Turning Danger Into Dividends
Ripped from the headlines:
15 Hospitalized With Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
"Monday, November 20, 2000, PITTSBURGH-WTAE-TV reports that a carbon monoxide leak has hospitalized 15 residents of an East Liberty apartment building Monday morning. Eleven of the 15 are children. The children are being treated for CO poisoning at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. . ."
Cases such as the one noted above have devastated communities for several years now. Many home-owning, safety-conscious people just don't realize they are likely to encounter carbon monoxide dangers in their everyday lives. With more than 300 people dying each year from CO poisoning (and several thousand more seeking medical attention), it's imperative that plumbing and heating professionals be on the cutting edge of CO education and prevention for the health and safety of their clients. And, truth be known, this honest interest in saving the lives of your customers through proper CO certification, training and testing can boost your company's bottom line and improve its image.
The MO Of COCarbon monoxide is a flammable, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can be emitted by home appliances when insufficient combustion takes place. When the "silent killer" enters the blood stream, it replaces oxygen. Ultimately, the body poisons itself by cutting off the needed oxygen to organs and cells.
People with heart and lung disease, the elderly, pets, children and the unborn are particularly at risk to high levels of CO. Varying levels of exposure result in several symptoms:
- 10% exposure results in flu-like symptoms, headaches, sore throat and fatigue. (Out of 12,000 patients each year in the United States diagnosed with the flu, about 2,000 of them are found to be suffering from CO poisoning.)
- 30% exposure is more severe, with symptoms of dizziness, mental confusion, nausea and fainting.
- 50% or more exposure could result in unconsciousness and even death.
No plumbing and heating professional wants to feel responsible for someone's death. But many would be proud to claim they've saved a client's life, or two. One such professional is Paul Nebrasky of Nebrasky Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in New York, who has trained and certified each of his technicians in the protocol and procedure of CO testing.
"A dead customer is not a customer," Nebrasky said matter-of-factly to a roomful of Quality Service Contractors at its Power Meeting XIII in Denver in September. After becoming the first PHC company in New York state to be certified CO analysts by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) in 1999, Nebrasky has been traveling cross-country to raise CO awareness to fellow contractors. His seminar in Denver, "CO Testing for Safety and Profit," was a huge success with attendees, who all wanted to know how to get proper CO certification for their companies.
Nebrasky Know-HowAfter his father's plumbing business went bankrupt for the second time, Nebrasky took over the one-truck shop in 1988, even though he never wanted to go into the plumbing profession. He had witnessed his father struggle to make the business a success since he was 7 years old riding along with him on his truck.
But dad moved to Florida, and Nebrasky was determined to give the business a shot.
Nebrasky Plumbing grew slowly at first, gaining its first employee in 1990. It picked up speed, however, in 1997 when he decided to add a/c installation to his list of services. Soon after, Nebrasky took the plunge into growing his business by attending Frank Blau and Maurice Maio seminars, joining QSC and several other building associations, adding a new construction aspect to his repertoire, and setting up a business plan. The business was now a success, but he didn't stop there.
In 1998, he began to notice that several of his clients had questions and concerns about carbon monoxide dangers. Several high-profile cases in the media had prompted homeowners to wonder, was their home safe for their families?
"Neither I nor my technicians knew how to handle such a job. It was frustrating," Nebrasky says. "We were referring our clients to the local gas utility, and ultimately losing customers." With no other heating company in his area trained in CO detection, he decided to take on the challenge himself.
He began with a deluge of carbon monoxide information, facts and prevention tips. What he found was that plumbing and heating professionals are in the perfect position to provide testing services and solutions to their clients. While fire departments, local utilities and contractors all have the same opportunity to have the same knowledge in CO, the professional heating contractor ultimately has more qualifications to pinpoint the exact problem and fix it, because that is his business.
"Most people think that CO comes from the exhaust of a car and that is it," Nebrasky says. But actually, eight out of 10 times the problem stems from a heating or hot water appliance, with water heaters being the No. 1 emitter of CO in a home.
All gas, oil, wood and coal appliances also can produce acceptable levels of CO. But sight-checks alone cannot evaluate the safety of such appliances. Heating professionals must be certified in carbon monoxide detection.
Road To Certification & SuccessNebrasky decided that he wanted his company to be able to properly diagnose CO problems for clients, so he called on the professional services of Jim Davis of National Comfort Institute (NCI), a national instructor in CO field testing and treatment (www.nationalinstitute.com).
For roughly $395 per employee, Davis came out to the Nebrasky facilities to train and certify each of the company's service technicians and staff. The all-day training included a two-hour written examination followed by a 30-minute practical, or a hands-on demonstration of CO knowledge, detection and solutions.
All of Nebrasky's techs are now trained and certified to be Nebrasky Carbon Monoxide Analysts. The company's Carbon Monoxide Protocol handbook is kept in every service truck for technicians to use as a reference. It provides standards and best practices for the analysts to follow on routine service calls.
In fact, the Nebrasky team is so well trained, the local gas utilities now recommend him! "It's great to know you're doing [testing] properly," Nebrasky beams.
The company's sale of new heating equipment has doubled, and it has sold more than 700 service agreements, which is a lifeblood of the company. And routine home checkups regularly have turned into larger sales.
"One of our competitors did the service of a home heating system, just a basic cleaning, when the homeowner's CO detector alarm went off," Nebrasky tells the tale. But the competitor wasn't certified in CO testing, so the homeowner called Nebrasky. "We got a $4,000 sale of a new appliance. They [the competitor] are a good company, but because they weren't doing CO testing, they got an $89 cleaning invoice and lost a customer for life." The homeowner just didn't feel that competitor was competent enough to handle his family's safety.
Since he began testing all heating equipment on every call, Nebrasky has seen his profits soar. The company has gone from annual service/repair figures of $100,000 just four years ago to more than $1.3 million today. He now has 25 employees and more than 14 trucks. In December, Nebrasky Plumbing moved from its former 2,500-sq.-ft. "rat hole," as he lovingly refers to it, to a brand new, 10,000-sq.-ft. headquarters, showroom and warehouse.
"At 36 years old, my dreams of owning and operating a successful business have come true. Moving into this new building has said to me, 'You've made it.'" And Nebrasky knows he owes a lot of his success to his company's excellent CO marketing strategy.
The Safety MessageIn each of Nebrasky Plumbing's advertisements, there is a mention of carbon monoxide:
"Is your home making you sick?"
"Maybe it's not the flu."
"Keep your family safe."
With the help of a professional marketing firm, Nebrasky Plumbing has become its area's front-runner in proper CO detection. Through Yellow Pages ads, home shows, radio and television ads, educational pamphlets and message-on-hold devices, the company gets the message across to its potential clients that prevention is key. "Peace of mind is just one call away," as a soothing voice says on the phone.
"We don't use scare tactics in our ads," Nebrasky says. "We try to keep the message positive and educational."
The company's awareness campaign has been so successful that Nebrasky trucks no longer need to stock home CO detectors - at least 90 percent of his clients already have them installed.
Nebrasky is now in the process of sharing his success story with others across the country. He offers seminars to heating contractors about the benefits of adding CO testing to their businesses. Through his affiliation with the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association and as a newly appointed QSC trustee, he has sparked awareness among his peers. Several educational courses in CO certification and testing have filled up and sold out.
But though his success has been sweet, Nebrasky is most proud to say he has promoted the safety and well-being of his customers and their families.
"CO testing is a way to make a profit," he admits, "but most importantly, it keeps my customers safe and alive."