Train yourself to think of problems as a challenge, and ultimately a way to grow your business.

“I lost another customer today. Everyone is rushing out to get a ‘free’ boiler installed that the utility is supplying. How can I possibly stop them? They’re just looking for the cheapest price to do the installation,” said Steve, our newest heating engineer.

“Why would a ‘free’ boiler be a problem?” I replied.

“Are you kidding? How could this be anything but a problem? All they’ll want is the lowest price to install it.”

While I could see how this could be a challenge for us, I couldn’t see how this would be a problem. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I began to see this as a wonderful opportunity. But that’s how I was trained to think. A problem is a challenge and ultimately an opportunity. And, sure enough, it is.

Our customers invite us into their homes to quote a price to install their “free boilers.” The challenge is to explain why we are more expensive than our competitors, what makes our installation superior and how they will benefit.

The opportunity results from being able to offer our customers many innovative options that will add efficiency and comfort. We offer the customer “the whole menu,” not just “the catch of the day.” Some customers use this time to get answers to their heating and hot water problems. Many times installing a boiler, even one that is “free,” won’t solve their problems. That creates a great selling opportunity since we have so many other ways to solve their comfort problems.

Our “offering the menu” helps us increase our radiant sales, our boiler reset control sales, our indirect water heater sales and individual zoning sales.

Why didn’t my salesperson see this as an opportunity? Probably because he had the preconceived notion that the “free boiler” was a problem. Competitors would steal our customers by winning a low-price bidding war for their business. He failed to see the opportunity.

Live & Learn

“Bless your competition, admire and learn what they do well, and it’ll make you a better competitor,” my dad says. He should know. He’s been living proof since he started the company in 1936. Dad began working out of my grandfather’s gas station. My uncle joined him a couple of years later. For 64 years, the organization has continued to overcome problems that at first seemed destined to put us out of business.

Like most startup companies, my dad and uncle faced being short of money, staff, supplies, customers and sleep. On paper, they appeared to be no match for the larger competitors of their day. However, they found ways to not only survive but to thrive against the competition. But how?

Our founders adopted some key principles and taught them to my brothers and me:

  • Be fully immersed in every facet of the business.

  • Only personalized service distinguishes us from our competition.

  • Know our niche, know what we do well and how to go after it with all we’ve got.

  • Keep expenses low whenever possible, but spend the money when the situation warrants.

I was only 8 years old when dad told me, “Trucks don’t care whether you’ve had a good year or a bad year. They’ll only know when they need replacing.” That’s why he and Uncle Morty never overspent in the good years and always kept up-spending during the bad years.

Adept Adapting

Turning problems into challenges and then into opportunities is what we try to continue to do each day. In 1997, we realized that a major change was on the horizon. Our local utility company was going to directly provide many of the same services to our customers. We thought that once they were in our customer’s basement we could lose them. My brothers and I went into action and chose to expand our services to include gas heating, air conditioning and plumbing.

Another challenge arose when a law required many of our customers to have their tank replaced. At first, we saw this as a threat to our traditional customers. We tried to think about how to best handle this challenge. What we did was find a way to partner with our customers to help them subsidize the cost. If they’d commit to purchasing all their fuel requirements for five years, we’d give them a discounted price on the installation.

This idea of tying the customer to a long-term purchase agreement is nothing new. We adapted it from what the home alarm companies were doing. Not all problems require original ideas. Sometimes, it just takes being open to ideas used elsewhere or in different applications that you can adapt to overcome your problem.

Problems should be thought of as challenges. Then challenges may well become opportunities.