Diversify into other trades to keep going despite the weather.

“Hot enough for you?” That’s the question heard this winter throughout the country.

The only solace for contractors who make their living based on cold winters is that the incredibly mild winter of 2011-2012 occurred throughout the country. No area was spared. Not many contractors escaped the fallout it caused to their bottom line. It was brutal because the phone didn’t ring enough and the urgency on the part of customers just wasn’t there.

Misery loves company, so rest assured the skiing industry and winter coat manufacturers got crushed, too.

So what can you do other than complain about the weather or lack of weather? Hang onto that thought for a minute.

Here’s a scary question: What if we have a very cool summer or we continue to have warmer winters just like the one we experienced or worse? Yikes!

So, what can you do to be proactive and hedge your bet? You can expand the current level of services you provide your customers and choose to add tasks and trades that aren’t quite as weather-sensitive.

This is contrary to the fact that we live in a time where specialization continues to be the buzz word. But right now - with an economy that’s better but still not booming and weather that doesn’t help you - this is the best thing you can do. You have to learn how to become more of a total solutions provider to your customers.

What are some trades that aren’t as weather-sensitive as heating? You can look at plumbing and drain cleaning, electrical work, roofing, carpentry, security systems, residential fire sprinklers and water treatment, for starters.

Do you need other reasons to broaden the variety of services you offer customers? How’s this: If you don’t offer the service your customer is looking for, he has to go elsewhere to find it. If he finds a contractor who provides the same trades you do, you have set up the potential loss of your own customer.

Knowing there was a danger of this happening to our company, my brothers and I decided many years ago that if we didn’t “own the basement,” then we’d be inviting in our competition to supply the products and services we didn’t provide. That’s why we moved from being strictly a heating company to being a cooling, plumbing and drain-cleaning company as well.

We made the commitment to become a multitrade shop and become what we called the “Total Solutions Provider.”

Today, my brothers and my nephew - the fourth generation - are continuing to evolve the company by adding more services such as energy auditing and the tasks that this type of comprehensive testing reveals. That makes it easier on the customer to get the knowledge about what he can do to improve his home’s efficiency, comfort and health in one place and have one company to deal with to do the work.

The way we chose to enter new businesses was by either building the manuals and systems needed from scratch and creating a companion training center that brought this trade to life in a safe environment, or jump-starting the process by acquiring a company and its staff that already does the type of work we didn’t.

Either way, it’s great to have a core set of customers that you can provide more work to than trying to find new customers and sell them just what you do now. But only if you have the systems and people in place that will allow you to properly handle the additional work and maximize the cross-marketing opportunities.

In this economy and climate (pun intended), making the decision to “own the basement” is no longer an option because you must get as many opportunities as possible to serve the customers who already have had a good experience with you and your company.

Becoming a Total Solutions Provider requires a mindset by you and your staff to go out on a call with the idea that you’re there to take the blinders off, look around and make great suggestions that will better serve the customer.

If you already answer your phones professionally and have your office procedures locked in, then it comes down to parlaying your sales, operational and technical skills from the trades you do now to the new trade at hand. If you have all that in place, then adding new tasks and trades - essential in these economic times - will be easier than you think.

Even as mild as it was this past winter, people in your service area woke up each day and called somebody to provide service. If they weren’t calling you, ask yourself who they were calling. Some of my clients had their best seasons ever. That’s astounding, but it’s also a result of maximizing each opportunity the right way, learning to position and market their companies better than their competition, and adding new products and services to the mix so they were flexible and resilient.