Electrical contracting businesses garner maintenance contracts in a variety of ways. Some companies snag them as referrals through existing work. Others are the result of a service call to a customer who has had a system failure due to poor maintenance. Other contracts are a given, as in the case with closed-circuit television (CCTV) and audiovisual (AV) equipment. In all situations, a company’s presence in a maintenance capacity can also lead to future work. Cold calls, however, have a low rate of return.

“I explain our maintenance programs in cold calls and only 3 to 5 percent sign up,” said Rick Salerno, service manager for Dynalectric, Los Alamitos, Calif., a Los Angeles-area company that works on high rises and industrial complexes.

To garner and maintain maintenance contracts, the company stays in contact with building owners and facility managers.

“There’s a size of industry that is more prone to do it,” he said. “A small machine shop won’t do it. But a larger client with a huge data center will do it twice a year.”

Dave Stevenson, service manager, Taft Electric, Ventura, Calif., agrees. However, when a client has encountered a problem, the customer’s interest level rises dramatically.

“After they’ve had a cataclysmic failure, their eyes light up when I say, ‘You know, the National Fire Protection Agency [NFPA 70] has a lot of books that show what should be done on a timely basis for torquing, testing, identifying problems before they actually explode.’ We do have customers who finally ‘get it’—that it’s cheaper to maintain their equipment ... and keep it safe as opposed to waiting for a usually avoidable electrical system breakdown that is expensive to repair,” Stevenson said.

One contractor has had success targeting its specific audience. 

“In New York, we know all the customers who have the equipment we maintain and make inroads with them,” said John Pertgen, technical services manager, HMT, Syracuse, N.Y. “We stay involved with all the large users of electricity in our area through marketing and sales calls. Our sales people come up with opportunities, and our engineers follow up on those leads. Once we get an audience, it tends to go smoothly and, based on our experience, we have a good ability to sell the facilities folks and their electrical engineers on performing maintenance.

“Each facility might have one or two of the things we maintain—a circuit breaker or transformer or substation equipment,” he continued. “Regular facility personnel don’t have the experience to be comfortable working with the equipment because they have such limited exposure to it. We have the exposure because of our range of customers.”

Established relationships can also lead to acquisition of additional maintenance contracts.

“We get maintenance clients that rise out of jobs we’re doing,” said Ed Santos, service manager, Morrow-Meadows, Industry, Calif. “We also get referrals from companies that don’t offer preventive maintenance. Most of our business is through referrals.”

And the company’s relationships often pay off when there are changes.

“If we have a relationship with a facility manager and he or she moves, we move too and try to stay as well, creating a relationship with the new facility manager,” Santos said.

The propensity of the customer to sign up for a maintenance contract is more likely for electrical contractors whose specialty falls in the AV and CCTV markets.

“In the AV and CCTV area, a company has to have a maintenance contract unless they have a guy on staff that does it,” said Larry Frontino, president, Direct AV, a Hawthorne, Calif., company that maintains paging systems at airports and media systems. “At the airport, we recommend maintenance based on manufacturers’ suggestions and our staff engineers’ suggestions. The system is used 24/7, so we maintain it frequently. We adjust custom preset positions, check for problems at all the microphone stations and remote stations and give them a spreadsheet that shows which ones tested fine and which ones need to be replaced.”

Maintenance of multimedia equipment is similar.

“Companies have custom software programming in their boardrooms and the customer tends to beat it up,” Frontino said. “Basically, we go in and restore the equipment to its original installation quality. Then, sometimes we find a flaw and we make a suggestion to the customer to have that repaired.

“Our maintenance guy plays an important role,” he continued. “We generally give him a percentage of the profit of jobs he brings in. He’s a key person. He’s doing maintenance and acting as a salesperson, too. Maintenance contracts represent future work.”    

CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at scbooks@aol.com or  www.susancaseybooks.com.