by John Sciacca
At the Control4 dealer meeting a few weeks ago, one of the things they had the class of dealers do was tell some things that had allowed them to remain successful in this challenging economic environment. (The word “challenging” being the kinder, gentler way of expressing it; using that word in much the same way that finding your entire body suddenly bursting into flames produces some tingling unpleasantness and mild confusion.)
No one was leaping out of their seat all “Eww! Eww! Pick me! ME!!!” to volunteer anything, and since I was sitting in the second row and the guy was standing there almost right next to me holding the microphone, I decided to step up and volunteer what I think has been one of our keys to if not continued success, then I would say at least "continued viability."
They sit right next to me, butted up to the edge of my desk within easy reach. I call them, “My little friends.”
These four filing cabinets with their 16 slide-out drawers have become the lifeblood of our business. First, when people come into the store and see the massiveness of the files, — they're the extra deep, strong-like-bull, 25-inchers — they assume – rightfully – that we’ve been around for awhile. Even though they could be totally empty, people see the heft of those cabinets and know that we’ve been around for a while and assume that we will continue to be around tomorrow, giving them faith that if they go with us, we’ll be here if they need something in the years to come.
Second the "friends" have been an incredible resource to go back and receive Total Recall on a client’s project. In every file is every worksheet from every job visit. From the “stopped by; no one home” BS service calls to the sheets filled with maps of where wiring was left in walls to components and serial numbers and any of those other weird little install notes that seem to inevitably crop up on large projects. And when we get a customer call like, “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but you sold me a receiver about six years ago…”
We can quickly respond with, “I do remember. In fact, I’m looking at the notes in your file right now. It was a Denon model blah-blah. And it was actually seven years ago…” People are impressed with that. VERY impressed.
Third – and most importantly — when times are slow, it has given us a wealth of past jobs to be able to reach out to. There was a time this past winter where we had *literally* nothing on our two-month job calendar. Nothing. A field of 60 empty blocks each one saying, “Nothing to do, o jobs today, no work on the books…” And six guys on the payroll. It was disconcerting to say the least. When we were used to being able to just sit back and let the business come rolling in, it was a real, “Do you want to continue being in business?” gut check. And when other, newer companies cut staff, cut hours, closed doors, we opened my little friends, went to “A,” and started calling.
As they pointed out at the Control4 event, the cheapest customer to acquire is the one that you already have. They already know what you can do; they already have a relationship. And if you haven't totally brain-tumor-raged it up, then you should be able to reach out to them.
“Hi, Mr. A. This is John with Custom Theater and Audio. I know it’s been a while since we did your install, and I just wanted to check in and see if everything was still working OK. No? You can’t get your audio to work? You dropped your remote control and need a new one? You’ve been thinking about getting a new TV? You’ve heard about Blu-ray and Netflix streaming and want to add that? Great! I can send someone over, hmm, let me see, well, hey, it looks like I have someone available right now if you like? Sound good? OK, great!”
A lot of these calls produced simple, quick service visits to just check on the system, or get a new remote control or a new Blu-ray player. Nothing that is going to put our company in the CE Pro Top 100, but enough to keep the vans on the road generating some revenue. (It’s a sad truth that I learned early on that a van in the lot is a van that is not making any money.) And if a tech makes just a single service call a day, Monday–Friday, that is enough billable income to cover a fair percentage of his salary for the week, helping us get along – and keep all of our guys employed – until the next big job pops up.
And when times were tough-tough, that’s why we were able to stay in business when many other companies around here weren’t; they just didn’t have the depth of client base to pull from to help them make it through. To quote a Bible parable found in Mark: “Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”
These other install companies sprang up overnight, because there was a lot of work and it was easy to make a fast buck. But when the scorching sun of the slowing economy came out, they had no deep customer roots to suckle from, and closed up shop and withered away.
If you're still in business, never forget it was those past customers that helped keep you there. And when times are tough, they're the first ones you should turn to. Now, go and get your own little friends...