What Business Are You Really In?

The title of this article is not meant to make you smile. 
Most Electrical Contractor readers work in the contracting business. But, on a daily basis, personnel and clients likely bombard you with requests to take on a new challenge and to do a better job at the work already being performed.


In many cases, a contractor becomes so busy just trying to keep up with the workload and running its operation that it doesn’t have—or make—the time to stop and review what it is doing and how it’s doing it. Thus, the question: “What business are you really in?”


Are you selling electrical services and fire alarm systems? Are you selling peace of mind? Are you performing a service? Or, are you just in this business to make as much money as quickly as possible? What part does quality play in providing your services to your customers?


Not everyone in this business performs quality work. But, the companies that get all the good customers and continue to grow all have a significantly high benchmark.


The professional world recognizes an American engineer named W. Edwards Deming as the leading developer of quality principles. In August 1950, at the Hakone Convention Center in Tokyo, Deming delivered a speech on “Statistical Product Quality Administration,” and thereafter, Japan grew to become the second-largest economy in the world.


Deming’s ideas, including his “14 points of ensuring quality,” are credited as the inspiration behind this growth. He emphasized better product design to improve service, high levels of uniform product quality, improvement of product testing in the workplace and research centers, and greater sales through side (or global) markets.


Fifty-six years later, we live in a sea of change. Many people feel so overloaded they probably think, “I don’t have time for this.” But, in reality, attention must be paid to quality in order to grow a business efficiently and remain profitable.


In truth, at the time Deming was working in industry, he focused on manufacturing. However, a few of his 14 points apply to those who work in the life safety service business. Keep in mind that those who followed his principles increased their profits and grew their companies. So, his ideas should prompt us to listen carefully to them.


Deming’s first point was, “create consistency of purpose toward improvement of product and service.” This means everyone in the operation should provide the same high quality of service. Never assume a new hire will understand the commitment to the industry and the quality of service that you provided on your own. It is the employer’s responsibility to ingrain in each of its employees the same level of commitment to consistency of service.


Deming’s sixth point covers that as well: “institute training on the job,” not just with someone with more knowledge than the trainee. Educational opportunities should be provided to get employees to understand, for example, how quality work improves the fire alarm systems’ operational reliability.


Deming’s 13th point also speaks to training: “Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.” I frequently discuss training in my articles and, as Deming says, I see consistent training as the differentiator in good businesses.


In Deming’s fourth point, he suggests ending the “practice of awarding business on the basis of the price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, building a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.”


Think about the fire alarm systems purchased today. Should a contractor have a supplier it considers a trusted adviser? Or, should it use a different salesman for each job giving what appears to be a low price?


Fire alarm systems technology has become more complex, changing frequently. After buying for that low price, will you get the necessary technical support to get the project completed efficiently and on time? Does the low price really represent the lowest total cost? How much extra labor must be provided to make things right within a system installation because timely technical assistance was not provided? Or, maybe all of the right equipment was not received on time. How much extra does that late shipment of equipment cost?


In order to succeed in the life safety field, a contractor must become just as committed as it has become in its base electrical business. Author and outspoken sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer preaches that, “you pay a price when you sell for price.”


Price always represents the wrong focus. Life is a lot better in business when a potential customer’s call begins with these words: “I’m calling you because you came highly recommended as a quality company who always gets the job done on time and on budget.”


These calls come in when attention is paid to quality—not just in the work that is performed but in the suppliers that you work with. When equipment does not arrive on time, it may cost more money in labor overtime to get the installation finished, and may adversely affect the quality of the work because now the project must be rushed.


The most difficult part of bringing a fire alarm system online comes from the programming that must be performed by the supplier. If fire alarm systems are bought from the low bidder, why should there be an expectation that the supplier has trained its technicians in the most efficient programming methods? And, if this low-bid supplier takes on too much work at its low price, there will certainly be problems scheduling its programmers to work on the project.


To remain successful in the fire alarm systems installation business, attention must be paid to the details needed for a code-compliant installed system. If the fire alarm system is treated simply as an “add-on” to the electrical services contract, money will almost certainly be lost on these installations, which could negatively impact a contractor’s reputation.


Deming’s principles can be applied to all of the work Electrical Contractor readers might perform. Following them can lead to growing business, along with those telephone calls that start with a compliment and lead to increased sales.


About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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