Don't let lawyers have all the fun!

How does the only attorney in a small town increase his income?

By recruiting another lawyer to move in.

This old joke speaks an edgy truth. The legal profession is one of few blessed with almost unlimited ability to create its own demand. Contrast it with construction-related businesses dependent on whatever the economy provides in the way of new building, repairs, replacements and remodeling. When work is as scarce as it’s been almost everywhere for the last couple of years, this makes for a hardscrabble way of life and many contractors going under.

Everyone hopes the construction market will come back to life sooner rather than later, but most forecasts show a painfully slow recovery for housing and a commercial building market not yet touching bottom. It’s time to figure out a way to spur more work than the building owners and developers in your area would otherwise provide. This will require some effort on your part to convince people to spend money they were not inclined to spend before talking to you.

PHC contractors enjoy precisely this kind of opportunity if they choose to surf the green tsunami that’s raging across the country. Plenty of WIIFM exists for building owners to replace old boilers, furnaces, water heaters and pumps with modern high-efficiency products and systems. According to a manufacturers rep that specializes in this business, once you factor in tax incentives, the payback for many equipment change-outs can be as little as two to three years for commercial properties in particular.

“It’s a no-brainer for apartments, hospitals and municipalities,” he told me. The rep prefers to remain anonymous because he doesn’t want competitors figuring out what he’s up to, but shared that energy-efficiency improvements tied to his line of pumps have pretty much kept his agency alive during the economy’s power dive. He maintained that pumps eat up around 20 percent of power consumed in buildings, and he uses a data logger provided by the manufacturer that ties into pump motors to document energy usage. Once a data stream is established that measures eye-opening savings, the sale becomes rather easy.

His main lament is that more contractors don’t take advantage of the assistance offered by his firm and the manufacturers they represent to drum up such business. Those that do are amply rewarded but it often takes a lot of persuasion on his part to get contractors away from their mechanical mindset and into a salesmanship mode that’s required for business that isn’t automatically generated by the end users.

“A lot of these guys see themselves as nothing but installers and repairmen, and they’re depressed because there’s not enough work to keep everyone busy,” the rep said. “They don’t realize how much opportunity they have to do something about it.”

The first step, he advised, is to go back through your records and identify every customer you’ve done a major job for in the last five to 10 years - focusing especially on apartments and other commercial projects. Pinpoint those that present the juiciest targets for energy-efficiency upgrades and start putting together proposals. Don’t hesitate to seek help from wholesalers and reps that carry your favorite equipment brands. If they prove reluctant to help, consider switching suppliers. The hydronic heating market is fiercely competitive and virtually all of the major boiler and pump manufacturers are eager to offer technical and sales support to help contractors land profitable jobs.

This is not suede shoe selling. Multiple visits with a lot of visuals and number crunching may be required. Here’s where joint calls with wholesaler or rep sales professionals can prove decisive. Be sure to emphasize as part of the pitch that “the government will help pay for it.”

After you land a job, go back after six months or so when savings can be documented and ask for referrals. My rep friend confided that some contractors who have taken these steps find themselves with more work than they can handle even amid this unprecedented slump.

“And, the best part of this kind of work is it doesn’t go out to bid!” he added.

A common theme I find in conversations with the contracting community is that many contractors are anxiously awaiting government stimulus funds to boost the market and provide enough work for them to get by. It reminds me of that old tune, “Pennies from Heaven.” While you’re awaiting that windfall, think hard about what you can do to become your own stimulus program.