No matter where your business is, you need to adapt to the fast-changing technological world. That means getting into eCommerce. But what about service businesses? In this episode, Will Housh of Contractor Commerce shows you how you can take your service business sales to the eCommerce world. What are the first few steps he took in making that transition? How is he helping contractors set up their own online stores? How do you bring the people into your store? Where does eCommerce fit into the skilled trades? Will answers these questions and more. Tune into this conversation to not miss out on important knowledge that is becoming more important now. Because if you don’t adapt, you just might get left behind.
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How To Take Your Service Business Sales To The Ecommerce World With Will Housh Of Contractor Commerce
I’m super excited about this episode. We’re going to talk about eCommerce and how does eCommerce fits into the skilled trades? I love this topic. When Will and I first had our introductory phone call, I was like, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to talk about.” I’m super excited to talk about all of this, how eCommerce can fit into the trades, and to avoid backlash in a negative aspect. At the same time, is this going to be as hard as that mental roadblock that I’m thinking and imagining in my head? With that being said, welcome to the show, Will.
Thanks. I’m glad to be here.
Give me a little background on you and I know you’re in the industry. Tell us a little bit about you and your history.
The quick version is I grew up as a third generation in a family HVAC and plumbing business in Ohio, commercial, residential service replacement, a little bit of new construction. I had a lot of great experiences in the trades. Eventually, in 2006, I started an eCommerce business to see if I could figure out how to sell some furnace filters and indoor air quality products online. One thing led to another.
I exited traditional contracting to focus on eCommerce 100% and have been growing that ever since. That’s been a great learning experience. I started Contractor Commerce to help other contractors also figure out eCommerce and embrace this trend that’s taken over the world, the way people shop for products and services, and try to help other contractors benefit from the things that I’ve learned.
What would you say your biggest pain point was along the way, as far as from the time you started Contractor Commerce or prior to starting Contractor Commerce, and knowing or wanting to have air filters or what was it that you were trying to put online?
I think I started with this thought of how do homeowners want to be treated? How do they want to shop? In the early days of eCommerce, I liked shopping that way. It was apparent to me that trend was only going to grow for a long time. I felt like a lot of people in the trades, a lot of contractors tend to keep doing business the way they’ve always done it. They start with this is how we do things and they work forward to try to fit the customer into that process somehow.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always looked at it in reverse. I like starting with what does the customer want and then work backward from there to design a business around that. When I saw eCommerce starting to take off and I started liking to shop online, I thought, “There’s got to be a way to adapt our business, to be able to do this also, harness that trend and serve people that way.” I think that was probably the pain point that I was looking at or trying to solve. How do we do this and help people have that convenient service?
What was the first thing you put online?
It’s furnace filters and water panels. It’s indoor air quality consumables. That was partly because people replace them on a regular basis. The idea of a subscription made sense to me. We had existing supplier relationships that we were able to start with. We had a catalog. I got it rolling from there.
Whenever I think about some eCommerce, I think like Amazon links and stuff like that, dropshipping or I have to have a full inventory of stuff that I have to ship out manually. Is that what we’re thinking about here?
In the early days, where I started was bringing the products into a warehouse, figuring out how to build a website, pack and ship the orders, physically doing it. That’s evolved somewhat. It has grown quite a bit over the years, but now what we’re doing is we’re helping contractors have their online store on their company website so they can offer that online shopping experience to their customers.
[bctt tweet=”Your online store is only as good as how you choose to use it.” via=”no”]
The customer can buy a furnace filter or a maintenance agreement. They can place an order for a fully installed system. The cool thing about it now is the contractor doesn’t have to figure out all the stuff you were talking about, the stocking, the products, the dropshipping, the linking, and the packing and shipping. We do that for them.
That’s what Contractor Commerce does. It’s the pain point of inventory.
It’s technology, marketing and websites. If you’re a contractor and you’re thinking, “I’ve been doing business a certain way for twenty years, but I see this trend. I want to harness or cast a net into those waters. How do I do that?” That feels like a big daunting project, “I’m going to be tens of thousands of dollars and a couple of years of effort. I don’t have that extra time.” You put it on the shelf and move on. What we’re doing is a plug and play solution that takes 15 to 30 minutes to have up and to go fully configured and functional on your website. You can be in the eCommerce game now and not have to shell out a whole bunch of money upfront or time you don’t have.
Tell me how this compares to something like a FilterFetch or Rotobrush has something similar to the FilterFetch thing.
I don’t know everything about those programs. Based on my understanding, I think one key difference is that what we’re doing is we’re supercharging a contractor’s existing website so that their customers can come to their website, go through a complete shopping experience all the way through checkout on BobsHeating.com, or whatever your website is. Your customer is interacting with your brand on your website rather than going to someone else’s website to place an order. When I was a contractor, it was important to me to keep my customer base close. You work hard to earn those customers. You spend a lot of marketing dollars to acquire them.
Keep that fence around them.
I think we’ve brought that philosophy into the way we built the program. It’s all about helping the contractor build and retain their customer base. Let’s say you get hundreds of people signed up for automatic delivery of their filters through your website. Guess who they’re going to call when they need a quote on a new system?
