It's time to pass the torch to a new generation.

For this month's column, I offer the following tips:
    1. Avoid eating foods with a strong odor, such as garlic and onions, before heading into the woods.
    2. Store your hunting clothes in unscented bags along with twigs, leaves, grasses or deer scent wafers. Do not use hunting clothes for changing oil or other household chores that might fill them with human scent.
    3. Bow and arrow hunters, practice your archery while wearing your hunting clothes and gear.
    4. Use a tightly sealed urine bottle for nature's call.
    5. Twigs and branches could deflect an arrow. Double-check your shooting lanes.
    6. Big bucks tend to be nocturnal in season. Your best chance to get one is very early or very late in the day.
Oh, wait. I forgot. This article is supposed to be about "Business Tips." It's become increasingly easy for me to overlook that during deer hunting season, when this is being written.

Not that I don't have other important pursuits during the off season. There's plenty of fishing to catch up on, for example, plus my sorely neglected golf game. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many handicap strokes I carry these days thanks to my screwed-up priorities.

The Business Of Contracting

Top priority for the last four decades has been business. First, it had to do with founding and operating Blau Plumbing & Heating. For the last decade or so I've turned more and more of it over to my capable sons Jimmy and Bobby, but I still had business on the brain. During much of the 1990s, I was consumed with Contractors 2000, which I co-founded in 1992 and helped shepherd into the industry's finest organization for PHC service contractors.

I also found myself on the road much of the time teaching "The Business of Contracting" to thousands of PHC contractors throughout the country. Also, since 1987, I've contributed this column of the same name to Plumbing & Mechanical magazine.

It seems like almost yesterday when that started. The financial end of contracting was a subject that nobody else seemed to be addressing at the time. Most articles in the trade magazines focused on plumbing issues, with some attention given to marketing. However, it's always been my contention that you can be the most talented plumber in the world as well as the world's best marketer, but you still will fall flat on your face as a plumbing contractor if you don't have a handle on the financial end of the business.

Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of the contractors in our industry don't have the knowledge and/or the will to crunch the numbers in a way that results in adequate compensation for themselves and their faithful, hard-working employees, and a healthy bottom line. This was true in 1987 and remains true today. It will remain true for all eternity, until this industry changes its way of thinking about itself.

Through my column in PM and seminars, I have reached tens of thousands of plumbing contractors with a twofold message: 1) They are far more important contributors to our society than they give themselves credit for; and 2) They and their employees ought to be rewarded far more than they are.

Nothing in my professional life has been more gratifying than to have been an instrument of change for the better in the lives of hundreds of contractors and thousands of their employees throughout the industry. I'm referring to the contractors from coast-to-coast that have "taken the medicine" and revamped their business practices to get the selling prices they need to succeed in business, and to leave a legacy to their families, employees and communities at-large. It's led to numerous friendships so powerful that I've neglected the deer, the fish and the birdies.

Easing Into Retirement

In last month's column, I wrote about "The Four Legs of Financial Security," pertaining to retirement. This is something most contractors haven't planned for and can't afford. So too many of them keep working long beyond the time when they should be expected to.

It's time to practice what I preach. Many years ago I began planning for my retirement, and built up a considerable nest egg to draw from. Well, it's finally dawned on me that it's time to start doing that.

Last year I bought 135 acres of prime wooded land in northern Wisconsin. Since then I've spent most of my time there constructing a building and creating two and a half miles of 9 ft. wide trails within the boundary lines of the property, and indulging in my passions for hunting and fishing. On the 23rd of this month I'll turn 74, and that's what I intend to spend more of my time doing for however much time the Good Lord decides to grant me.

So this will be my last regular article for PM. My good friends at PM have informed me that they will publish any articles I wish to contribute from now on, and I may take them up on their gracious offer now and then. However, from now on each monthly edition of "Business Tips" will be authored by my successor.

Thinking Alike

Though I am departing from the scene, the industry at-large is no less in need of someone to keep reminding them to crunch those numbers and instructing them how to do it. Several months ago I addressed this issue with my good friend, Jim Olsztynski. I asked him if he had given any thought to a possible successor. Turns out he had. And without any previous discussion or prompting by me, he mentioned the same person I had in mind.

That's Randy Hilton. Randy is a former owner of a plumbing service firm whom I met in the early 1990s as a fellow member of Contractors 2000. He has since sold his business and works as a consultant, with Contractors 2000 included among his clients. You'll find Randy a source of wisdom when it comes to contractor finances, marketing and other operational areas. I look forward to reading his articles.

I'm told PM will keep the name "Business Tips" as the title of Randy's column, partly as a way to keep my legacy alive. I appreciate that consideration.

I'm not going to entirely fade away. You'll still be able to reach me at my office from time to time, and maybe at Contractors 2000 meetings now and then. But it's time to pass the torch to a worthy successor. And to make those deer and fish earn their living.

I'll close with one more piece of advice. I've mentioned neglecting my beloved pastimes in what should have been my retirement years. Even more deeply, I regret devoting so much time traveling around this country from one end to the other presenting my seminars that I've missed out on so many events in the lives of my nine children and 19 grandchildren. Unlike outdoor sports, it's impossible to catch up on these activities. They are gone forever.

Don't let these things pass you by. Make time to attend your kids' ball games, school plays and whatever other activities they may participate in. Once they grow up, it's too late to make up for lost time.

God bless, and thank you for your support and friendship.