Do you prefer to recreate the past, or live in the future?

There are two kinds of people in this world. Let's call one the traditionalists and the other progressives.

Traditionalists would like to turn the clock back to an era fondly remembered as “the good old days.” However, nostalgia plays tricks on human memory. Traditionalists tend to forget that the good old days were filled with harder labor, more primitive technology, widespread social injustice, shorter life spans and various other conditions that made life harsher than today for most Americans.

Progressives live more for the future. They recognize that economic advancement and modern conveniences have made this the best time ever to be alive, and they focus on making tomorrow even better. Instead of withdrawing from the hectic pace of modern life, they embrace the opportunity it offers to open doors and do more things.

Progressive thinkers do a lot of head shaking when they work in a predominantly traditionalist industry like ours. Here are just a few of the examples of backward thinking that plague our PHC world and the construction industry in general.

  • Slow pay. The construction industry is geared to payment schedules measured in months. GCs have trouble collecting money from owners, so they delay payments to subs, subs to their suppliers, suppliers to vendors and so on. Nobody has figured out how to break free of this vicious cycle. As a result, the industry average for PHC wholesaler receivables is 48 days.

    This is shrugged off as normal in a world where almost all retailers, banks, credit cards companies, utilities, etc., demand their money in 30 days or less or else they ding you with finance charges.

  • Aversion to credit cards. Many residential plumbing firms still send out bills to customers, and don't even have the capability of accepting credit cards for instant payment. Some of them take the better part of a month to do billing, then the invoice tells customers they have another 30 days to pay and says nothing about a late payment penalty. You could sit on these bills for an extra month or more before anyone would bother to call about it. A great deal for homeowners, but hardly a sensible way for any business to manage cash flow.

  • Faxes. The facsimile machine was a marvelous invention for its time, which came and went in a blink of history's eye.

    In most of the business world faxes since have been overtaken by more seamless communication via the Internet. E-mail and Web sites don't get bogged down by busy signals, paper jams, illegible smudges, low toner and lost documents. The Internet is cheaper, too. Yet, it seems that everyone in the PHC supply chain continues to rely on faxes for material orders, quotations, specification info and even routine communications. Many people in our industry still don't trust computers, or just haven't learned to make full use of them.

  • Time & material pricing. We've beaten this issue to death in these pages over the years, so I won't take up much space here. Suffice to say that time and material billing by residential service firms is as outmoded as the Model T. Flat rate is the way to go. Various surveys show that not only does it enable service contractors to make more money, CUSTOMERS LIKE IT BETTER! What's there to say in favor of T&M, except “we've always done it that way”?

  • Hours of operation. In an era when big box and Internet competitors are open for business 24/7, most supply houses and contractors keep pretty much the same business hours they did back in 1906. Customers are expected to adjust their schedules to accommodate the needs of businesses that supposedly service them. Now that's backward thinking!

    Everyone in this industry has trouble recruiting talented young people to work in it. Many explanations have been offered, but here's a new suggestion.

    Part of the reason is that too many of us are stuck in the past while the sharpest youngsters always are looking to step ahead into the future. It's OK to honor one's historical legacy - as we did with our “History of Plumbing” series years ago. Just be mindful of the difference between celebrating the past and living it.