New opportunities for marketing electrical contracting services are showing up in some unusual places these days, including the back acreage of airports and certain dark, drafty recesses in parking facilities. Considering recent economic conditions, exploring markets where electrical contractors can work outside traditional industry boundaries is a good idea.

However, it’s also a good idea to keep your eyes (and ears) wide open when working in the usual places. They can hold opportunities for contractors who know where to look and how to communicate with customers effectively.

The unusual places I mentioned were documented by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The back acreage of an airport is a reference to an article in the April 2012 issue of this magazine about Young Electric installing Tennessee’s largest solar farm, a $4.3 million array, at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. It turns out this is part of a trend. Recognizing that the air-travel industry leaves a large carbon footprint, the Federal Aviation Administration has thus far given its blessing to 52 initiatives at airports across the country to help make up for greenhouse gas emissions by siting solar arrays and wind farms on airport land not suitable for aviation purposes.

As for parking facilities, if you think it pertains to installing electric vehicle chargers, I’ll give you credit for an educated guess. Most existing parking facilities were not constructed with sufficient power capacity to support a number of chargers, so installing them usually involves some extra work, such as power conditioning or rerouting some of the wiring. But what I actually referred to is an item on NECA’s Energy Solutions blog geared “for NECA contractors and building managers that want to squeeze every last kilowatt-hour of wasted electricity out of that parking garage.” It suggests that, after attending to inefficient lighting, the contractor might consider down-shifting the exhaust fans by installing a demand-control ventilation (DCV) system that uses variable frequency drive (VFD) technology. The point is smart contractors, and smart customers, constantly search for overlooked areas to capture additional energy savings.

NECA makes the search easier. Our association is heavily involved in market development, which NECA defines as “laying a foundation and creating an environment for new products and services that electrical contractors can provide outside traditional industry boundaries, and then leading contractors into new markets where profit margins are strong and expertise and innovation are rewarded.” So, keeping up with information on emerging markets through this magazine and other NECA sources is a good starting point for learning about new opportunities. But, bear in mind, it’s only a start.

Business development—“a combination of strategically analyzing market opportunities, identifying and satisfying customer needs, and promoting your company’s services in order to grow your business”—must be addressed at the individual company level, and that starts with educating your employees.

Beyond mastery of the technical requirements of the job, employees who interact with customers must be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, and they need good listening skills, too. They must be able to speak intelligently about what the job entails—not bog customers down with exhaustive details but give them enough information to make them comfortable. If your employee plants the seed that your company is capable of expanding a newly installed system when the time comes or providing some other value-added service, that’s a bonus! That’s why some contractors invest in sales training for their project managers, supervisors and other personnel.

What’s most important is that your employees must be educated about what your company is capable of and trained to be observant. That way, when they are doing routine maintenance or repairs at a customer’s facility, for example, they can detect inefficiencies that your company is able to correct. Obviously, your employees must also be trained to note such information on their daily reports, foreman’s logs or extra work order forms and convey it to appropriate team members for follow up. Ensure they know to not just go ahead and do the extra work without authorization.

Of course, I’m not suggesting contractors should depend only on a chance observation by a worker to provide them with new projects. What I am suggesting is that you communicate your expectations to your employees and provide them with the best and most appropriate training, technology and processes and procedures. Empower your frontline employees, so they can be your eyes and ears (and, sometimes, spokespeople) on the job site.