The Service Roundtable, a marketing organization for contractors that began a little more than two years ago, now has about 1,500 members. We talked to Matt Michel, CEO and president of the group, and PM's own Randall Hilton, who heads up the year-old Plumbing Division, about the organization.

While most members are in the HVAC Division, about a quarter fall into the plumbing group. And about 10 percent are women, according to Michel. Hilton adds that some of the members are husband-and-wife teams.

The numbers are growing, and one reason may be because it's so affordable.

"It's not an either/or situation," Michel noted. "This is possible because Service Roundtable membership only costs $50 a month, easily within range of any contractor, even if they belong to another contractor group, which many of our members do."

And Service Roundtable is one of the few groups that allow its members to join on a month-to-month basis.

"Our model is different than other groups," he said. "We designed it around the smaller contractor to attract large numbers, to make a tangible difference in improving the prospects of the independent contractor's lot in life, as well as the industry as a whole.

"If we don't deliver, there's no contract to hold them captive. We know that we've got to resell ourselves every month, and we do."

The group's retention rate is 98 percent. The members that leave usually do so because they can't afford it, the employee-member leaves the company, or the business goes under.

"It only takes three mouse clicks to cancel a membership," Hilton added. "Anyone who stays, stays because they want to, not because we have them tied to a leash."

So what does Service Roundtable offer to the small, independent contractor?

"We provide actionable tools directed toward specific contractor needs," Michel explained. "Contractors don't have the time to spend reading manuals. In a matter of minutes, our members can assess a marketing or operations piece, determine if it applies to their businesses, and begin putting it to use."

Contractors can access Service Roundtable's Web site,, perform a keyword or phrase search and find what they're looking for. They also can search the database to see what other contractors have experienced or suggested. And contractors can post specific questions or problems to the Roundtable lists, and receive advice from other members and industry consultants.

Files downloaded by contractors already have surpassed 100,000, Hilton noted. And the group has offered more than 10,000 "freebies" on the site, encompassing a multitude of subjects.

To help spread the information more effectively, companies are provided multiple accounts so that office or service managers can join.

"This helps them learn, gives them opportunities to discover and come up with new ideas and solutions on their own, and to buy into the changes," Michel explained. "They see different needs than the owner."