Bartering for services and material is a long-time tradition.

Photo credit: © iStockphoto.com/flyfloor


My most successful and rewarding advice came from my Pap when I was 8 years old: “Look for any opportunity where you feel you can help. People will appreciate it and you will feel great for doing it. You also can thank God you were able to help.”

This was during the Great Depression and we watched Pap help family, friends and neighbors, but we wondered why he helped everyone on our jobs without any backcharges. That’s why he called it “horsetrading.” He explained those you help will return the favor when you are in a similar situation.

I have practiced and enjoyed the fantastic results of horsetrading or bartering for more than 70 years. I have instilled that philosophy in all our employees. And I’ve included the concept of horsetrading in all my seminars and articles because it really works.

It has always been easy on jobsites to help other contractors, the design team, and the owner because we knew what each needed, and what manpower and equipment they had available. We would lend each other tools, scaffolding, cranes, forklifts and even materials.

However, neighborly horsetrading used to be almost impossible - trying to know what all the contractors, architects, engineers, business owners, and homeowners have or need in our market area. But with today’s down economy, helping one another is critical for survival.

Thanks to cell phones and database inventories, we can now gather and share all this information while enjoying the personal satisfaction and profit-producing benefits of widespread horsetrading.

You’ve heard that wise, old saying, “Together we can win.” Just do it and you will agree!

Recruiting For Your Team

The first and biggest challenge is getting everyone together. Depending on the type and size of contracting companies and the customer base in your market area, you will have various opportunities to build your Dream Team.

  • What specific skills would you need from recruits to build a one-call super service? How many contractors or service techs do you know and with whom you enjoy a working relationship? Ask them if they would like some additional service work and join your Dream Team. You could utilize an answering service or recruit employees who work night shifts to provide 24/7 availability for your customers, thanks to cell phones.


  • Do you belong and participate in your local trade association? Go to the next meeting and recruit the best. It might adopt your entire horsetrading program. You might even call this a “trading association.”


  • Do the same with your union locals.


  • Contact any retired or handicapped service techs or service company office personnel. They have the spare time and may appreciate the opportunity to fortify your Dream Team. This would be a dream come true for all those retired, semi-retired or disabled veterans from our great construction service industry.


  • Many of our retail do-it-yourself stores (Menard’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, etc.) advertise, “We can install” with their merchandise. Most utilize smaller contractors who appreciate the extra business and would certainly be available to join your Dream Team. You can understand how parallel your recruiting efforts are to those do-it-yourself retail giants. They must also satisfy each customer with on-time, quality service.


  • To round out your Dream Team, you may need to check the Yellow Pages ads, read the names and phone numbers on local service trucks, and ask friendly, local supply houses or customers for qualified references.


  • A monthly social evening would help spread the good news and keep everyone aware of your “Handyman Hotline” transactions.

    Salvage Center, Skills Databases

    Another attractive incentive for your customers is your salvage center database inventory. Contractors would relish the access to used parts and materials from their own inventory as well as the Dream Team’s stock. Today’s down economy makes this a critical item for many customers.

    You should be utilizing our certified database skills inventory. In addition to showing you exactly what skills your team already can provide, you will see what skills you need to look for in a recruit or train existing team members. Some of your contractor-competitors are already horsetrading and would welcome your database skills inventories.

    Your salvage center database also will provide a readily available testing and training facility to qualify each individual service tech.

    Do not assume or overlook the crucial importance of good customer relations. You want to guarantee every customer is so pleased that he or she will recommend your super service to family, friends and acquaintances.

    10 Commandments For Super Service

    Once you’ve assembled your Dream Team, you should review a written checklist for each of your new member’s orientation and provide him with a copy of your 10 commandments of super service as a reminder. Some of the commonly overlooked items are:

    1. A customer calling for help with a serious problem does not want to hear that recording, “Please leave a message at the tone.”

    2. Listen carefully to the customer’s situation, take notes and review your database skills inventory to find the qualified technician on your team. Call the technician and have him arrange an appointment with your customer.

    3. Insist your service tech arrives on time or gives the customer a phone call if he will be late to eliminate frustration.

    4. A professional appearance assures customers of your competency - a clean, organized service truck; a professional-looking uniform; clean shoes; and a smile.

    5. Survey and analyze the customer’s problem. Recommend possible solutions, alternatives (salvage center parts) and cost estimates. Phone your shop or supply house for assistance with pricing.

    6. Confirm your cost estimate with your office and have the customer sign your work order.

    7. Finish the repairs or installation and then clean up, leaving the premises neater than when you started.

    8. Always look for small maintenance or repair items to show the customer, and donate your time to tighten or lubricate. You also should recommend regular maintenance calls for efficiency and durability.

    9. Try to collect at the time of service, especially with credit cards.

    10. Hand the customer a stamped envelope with a simple comment card addressed to your office.

    These 10 commandments will definitely help spread the good news. Helping each other via a Handyman Hotline is not charity, it’s bartering. You will always gain much more than you give!

    Horsetrading is beneficial to everyone during this severe economic downturn. I can guarantee you, however, that you will continue to enjoy these benefits when business is booming again.

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