In a time of disappointing turnouts for various national trade shows and regional events, it's something to see the attendance at the Plumbers Success International 2002 Summit, Sept. 11-15 in St. Louis. The official tally was 550 people from 310 contracting companies. What's more impressive than the attendance is the length of the show itself -- three business days, a full day on Saturday and a half-day session on Sunday.

From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the crowd in the double ballroom stayed put. Even the half-day session on Sunday in which each attendee was charged a $10 admittance fee for a Thanks for the Tip-style giveaway attracted a crowd.

Much of the proceedings of the week concerned proprietary PSI systems such as the "Profit CAT Scan," "Prosper Pricing" and "Immediate Impact Imaging." For the most part many of the PSI programs are a combination of numbers-crunching and good, old-fashioned motivation. For example, on opening day Terry Nicholson, PSI president, outlined the financial analysis PSI members need to perform the Profit CAT Scan and also discussed the six traits -- desire, will, effort, knowledge, a positive attitude and skill -- that members must bring to the table every day. Later that morning, Lon Cassel, president, Wealth Now, a division of parent company Contractor Services, discussed what contractors could do to assess the image their current business projects to the buying public and how to maximize that image.

Considering the money contractors spend to join the group, PSI would rather not see any reporting on the particulars. It's enough to say that much of the material is in many cases common sense, unfortunately, just not the type commonly applied in the contracting business.

While much of the activity took place in the ballroom, there were also breakout sessions during the week pegged for the demands of particular levels of membership. All members except Founders (those who joined PSI at its start in 1999) listened to John Young, marketing director, PSI, on Day Three discuss marketing strategies. Meanwhile, only the Founders learned about preparing for consolidation. After lunch, Lieutenants (members of less than a year) and Commodores (members attending their first Summit meeting) learned the secrets of Yellow Page ads. At the same time, the rest of the PSI membership discussed how to sell more water heaters using the group's Health and Safety Plumbing Evaluation. Finally, the Lieutenants spent the rest of the afternoon of Day Three with a question-and-answer session with Mike Diamond, CEO, PSI.

In many cases, much of each day's discussions were updates to the success systems that PSI has put its brand on for the past three years. However, the Summit did introduce a few new programs:

o Phoenix Program: This training program complements the already extensive education members receive from regular Summit meetings with new monthly lessons.

"The monthly lessons outline the skills contractors need to be successful," Nicholson told us after the Summit, "and are presented in the order they need to be approached."

An added twist to the program is the assignments -- essentially homework -- that members need to complete in order to move on the next lesson.

"The program is designed for independent business people who may still want to be held accountable and report to someone on the progress they're making," Nicholson said. For example, the first lesson is on planning and budgeting, and Nicholson says that if that assignment isn't done, other lessons would be useless.

o Master's Program: "We believe we've formed the wealthiest group of independent contractors in the country," Nicholson said. The program is reserved for PSI members who have more than $1 million in equity in their businesses. Basically, the new service will provide this group with a higher level of financial strategies to help them enjoy their success.

o BuyMax: Nicholson describes this online service as "the for the plumbing and HVAC industry." The program should help simplify members' purchases of supplies and equipment.

o Treasure Quests: Another new online service, Treasure Quests helps members keep their crew motivated with a point system that allows techs to eventually buy from a choice of 2,000 items from hundreds of vendors.

More importantly, the system helps motivate the techs' families, too.

"We've found that it's not so hard for the techs to make after-hours or weekend calls, but it is difficult for the wives and kids to understand," Nicholson said. "This is a way for everyone to get involved."

The final event of the summit was the brainstorming meeting held Sunday morning. Thanks to a $10 admittance charge, more than $2,100 was given to the contractor who shared the best marketing idea. Ross Kozora, IWZ Plumbing, Highland, Ind., took the honors for his "7/7/7" marketing program. Kozora targeted seven potential customers and sent them seven different marketing messages once a week for seven weeks. For example, one such campaign Kozora showed at the meeting was a deck of cards printed with the message, "Don't gamble with another plumber, call ¿

PSI currently has 412 members and will close out its membership when it reaches 500 members -- essentially representing 1 percent of the nation's plumbing contractors.

"When we started PSI we did have a three-year timeline to eventually go public with the results," Nicholson said. "But our members have prospered with the programs we've come up with in the past three years, and have asked us to continually update those and create new services, too."

In other PSI news, the group announced a week of training, Nov. 4-9, in St. Louis. Free to PSI members, the events range from dispatching to setting financial goals.