Maintenance Plans Mean Steady Work

Selling commercial clients on routine checkups provides stability for your business and peace of mind for customers.

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You’ve undoubtedly received an emergency call from a desperate restaurant manager or business owner in a panic over a plumbing problem. For contractors who have been there, selling a preventive maintenance agreement is about selling peace of mind.

For commercial accounts, the goal is avoiding a backup, or worse — a shutdown — that leads to a potential loss of business. The service provider can better benefit the client by offering and encouraging some type of program that will help alleviate these situations.

Daniel Baker, owner of Tight Seal Plumbing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, often finds the opportunity to reach agreements with customers to service and repair Takagi and Rinnai tankless water heaters. These units, particularly in large buildings or complexes, need regular maintenance depending on the installation.

“This is something that we do,” Baker says. “Sometimes tearing them down and rebuilding in the field. They are complex equipment, and if things are not done right in the front end – not properly installed, or are neglected – preventive maintenance can be an important measure for the client.”

When Tight Seal is called on to solve a tankless water heater problem, the result is frequently an ongoing relationship with the client. Often there will be other work for the contractor, which is a positive thing. However, for preventive maintenance on the tankless water heater, there is not a signed contract or formal agreement. Baker prefers to have the customer put the need for a checkup on his scheduled calendar. This has worked well for both sides.

The most beneficial thing for the customer is having equipment that is functioning. For Baker, the benefit is seeing his company grow and the revenue increase.

Tim Ottis, general manager of Roto-Rooter of Forth Worth in Texas, says they have been offering preventive maintenance contracts for quite some time to their commercial clients, especially restaurants.

“The cities are coming down hard wanting these accounts to maintain their grease traps and keep as much of the grease out of the public sewer systems as possible,” Ottis says. “We also have contracts with car washes to pump and clean their sand interceptors and grit separators.”

Written contracts for maintenance services generally run for a year, he says, and the language will include a guarantee that the lines they clear will remain open for at least 30 days. The contract will also state how often they will come in to service the lines. The language is pretty straightforward, Ottis says.

If his technicians find there is a problem, they will notify the customer and then do a video inspection to diagnose the issue. This is written into the contract. Roto-Rooter of Forth Worth wants to be able to get the customer up and running again, and in most cases there is no extra charge for these video inspections.

Ottis says it’s easy to sell the idea. The cities are making it clear they want to keep grease out of their sanitary sewer systems. He’ll bring in his truck with a 120-foot reel and a 2,000 psi jetter attached. “We can do it all with this one truck,” he says.

A Gentlemen’s Agreement
Pat Brown, owner of Roto-Rooter of Sioux City, Iowa, says scheduling routine maintenance work helps balance the workload between emergency calls.

“We have a number of accounts on a plan,” Brown says. “We may go in on a Wednesday at 6 p.m. to check up, or at a time more convenient, perhaps if it would be 9 p.m. This is a positive tool for us, and also for our client.”

Brown does not deal with signed contracts, opting instead to work out verbal agreements with his commercial accounts.

“We’re not going to lock anyone into this,” Brown says. “Maybe they will think they can get it done for less money elsewhere, or they think another company will do a better job. Sometimes our agreement will be on a quarterly basis, say every three or four months where we come in and do some work. We’ll call and remind the client that it’s time for us to visit.

“Sometimes there will be a new manager on board with our client,” he says. “He may say that they don’t have the money for this agreement. We know what is going to happen.” He says they know they will get a call back in most situations.

Providing a preventive maintenance program with commercial customers has been a positive thing for Avery Zahn, owner of Infra-Track in Worthing, South Dakota. The obvious benefit for the client is preventing a backup that can shut down a business. However, many times the customer doesn’t realize the importance of this service until there is a problem. They don’t want the added cost of the regular checkup, but once they have a problem, they realize they should reconsider.      

“Our commercial customers might opt for our coming in once a month, or every three months,” Zahn says. “We even have customers who have us come in once a week. We will just do a verbal agreement … a gentlemen’s agreement. I’m old school. Our customers have a lot of faith and trust in us.”

In addition to the benefits for their customer, the advantage for Infra-Track is being able to schedule the work ahead of time, rather than getting an emergency call.

“This is actually huge for us,” he says. “If we can schedule the work it helps our technicians to know where they will be working. It is extra assurance of steady work, and a win-win for all.”



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