Opportunity Hiding In Plain Sight

In a YouTube video, two psychology professors staged a playful indoor exercise featuring six men and women, who were dressed in either black or white, passing basketballs back and forth. We, the viewers, were told that we were about to undergo an investigation of our “selective attention.” We were instructed to count how many times in this short, videotaped session the players wearing white passed the big round balls to each other.

While we concentrated intently on trying to count each white-to-white throw, at least half of us failed to notice a character dressed in a gorilla costume walking nonchalantly from right to left through the small crowd on screen. Of course, when the video segment was replayed to reveal what we had missed, we were astonished, dumbfounded and could not explain how that gorilla escaped our attention. Professors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, authors of the New York Times best-seller “The Invisible Gorilla,” had proven how our powers of perception so often fail us. With eyes wide open, we never saw that gorilla.

There is a parallel to this “vision problem” in the current scenario of how electrical contractors view and approach the total marketplace of available work opportunities. Our invisible gorilla is residential service work.

If residential electrical service work fails to capture an appropriate level of attention from well-established electrical contractors, no one can blame Matt Kolbinsky for the industry’s lack of appreciation of its hidden value. Service manager at SECO Electric, based in Covington, Ky., Kolbinsky has preached to a steadily widening audience of otherwise successful ECs and electricians all across the country. For several years, he has delivered a powerful message about the highly desirable fundamentals of residential electrical service work: its profitability, its risk-profile, and—most especially—its abundance. 

While continuing to manage the thriving service operation at SECO, Kolbinsky has crisscrossed the country with a convincing message for new contractors—and an even greater number of soon-to-be contractors—on how to plan and start up successful businesses. He pursues this mission passionately. 

In his spirited delivery over the course of three-day seminars presented at least once a month, Kolbinsky becomes most highly energized when he talks about the hefty hourly rates that he has seen a savvy contingent of electrical contractors stealthily charge for residential service work. Periodically, he investigates the marketplace by doing some “phantom shopping,” concealing his identity to call a small collection of electrical contractors to inquire about their T&M billing rates for their services to homeowners. He later enjoys astounding his classroom listeners as he reveals to them the T&M rates that he has gathered. He gets even more enjoyment pointing out the profit potential in this highly accessible work that most well-heeled electrical contractors routinely ignore or, worse yet, regularly turn down.

Contrasting residential service work with the cutthroat competition of common-variety commercial construction—which he quickly dismisses as “shark tank work”—he touts residential service work, especially where new technologies come into play. He is particularly enthusiastic about the solar power market.

“Of all emerging business opportunities for electrical contractors,” he said, “solar has the greatest future growth potential.”

Unlike the typical wording in the fleet graphics on some ECs’ vehicles—and in a wink and nod to a famous national advertising campaign for the dairy industry—signage on SECO vans asks, “Got solar?”

While he stresses in his programs for new and prospective electrical contractors that residential service work is ripe for plucking in their planned sales and marketing efforts, Kolbinsky also emphasizes the limitless possibilities in lighting retrofit work. Just as he does in his pitch on behalf of residential work, he returns over and over to the basic proposition that solid payback calculations can drive customers’ buying decisions. But, here again, is opportunity hiding in plain sight. Utility company rebates, various tax breaks, and easily arranged lease financing—all presented properly in a proposal—can motivate a customer to act. Any EC can use these incentives. Few take advantage of them.

Kolbinsky offers some strong sales and marketing wisdom especially meant for the benefit of new contractors. If you’re paying attention, however, you’ll see it fits “old” contractors, too.

About the Author

Andrew McCoy

Freelance Writer
Responsible for millions of dollars in construction research, Dr. McCoy maintains a teaching schedule for undergraduate and graduate courses at Virginia Tech. Recognized for his study of service-based contracting by ELECTRI International and award-wi...
About the Author

Fred Sargent

Freelance Writer
Former CEO of a nationally-ranked electrical contracting firm, now with 45 years experience in the business, Fred Sargent today focuses on programs to benefit the advancement of service and maintenance work in the overall sales mix of electrical cont...

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