“What sort of gross margins should I expect from our insulation division?”
“How can we boost our installer recruiting?”
“What do you think of this marketing plan?”
“How did moving to a 4-10 work week affect production?”
Pop a question to the network of home performance contractors about ASHRAE 62.2, or what’s wrong with the utility program they work in, or whether or not they like HERS ratings for existing homes, and you’re sure to get an opinion. You’ll see it in LinkedIn discussions, at home performance conferences, in program meetings. And the exchange of technical information is often great.
Ask some of the very important, nitty-gritty business questions in the same forums, however, and often the loudest response is from the crickets.
Where can you go for answers?
One approach that’s worked well for HVAC contractors, and one of the best contributions that ACCA has made to that industry, is “MIX groups”, small groups of contractors who will similar market approaches, similar issues, and a wealth of experience and results to share with each other. Peer groups offer a chance to dive deep and discuss issues with an understanding that a paid business consultant might not understand—especially in home performance where many of the issues and benchmarks are very different that in traditional trade-based businesses.
A contractor who has been in a group for more than 20 years that I spoke with last month explained it this way. “We wouldn’t be where we are today if I hadn’t had these guys to help me along the way. They can see things in my business that sometimes I can’t. They’ll call me out on the bad decisions I’ve made, or the good ones I haven’t made. And when the coin flips, and I’m helping them, I’m learning just as much about how to make this business work, things that I can apply back at home.”
In effective groups, the companies are from different markets, often far apart. The primary reason for this isn’t to avoid antitrust concerns. Rather, it’s because owners don’t feel they can talk confidentially with their competitors, sharing financials and secret sauce. But they can do this with a company from three states away without worrying that it will be used against them on a sales call tomorrow.
The companies in the group also have similarities in their business approaches. While they don’t have to be the same size, size can be a good initial starting point when a group forms because the group’s member often have recent experience wrestling with similar issues not just in day-to-day operations, but also moving along the growth curve.
Last year in Austin, a couple peer groups met before the National Home Performance Conference. I had the liberty of sitting in these meetings and facilitating the discussions. Wow! The Austin BBQ joints had nothing on the secret sauce that was being shared in those discussions. As one participant said one the peer group meeting, “This is by far the most productive day I’ve had at a conference, meeting, or training in my professional career.” And that was on their first day together.
If you want to come hear about how to pull these together, there is a session at the HPC conference in Nashville on Monday 20, at 10:30am. Come check it out. And while you’re sitting in sessions, wandering the trade show floor, or grabbing a beer, look to some of the contractors not just for a one-off conversation, but as potential group members. Find one, then find a couple more, that you can work with and growth with. The conference is a great place for this, because it gives you a chance to connect with contractors from far outside your area. If you’re having difficulty finding companies like yours, speak up. Ask vendors, ask staff at Efficiency First or HPC, ask presenters, ask me.
There’s no need to wait to start making your business work.