I was visiting with a pump contractor a few weeks ago and was interested to learn that his business has nearly doubled this year over last year. I asked why he thought it was doing so well; was it pent up demand after four years of a tough economy, the loss of a competitor or something else?

He is located in the Central Valley of California near Fresno, in an area where large groves of almond trees are replacing vineyards. He explained that young almond trees demand more water over a longer period of time than the mature grapevines they are replacing, which has caused the water table to drop. As a result, many of the private and municipal wells in the area are having to be upgraded with new pumps set at lower levels. All of this is a boon to the well drillers and pump installers in the area.

Attending trade shows and pursuing professional development

Attending trade shows and pursuing professional development help keep contractors up on the latest trends in the industry and can give them an edge over their competition. Source: iStock

Whether you are a well driller, pump installer or both, there are many factors affecting your business, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. Factors like the weather and the economy are beyond our direct control but, as smart business people, we can at least look at trends and try to prepare for what is coming.

If economic conditions in our market area are trending downward, we can tighten our belts or expand our service area or product offering. As a small business owner, one of your most valuable assets is your customer base. When times get tough, think of other products and services your customers could use. If you’ve been installing and servicing pumps and that part of your business drops by 25 percent, consider adding water conditioning to your line of products and services. Or offer a special on constant pressure upgrades. You’ve spent years developing a level of trust with customers, which gives you unique access to them for offering products and services they would likely not consider otherwise.

What are some of the factors driving your business over which you do have direct control? Consider grading yourself on the following points.

Integrity: Be honest in all your dealings. Rotary International has a “Four Way Test” that works well in all relationships, business and personal. 

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Professionalism: How to you present yourself and your company to your customers? Do you and your staff dress appropriately, in clean work clothing or uniforms? What about personal hygiene and grooming? Do you show up with hair combed (if you have any), and a clean-shaven face or trimmed beard? Are your hands clean from the last job before moving to the next? Have you taken a shower this week?

Trucks and equipment: Do you keep your vehicles clean and looking good? Do you have the latest tools and equipment appropriate to the type of work you do?

There’s nothing like pulling out a big Fluke digital multimeter (assuming you know how to run it) to impress the customer looking over your shoulder.

Knowledge: Are you up on the latest products and procedures pertinent to your business? Do you attend your industry trade shows and go to the seminars offered? Do you go to distributor open houses and visit with the vendors to see what they have to offer that you could use? How well do you know your competition, his product offering, pricing, terms, etc.?

Momentum: Your grandfather started the business and it’s like a freight train that just keeps on rolling. Watch out. If you don’t keep stoking that fire box, the train will eventually come to a stop.

Complacency: Careful here. I’ve seen too many companies die a slow painful death because they were stuck on the idea that, “if it worked for grandpa, it’ll work for me” or, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Be flexible and open to new ideas. There are a lot of really smart folks out there working on new and better mouse traps and, just because something has worked fine for years and you are comfortable with it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to considering some new product or idea.

Competition: Are you the little guy nipping at the heels of the big guy or the other way around? Either way, keep a keen eye on the competition. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are they doing better than you? What products or services are they offering that you aren’t? If the total number of wells to be drilled or pumps to be installed in your area is pretty stable year over year, one way to grow your business is to do a better job than your competitors and take some of their customers.

Aggressiveness: If you are not the big dog in your area, one reason might be that your competition is more aggressive than you are in terms of asking for the order or suggesting other products to consider. But, you say, “that’s not my way.” That doesn’t mean you couldn’t change if it would be good for business. The first company I worked for out of college required all new employees take the Dale Carnegie course on how to win friends and influence people. Corny, I know, but it was life changing for me because

it got me out of my shell. One of the exercises was on enthusiasm. We had to stand up in front of the class and repeat over and over, “act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic.” We all grow up with a certain modus operandi that worked for us as kids, and most of us keep operating that way into adulthood. We’re comfortable being the way we are. For me, it was the strong silent type. Dale Carnegie helped me realize that I didn’t need to be that way if it wasn’t serving me as an adult. If you are operating in a way that is not serving the best interests of your company, change your way of operating. It will be awkward at first but, in time, it will become more natural. They (usually referring to some type of exercise, whoever they are) say that if we do something for 21 days, it will become a habit.

We’ve looked at some of the things affecting your business that you can control and some that you can’t. Keep an eye on the things over which you have no direct control, like the weather and the economy, and make adjustments along the way to compensate as those factors change. But your main focus should be on the things over which you have direct control, like

honesty, professionalism and cust-omer service. If you manage these things properly and always go the extra mile and give them more than they expect, your business will thrive regardless of influences beyond your control.  

 Contact bobpelikan@comcast.net to request a copy of The Pump Book, a compilation of my columns for reference or training available for only $20.