In our 2019 industry trends report, we predicted that skilled trades entrepreneurs would take advantage of the decade’s end to step back, reassess, and take a holistic approach to their daily operations.
In 2020, the message is different: change is coming, and your best bet for survival is the ability to adapt.
HVAC and plumbing businesses are about to enter a brand new decade. One filled with labor shortages, fast-paced technology advancements, and higher-than-ever consumer expectations.
That means it’s time to take a good hard look at the obstacles in the way of your business’ growth, and address them head on.
We spoke with plumbing and HVAC professionals to find out what they’re doing differently in 2020 to shake up the status quo and cement their legacies as entrepreneurs.
Here’s what they had to say.
7 Plumbing and HVAC Industry Trends to Watch in 2020
Trend #1: The Next Generation of Talent is Here
The skilled labor shortage is nothing new in 2020. But with the new decade comes new opportunities.
According to a recent survey of high school students and their parents, 90% of parents said they would support their child’s decision to pursue a skilled trades career.
Meanwhile, 51% of students said they have considered attending a trade school, but still face perceived barriers, such as:
- Not knowing it was even an option (33%)
- Expense (31%)
- Lack of confidence in the ability to perform a skilled trade (26%)
- Pressure from the community to attend a four-year university (23%)
So, what can we do in 2020 to get those students to actually sign up and become the next generation of plumbing, HVAC, and electrical entrepreneurs?
Going to career fairs and talking to young people is a great way to build the employer brand as well and potentially find some new recruits even if they are early on in their career.
Highlight that in addition to doing meaningful work that affects people’s lives every single day, HVAC and plumbing technicians are paid during training and can graduate debt free.
Be prepared to share: today’s generation values transparency and honesty, so don’t shy away from telling them about the hardships as much as the rewards.
The best thing you can do to curb the labor shortage and ensure the survival of your business is to get on the front lines. The next HVAC and plumbing generation depends on it.
“A lot of high schools in this area host career days and they invite local businesses to come in and talk to kids and give them options for what’s available. I think it’s a wasted opportunity by a lot of HVAC folks for not being involved.”
– Mike Ledford, Lead HVAC Technician
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Trend #2: Knowledge Transfer Goes Both Ways
Speaking of hiring, the next generation of skilled trades pros has more to offer than just showing up for jobs.
With new technologies — including smart homes, energy efficient buildings, training simulations, connected devices and automated business systems— industry veterans have a lot to learn from their younger counterparts.
The key in 2020 is being willing to let the learning go both ways so that the whole business can benefit:
“One thing that I’ve noticed, especially with smaller businesses, is that the owner doesn’t want to bother interviewing millennials. In my mind, that’s an absurd thing.
These people who are coming into the trades now have spent their entire lives with technology. As the equipment they work on becomes more advanced, they are set up now more than ever to fast-track that ability to learn the new technology and be a lot better at troubleshooting, streamlining the business, and treating customers well.”
– Mike Ledford, Lead HVAC Technician
Encourage knowledge transfer across your organization and implement regular training so your team is always operating at a high level.
“Every contractor should implement some sort of just-in-time education to their processes so that their employees are reminded of best practices right when they are doing the task. This can be in the form of checklists, technical tips or short videos.”
– Bryan Orr, Founder, HVAC School
Trend #3: Team Building Drives the Bottom Line
The issue of finding and hiring great techs doesn’t matter unless we understand how to keep them.
Skilled employees may come for the money, but they stay for a strong culture, safe environment, and opportunities for growth.
Practice meaningful meetings, transparency, and shared goal-setting with your team to see bottom line results in 2020.
“I do once a week minimum team meetings to get everyone aligned,” says Thaddeus Liversedge, HVAC Business Operator at Pheonix Air Department Heating and Cooling. “That constant interaction, training, and making sure everyone is on the same page is huge. We use that time to make sure the guys understand that we want them to make money and to grow with us. It’s a joint effort.”
“Last year in November we started with a new product. Through regular training and incentivizing, we did well over $80,000 on that product alone. To have everyone pushing for the same thing, hitting their targets every month, it was incredible.”
– Thaddeus Liversedge, Pheonix Air Department
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Trend #3: Efficient Scheduling is Within Reach
In our 2020 Home Services Trends survey, efficient scheduling was named the #1 business challenge for HVAC and plumbing professionals.
In response-based industries, scheduling is crucial to both customer satisfaction and the bottom line.
To stay afloat, you need the right scheduling tools to see your team’s availability, assign nearby technicians, and communicate appointment windows with your customers.
