We appear to be entering a slow construction period. Those of us in the field have experienced these slow periods before, and we know that professional electrical contractors who plan for these slowdowns prosper through them.

I recently spoke with a gentleman in the wholesale lumber industry who admitted that the housing downturn and credit issues had taken their toll on his business. But he had planned for the cyclical event and is using it to his advantage. First, he knew others in his industry were being affected by the same issues and were cutting back on personnel, so he offered his competitors’ top salespeople a job with his company. He is using these high-caliber employees to open branches in areas where he currently has no stores. Knowing how difficult it is to hire qualified electricians and technicians, the professional contractor might consider the same tactic.

My friend also used this slower period to take care of outstanding improvement projects at each of his locations that could not be addressed during busy times.

You too can find opportunities during a slow construction period. Now is the perfect time to focus on the existing fire alarm systems test and maintenance and retrofit installation market. There always are owners who choose to upgrade their existing facility rather than move because it is a better choice economically. Many times these upgrades are cosmetic improvements, but they often include relocation of offices or corridors that will require upgrades to their building fire alarm system. NFPA 72-2007, the National Fire Alarm Code, provides the information necessary to modify or upgrade an existing system to meet the requirements of a particular system classification.

Sending a letter to commercial property owners and industrial companies in your market introducing your capabilities to handle these types of projects will go a long way to establishing a book of business to offset the new construction downturn.

Also, informing the owners that the code defines their responsibilities for maintaining the fire alarm system may come as a surprise to many of them. Section 10.2.2 of NFPA 72-2007 requires the property or building owner or the owner’s designated representative to be responsible for the inspection, testing and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to their building fire alarm system.

Because large construction projects may be postponed during this downturn, this also is a chance to learn more about the fire alarm systems business. If you haven’t thought about this already, team up with a fire alarm systems equipment supplier. The suppliers get many calls for installations, and most do not provide those services. You should at least be on their list of recommended installers to have a chance at the work.

Establishing a good relationship with the local area fire marshals or fire prevention officers is another way to market your fire alarm system retrofit capabilities. He or she may already know which owners in the community are in need of qualified fire alarm system assistance.

Now is an ideal time to offer your assistance to train local fire officials. This will help to enhance your relationship with the fire officials who often are the first people an owner calls when needing recommendations for companies to assist them in their fire alarm system needs.

Depending on your current workload and how important it is to keep your cadre of electricians and technicians on your team, now also is a good time to volunteer your services to a local food bank, shelter or church. It not only is the right thing to do, but it will keep your staff busy, may be tax-deductible from a business point of view, and also may increase your image locally. As a result of giving, you may even experience newfound relationships with other companies helping the same charity. These companies like to do business with other civic-minded people, and there is no better way to learn of their electrical and fire alarm needs than working side by side with them.

Finally, when your work slows, sign up your people for training programs. Training always is an issue in the field. There never seems to be enough time to provide code-based training, but a construction slowdown can be the perfect time.

So rather than wringing your hands over the business slowdown, take advantage of possibilities to find new talent, market, train and develop a new book of business centered around fire alarm systems retrofit installations and the fire alarm systems testing and maintenance market.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.