How you can reduce price complaints and sell more jobs.

(Photo credit: © Frey.)

Last fall my son, Brent, and I traveled to New Orleans for the opening night of the NFL season. My beloved Minnesota Vikings were playing the Saints, and a good friend and avid Saints fan - Jay Raspino of Stuart Services in New Orleans - kindly provided two tickets to the game.

Now this column is not about the Vikings or the game we saw. It’s about what happened on this trip, unrelated to football, that refined my thinking regarding sales in our industry.

We arrived in town early and had several hours to kill before the start of the game. Given I had my 17-year-old son with me, and being a marginally responsible parent, I could not fritter away the afternoon like I normally would have in New Orleans if traveling solo.

Instead we took a stroll through the French Quarter. A walk down Royale St., an avenue known for antique and jewelry stores, led us to duck into a store to kill a little time.

Now the antique store we walked into, I had never been in, never heard of and when the day dawned, I had no plans to visit. I always enjoyed antiques, but was not a collector and can’t remember having ever bought a collectible antique.

When we entered the door the first item on display was an antique silverware set. It was behind glass. It looked good, had a nice intricate design, had lots of pieces and was made in England about 140 years ago.

I wondered how much it cost. In small print on the side of the case was the price tag - $69,000. I almost swallowed my tongue. Who in the wide world of sports would part with $69,000 for a set of silverware? That is ridiculous. I figured it was about $2,000 for every knife, spoon and fork in the set. I could see myself grinding up one of those $2,000 utensils in my garbage disposal.

There were dozens of other silver antiques - bowls for $10,000, goblet sets for $40,000. My head was spinning.

A sales associate approached and engaged in pleasant conversation. He offered us a cup of coffee and a quick tour of the store. In addition to antique dinnerware, it seems this store specialized in 1700 to 1900-era French and English furniture and art.

The furniture was utterly beautiful. Tables were priced at $250,000, armoires at $600,000 and one big clock at $980,000. Unbelievable! Next, we walked through a secret door into the art gallery. Prices ranged from $100,000 to $2.8 million.

Finally it was time to leave. We walked back to the front door and just before leaving I saw the very first silverware set, the one priced at $69,000, and thought, “That was not too expensive after all.” It’s probably a good price for a 140-year-old set of silverware. I mean, if a picture costs $2.8 million…

What two hours earlier was unbelievably high-priced - the most expensive thing I could even imagine in any store - now seemed kind of in line.

What happened? I saw so many higher-priced items in the store that the price of the silverware set seemed … well … lower and affordable.

Translating To Your Business

Think about your customers for a moment. They wake up one day, not expecting the need to call a plumber, and find out they have no hot water. They have not been thinking about buying a water heater - never entered their mind. They don’t know what a water heater costs - never had to think about it. Just like me that day in New Orleans.

So, a customer calls a plumber out to look at his water heater and he is given a price for a new 40-gallon model. That is all he gets - one price, no options. Let’s say the price is $1,479. Wow! The customer had no idea it would cost that much.

What does the customer do? He shops around, and unless you are virtually giving water heaters away, you lose the sale. You get negative word-of-mouth reviews when the customer tells everyone he knows how expensive your company is (look at Google reviews as an example).

Or worse yet, the customer goes ahead with the 40-gallon water heater. He starts to think about it and starts to shop around to see if he got a good deal. After all, he only got one price on one item - the 40-gallon water heater. He has no idea if it is high or low. He needed a water heater and you offered one. Now, after the fact, he gets a lowball phone quote or two. You not only have a customer complaint but the Better Business Bureau gets involved.

The More Options, The Better

When all you give is one basic option, there is no point of comparison. There is no ability to shop. The customer has nothing to compare the $1,479 to other than to call around to your competition.

What if customers were able to shop around like we were invited to by the sales associate at the antique store - with you, not your competition? What if the customer who needs hot water is not just quoted a replacement 40-gallon water heater, but also a 50-gallon water heater, a tankless water heater and even new copper repiping?

There are any number of solutions that could be offered based on the age of the home and condition of the current plumbing system. The customer’s wants, needs and desires are the only limits.

What if these additional expanded solutions for a new water heater looked like this?

  • New tankless water heater: Repipe all service piping to existing fixtures, 20-year warranty on repiping, 12-year warranty on tankless heater. $12,196.

  • New 50-gallon water heater: Repipe all service piping to existing fixtures, 20-year warranty on repiping, 10 years on heater. $9,370.

  • Tankless water heater: 12-year warranty. $4,696.

  • New 50-gallon water heater: 10-year warranty. $1,827.

  • New 40-gallon water heater: 10-year warranty. $1,799.

  • New 40-gallon water heater: 6-year warranty. $1,479.

Now instead of the replacement water heater being the highest (and only) priced item on the page, it is the lowest-priced option. The customer also has the choice to upgrade and get more work done, or just opt for the immediate work needed that day. He is in control.

If you want to reduce price complaints, grow your customer satisfaction and your business by thinking big. In addition to basic repairs, offer customers options over and above the immediate need.