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The Outlook On Outlook

I could not pass up the opportunity to write concerning Ellen Rohr's column on using Outlook ("Ellen's Tech Tips", September 2004). It was great. Everyone needs to be using it. Outlook is the second most powerful tool in our company besides our dispatching software.

As you can tell, I am an Outlook junkie and consider it the ultimate tool for managing yourself and other people in an organization. I was a 20-year daytimer user, and I converted those habits in three days easily.

In case everyone is not aware, Franklin Covey has a product available called "PlanPlus" that supercharges the use of Outlook. There is even a 30-day trial download at www.franklincovey.com.

All that said, thanks to Ellen for bringing this information to your readers. I hope that some wise readers will discover the benefits of Outlook. It really is amazing.

Brad Martin
Scottco Mechanical Contractors
Amarillo, Texas

Educated Consumer Equals Profitable Business

I'm 62 and have been a remodeler for about 32 years, now semi-retired. I want to thank Dan Holohan for his column, "An Educated Consumer," (November 2004).

Back when I first started my business in Chicago, I used to put my proposal on one of the inside flaps of a folder and documentation on the other side. My assumption was that an educated consumer would make it easier for me to do my work correctly, according to all manufacturer installation recommendations - and with higher margins to boot. I also used visual aids to add emphasis, and, again, to validate that I'm not just another contractor flapping my lips.

I found even after moving from Chicago to a small blue-collar Michigan area that when, for example, I could educate the consumer this way, I was still able to get 20 percent to 30 percent higher prices than my competitors.

My son currently has a niche of remodeling very high-end, high-rise condos in Naples, Fla. (I sold him my remodeling business about six years ago), and continues educating the consumer. He routinely "nets" about 14 percent - double to triple our industry average - was just awarded Florida Remodeler of the Year, and will soon be chairperson of the Florida State Remodelers Council.

As for myself, I specialize in doing small repairs for condo associations, notoriously known for being, shall I say, frugal. Yet my minimum rate is $92/hour, plus more when using my variable rate pricing structure. I still operate under the "educated consumer" philosophy.

Educating consumers does work, and my son and I continue to reap the rewards of the ignorance of our respective competitors.

Sonny Lykos
Construction Solutions Systems Inc.
Naples, Fla.

Customer Is King

I found Ellen Rohr's article ("Teamwork," November 2004) to be very insightful. The one part that was missing in the organization chart as drawn in the article is the customer.

When organization charts are drawn in the usual top-down way, the chart itself suggests that what is important is the top person - the executive. When one draws a chart upside down with the customer on top, it suggests not only why we are in business, but that the role of managers is to support the front-line employees.

It gives an even greater meaning of teamwork.

Dennis Sowards
Your Quality Support Services
Mesa, Ariz.

Raising The Bar

Small rays of sunshine may actually be shining through the clouds over our industry in some spots. I've been receiving more and more phone calls from frustrated customers who were not able to receive prices over the phone, and, exasperated, were calling my company and receiving the same response as everyone else.

Now, don't read this the wrong way. I'm not saying that customer frustration is a good thing, merely that raising the bar in the industry is. I personally think it's high time that this wonderful profession was regarded in a much higher light than it currently is.

For us flat raters, the industry oftentimes seems a completely uphill climb. We're beset on every side from other plumbers and mass media. This is the saddest part of all, because the other plumbers often become flat raters themselves and rue the day they ever spoke out against it.

I know that we all richly deserve everything coming to us. Years of knee-crushing, back-breaking hard work should be amply rewarded, and I sincerely feel that we will be looked back upon as pioneers, not radicals.

John Wood
Hub Plumbing & Mechanical Co. Inc.
Boston, Mass.

Ellen Shows The Way

I just wanted to send [Ellen Rohr] a thank-you note for the May 2004 article, "The Story of You." I am a struggling writer myself, though I still operate my plumbing business. I'm taking creative writing at a local university, but plan to not wait until I have a degree to get something published.

I found her numerous resources mentioned to be of good use, since I haven't really explored how to go about getting published yet.

Robert Curtis Allen
Allen Plumbing Co.
Houston, Texas