A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a colleague. His comment was that he wanted clients, not customers. I asked him what the difference was. He said that clients come back and use you again. Customers may or may not come back.

I had to look up the definitions myself. I was surprised.

The definitions were not as he described. However, I found something different. I like the definition of client - a person under patronage. I also liked the definition of patron - a protector; one who supports a person or a work.

We are protectors. We help make sure that the HVAC system in a home or office operates efficiently and keeps the occupants comfortable. We're available when problems arise. Our job is to build trust so that we can be depended upon.

So, perhaps we should think of our customers as clients. Most professionals have clients. We are professionals. I always tell technicians that they are the doctors. Clients are calling them to fix or maintain their systems. And, the technician is responsible for giving an expert opinion about the health of an HVAC system.

Not telling a client something because he or she is afraid that the repairs would be too expensive, take too much time, etc., is a breach of duty as a technician. How would technicians like it if when they went to the doctor with a broken bone, the doctor took their blood pressure but didn't tell them it was high because the doctor was only concerned about the broken bone?

The client is a technician's patron. It is the technician's responsibility to educate the client so that he or she can make an informed decision about what is best. It is the client's right to decide to do everything that the technician recommends or nothing the technician recommends.

And, yes, sometimes clients make the wrong decision, in our minds. However, it's still their choice.

Let's continue to protect the HVAC systems of our clients... they are our patrons.

A warehouse 'supermarket'

Success is not just a matter of attracting clients. The business itself must be run properly.

One of the things that absolutely drives me nuts is contractors wasting their hard-earned cash on inventory. Time after time, I go into warehouses where technicians and installers have the run of the warehouse. They choose the parts they need for a job. They have a shopping cart with no cap on spending. They can fill it to their hearts' content.

A mechanic says, "I think I may need this," so off the shelf it goes. Or, "The drawings say I need 10 boots; I'd better take 12 just in case." Or, "I'd also better take an additional box of flex duct - just in case." Does any of it ever come back? Rarely.

A technician says, "I used a motor. I'd better take two for my truck, just in case I need it this weekend." And when you inventory his or her truck, there are thousands of dollars of inventory, some of it damaged from being thrown around.

If you give your employees run of the warehouse with a blank check, they don't even think twice about taking the materials and tools they might need. They don't have to pay the bill and, after all, you're the owner and you can afford it!

Stop running a "supermarket" warehouse. Limit access to the warehouse. Have a materials list for jobs. Pull the materials for jobs from that list. Service parts should be re-stocked from the invoices showing that a technician used a part. Keep field people out of the supply houses.

It takes a little time to reset procedures and you will encounter resistance from field labor who are used to having free reign. If it takes a parts runner or a warehouse person to accomplish this, then hire that person.

Please lock up your warehouses. Lock up your parts rooms. Lock up your tools. It's the best way to save your hard-earned cash. Copyright 2003, Ruth King. All rights reserved. Ruth King's American Contractor Exchange

http://www.acecontractor.com. Mail 1650 Oakbrook Drive, Suite 405, Norcross, GA 30093. Call (800) 511-6844; (770) 729-8028 (fax)