Oct. 17 2011 03:18 PM
A prolonged recession in our industry is changing the way companies view certain business opportunities. Things that seemed “boring” or “slow growth” are once again being appreciated for being steady contributors to business stability.

One area that has caught the attention of my clients is commonly known in other industries as MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul). It’s where big names like Grainger, WESCO and NAPA make their money—selling products and services necessary to keep the things we depend on working at their best.

For years, our industry has neglected the service end of the business, preferring to develop products, education and marketing that focused on new installations. The formula worked great during the go-go times of rapid construction. Now it’s time to address the next big opportunity: maintaining and improving all of the installations that were done over the last decade.

Are you leveraging the concept of “useful life”? Housing inspectors often will tell the buyer of a new property that an appliance or fixture is nearing the end of its “useful life,” meaning that it’s time to think about replacement. A savvy HVAC technician will advise a homeowner to replace rather than repair an evaporative condenser because it’s inefficient and long in the tooth. There are accepted standards and data tables that guide the replacement schedules and preventative maintenance requirements of many things around a house.

Most green industry contractors do a terrible job of educating their clients

on the expected life of an irrigation system or landscape lighting components. We fix things only when they fail, instead of being proactive about addressing them when it is clear their days are numbered.

Some service technicians will try to squeeze another year of life out of a 15-year old $3 plastic sprinkler head, even when the homeowner would willingly upgrade the entire zone to greater efficiency. Technicians forget that homeowners are inconvenienced by service visits because they have to miss work or other activities.

For many clients, spending a little more to reduce future hassles is well worth it.

My research shows a strong relationship between the amount of training technicians receive and the ability to achieve revenue growth in MRO. There is a clear correlation between training in human skills and sales skills (rather than just technical skills) and the potential to sell needed upgrades. Yet few contractors train their technicians on how to build rapport and trust with clients. Even fewer contractors offer their technicians tools we have found to be invaluable in selling replacements and upgrades, things like service tip sheets, informative graphics and water savings calculators.

Owners and technicians often incorrectly assume that all clients are frugal, rather than presenting all available options. Many clients are eager to upgrade to the latest technology. They want to have a good, hassle-free service experience. They want to prevent future issues. Give them what they want.

Editor’s NotE: Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape industry marketing agency. Find him at LinkedIn or at Jeff@StrategicForceMarketing.com