“Clients are coming from such a place of high pressure, because one of their most basic needs has stopped working, and so they’re trying to get it booked as fast as possible. That is a very crucial phase in our workflow. […] You need strong operational systems in place to be able to carry the weight of time management for you as the business owner.”
– Julia Frey, Furnace Pros Niagara
Find out how better scheduling helped Furnace Pros reach their highest year on recordLearn More
Trend #4: Find Creative Ways to go Paperless
“If there’s one thing I’d recommend, it’s to go paperless,” says Dan Guest, president of Guest Plumbing and Heating.
Paper worksheets and invoices may seem easier because there’s no learning curve. But the cost of lost efficiency, mismanaged invoices, and human error is too great.
To digitize his business without alienating his workforce, Dan has found some creative ways to work tech into everything they do.
“It’s hard for a lot of companies to cover the upfront costs of buying iPads for their whole team, so we teamed up with Apple to get a lease program. That means all of our techs have the latest technology and it’s still cost effective for us.”
“Going digital has increased productivity, safety, and communication. Our techs have full service abilities to take photos, deliver them to clients, deliver them to us. Our project managers don’t have to go to sites all the time because we get real-time photos in FaceTime.”
– Dan Guest, Guest Plumbing and Heating
Trend #5: More Contracts, More Cash Flow
A big missed opportunity for residential HVAC businesses is not staying in contact with their customers throughout the year.
Don’t overthink it. Set up a system today that helps you stay top of mind and schedule continuous HVAC maintenance contracts throughout the year.
Your cash flow and your sanity will thank you.
“Heating and air conditioning contractors must continue to remain in contact with residential customers and prospects throughout the year, so that they remain top-of-mind should a need arise.
Too many times contracting businesses will schedule two visits each year, with no additional contact to check in on potential customer needs. These check-ups should include inquiring about new comfort issues, questions or concerns.”
-Terry McIver, Contracting Business
Trend #6: Customers want to book jobs on their terms
HVAC and Plumbing businesses are ahead of the curve when it comes to online booking technology.
According to our 2020 Home Services Trends survey, 46% of HVAC and Plumbing business owners said they’re taking advantage of online booking, compared to only 38% of business owners in other industries.
HVAC businesses are adopting booking software faster than other industries, but that still means that more than half of businesses aren’t able to answer increasing customer demand for online booking.
To stay competitive, you’ll need to adapt by offering online booking from your website or social media pages.
You can’t work 24/7 to service consumer demand. But technology can.
“When somebody sees automated texts when you’re on the way, it looks like you’re running a serious operation, even if you’re running out of your home. We’ve had customers comment on that, especially the younger ones. The more professional you appear the more people will be inclined to want to use your service and want to refer you.”
-Henry Sanchez, Valor Plumbing
Trend #7: Find Strength in Your Network
The final trend isn’t really a trend. It’s the basis on which every successful home service business is founded on: strong relationships.
That means creating stronger bonds with your crew, your customers, local dealers, and your peers. By investing time in these relationships, you’ll become a better business owner, a better leader, and an invaluable member of your community.
“The most important thing young business owners can do is to build a good relationship with your local dealer,” says Len Cashmore, Lead HVAC technician at Trust Home Comfort.
“All of my competitors have really good relationships with their dealers. They understand that without the dealer and having that relationship, that their business is going to take a real hit.”
– Len Cashmore, Trust Home Comfort
“Not having a good relationship with your local dealer means you will be last in line to hear about the sales. You’ll be last in line to hear about any promotions or training that’s coming up in the future.
Of course, strong relationships with your customers goes without saying. By educating your customers and being open and transparent, you can earn customers for life without ever having to undercut your prices.
“I’d say up to 60% of our customers are referrals. And when you’re dealing with referrals, you just have to be absolutely positive that when you leave the job that it’s 110% and you can’t go lowballing. Lowballing doesn’t get you anywhere because you can’t give them the service you need if you’re lowballing prices.”
“I tell the customers, I’m not the cheapest. But we give good value for good quality furnaces and we give good quality installations. And this is where a five star rating comes in all the time, by making sure the customer gets a good solid, clean job. Not by lowering your prices.”
– Len Cashmore, Trust Home Comfort
What are you doing differently in 2020?
2020 is the start of a new and uncertain decade. But the core tenets of running a lasting home service business have never been truer: do good work, take care of your people, and put your customers’ first.
How you do that comes down to organization, putting systems in place, and above all, not getting overwhelmed.
Tell us what you’re doing differently in 2020 and beyond.
We’re here to help you grow and succeed.
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