job well done.
I was ready to call Denny for plumbing service the very next day. He put such a positive light on our profession that I beamed with pride just listening to the commercial. Surely it cost him a pretty penny to run the ad during pre-race coverage. But, after hearing the spot, I remembered a statement one of my college professors beat into my head, "If you want to make an impact, evoke an emotional response. Any emotional response."
Denny evoked an emotional response in me. I felt proud to be an American, proud to have these Medal of Honor soldiers in my presence, proud of Denny and proud of our plumbing profession for bringing this to everyone's attention.
And it was sincere. This wasn't a cheap ploy for attention. I know Denny. I could hear it in his words as he spoke them from the heart.
Listening to Denny taught me an important lesson. Customers who like us and trust us will call on us. We often forget to let our human side show through.
Most of you are involved in activities outside of plumbing, whether it is church, scouts, sports or something else. Encourage all of your employees to do the same. Involvement in our communities adds to our credibility in business. Don't be afraid to follow Denny's lead.