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Plumbers Supply’s “Win-Win-Win-Win”

SBE-Service Business Evolution provides ‘complete channel lift’

In 2015, MDM is recognizing distributors that are innovative in their approach to their markets. Plumbers Supply Co., Louisville, KY, was selected as an MDM Market Mover for its participation in a training program and app to help its contractor customers address a looming labor shortage, which is providing a complete channel lift for its partners.


2015 MDM Market Mover


Distributor: Plumbers Supply Co.
Headquarters: Louisville, KY
Leadership: President & COO Jay Johnson
Details: HVAC & plumbing distributor participates in training program to help contractor partners make a field technician career more attractive while increasing individual productivity for techs.


Nearly two-thirds of field technicians in the HVAC industry are expected to retire in the next 10 years. At the same time, it is getting more difficult to find young people to take up the trade.

“Not only do they not understand the trade, but young people don’t think that there’s money to be made in it either,” says Scott Ritchey, vice president of sales and marketing for Plumbers Supply Co., Louisville, KY.

The looming labor shortage has many contractors and distributors asking two questions: How do we make this an attractive career for young people? And, how do we maximize the productivity of the techs we do have?

The solution for Plumbers Supply came in the form of a York HVAC-exclusive program called SBE-Service Business Evolution. The distributor is one of 11participating in the pilot program, and since it began the program in January 2014, SBE has exceeded all expectations.

The premise of SBE is to teach field techs how to have an honest conversation with homeowners about the value of replacing or repairing older HVAC units.

“It allows the homeowners to feel comfortable in telling the technicians what they really want without being sold,” Ritchey says. As a general rule, the technician is the person the homeowner trusts the most in the transaction. Under SBE, the technician begins the conversation about what the homeowner needs in a new unit to build trust before the transaction.

By allowing the homeowner to deal with the technician, they end up closing the opportunity “right there on the spot,” and there’s no risk of losing the sale to a bid process, Ritchey says. The technician learns how to have these open conversations with the homeowners, creating faster project turnaround, which increases individual productivity.

Revenue for the contractor goes up, making it possible to increase the wages – which in turn, makes a field technician career more attractive for young people. And the homeowner wins because they weren’t put into a high-pressure situation with a sales rep just trying to get commission by closing a deal.

The distributors partner with their contractor customers to enroll in the training program, a two-year process, Ritchey says, and both play essential roles for success.

Each contractor assigns a coach to provide training sessions that continuously develop the tech’s skills and provide a check on how the training is being applied.

“The coach helps the tech understand: You’re not selling; you’re having a conversation that informs the homeowner that if they want to make this decision, then they can go ahead and make that with you,” Ritchey says.

The distributor, meanwhile, assigns a territory manager to meet with the contractor coaches. The territory manager goes through the same training process and, as a result, understands the entire process.

Having the distributor participate in coaching the coaches helps improve buy-in at the contractor level, Ritchey says, and it helps strengthen the partnership.

Goals are set locally and an app helps monitor application of the skills learned. The app allows techs to monitor their progress, but also provides a check to make sure they’re behaving ethically, Ritchey says. The coach or manager can see each of the transactions that the tech completes and identify any red flags that might appear. For example, if a tech sees this program as an opportunity to earn more money by becoming more of a sales person than a tech, that will show up in the numbers on the app.

While it’s still early in the program for Plumbers Supply, they’ve seen some of their contractors double their revenue per technician per truck.

SBE provides “a complete channel lift,” Ritchey says, strengthening the relationship between consumer, contractor, distributor and manufacturer. “It really is a win-win-win-win situation,” Ritchey says. “Everyone benefits.”

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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