Does this send a reminder that they need monthly filters? Do we need to set up a Mailchimp auto-reminder to send them an email telling them, “It’s time to order your filters again?”
It’s some of each. Our system has certain reminders and things like that. It’s not a full-blown email marketing solution. In addition to what our platform can do out of the box, we see contractors sign up for MailChimp or Constant Contact or something like that. They can do even more email marketing to promote it. I tell people this all the time. Your online store is only as good as how you choose to use it and how many people you get to see it. If you have an online store and nobody comes to it, you’re not going to make any sales. If you market, promote, are doing email marketing, social media, some of those kinds of things, it can be a real differentiator for your company.
Not only that, whenever somebody is in a Facebook Marketplace group, this is what comes to mind with me. Somebody says, “Where’s the best place to get this and that and the other?” You send a link to your website. That’s going to send more SEO juice if they click that link and go through that entire funnel or process.
The frustrating thing is that for years and years now, contractors have been sending their customers to Amazon or Home Depot, or wherever. It’s taking the furnace filter thing as one aspect. It’s a hassle to deal with filters yourself and run across town to the supply house to get the exact right thing for the right customer on the right day on the right track.
Hope it doesn’t get crushed on the way over there. It’s destroyed by the time you get to the house.
The alternative has been to send to Amazon, which doesn’t do you any good as a contractor. Now, if you can get the best of both worlds, you get to Amazon-like online shopping experience at a Prime-type same-day shipping, 1 to 2 business day delivery, FedEx ground, right to your customer’s front porch for a competitive price. You get to keep some margin, keep them on your website, interact with them, and have that data to follow up on. That’s the best of everything.
How do the prices compare to Amazon or Home Depot or like your Lowe’s or us physically go into a supply house? Obviously, that’s probably going to be the cheapest route other than the labor portion of it. On the materials side of things, it might be the cheapest, but once you calculate labor, it’s going to be extremely expensive.
It’s labor, fuel, depreciation, and also opportunity costs. The technician could be doing something that’s much more billable in a market where there’s a labor shortage, to begin with. Do your techs have time to be delivering filters to people’s houses? Probably not. The cool thing about this is it’s the contractor’s store. We provide great technology. We get it plugged in. At the end of the day, you have complete control over how you price your products. You asked how competitive you are and how you compare? It depends on the markup.
It is a different business model than delivering on the back of the truck. You can do it much more efficiently, but your customers will price shop you against Amazon. You can make a choice to be in that same ballpark on price and still be right there with Amazon, which some people find hard to believe. Because of how long we’ve been doing this and the scale that we’re operating, we’re able to pass along a lot of savings and put people in the position to move a lot of products.
With that being said, I understand the air filter portion of it. Are there other products that you’re offering, too, say like contact or a capacitor? We would normally, in a traditional market would say, “We won’t install anything that we don’t provide.” If they go on our website and then it contradicts it and says, “Buy this capacitor on our website,” or whatever the case may be. Is that the case? I’m thinking to myself, “If you get a strong enough SEO presence and you start showing up for the keyword searches, you’re not necessarily selling it to people that are in your market area. They could be purchasing from across the country or whatever.”
In our dropship catalog, we’ve stuck mainly with indoor air quality consumables. Going back to the philosophy, it’s your store, catalog. There are tools built in that allow each contractor to add items to their own catalog that they want to sell themselves. Maybe they stock it, are going to ship it, offer it for pickup at their parts counter, and that’s the physical products aspect of this. The other thing that there’s a lot of momentum around is contractors using this tool to sell services on their websites. Maintenance agreements are huge. We have customers that are selling hundreds of maintenance agreements.
Tune-ups, duct cleaning, provide and install Wi-Fi thermostat and replacement capacitor. You brought up the repair parts. All those services that people have been flat rate pricing can be listed online for sale. If customers are on your website looking for a drain cleaning or a water heater replacement, or a HEPA filtration system installation, why not let them look at that in your online catalog, put it in their cart, and give you a credit card and pay for it?
I got a bunch of questions off of that last little bit. Is there an integration with any CRM so that when they do, go to checkout? They could say, “These are our available time slots also. Pick a time that fits for you and we’ll come out there,” or whatever.
We have several integration options already built and we’re building more all the time.
The next thing is you mentioned that we could do a system replacement on here. Can you explain that workflow? Before you answer that, though, I got another question that popped into my mind, are we collecting data as they’re working through this funnel? If they decide not to purchase the capacitor, do we at least have some contact information or anything like that? The first thought that some people may have is what happens if our competitor goes on our website, starts clicking through and looking at our prices, and stuff like that.
[bctt tweet=”Everybody’s online. Everybody has a device in their pocket. Let’s leverage that and let them come to us.” via=”no”]
Each contractor has the flexibility to configure their store so that they can require people to enter their name, phone number, email address before they see, let’s say, system pricing, for example. Some contractors like to have that layer or that step of protection built into the process. Some choose not to put that barrier between the customer and the pricing. That’s a decision that you can make. Workflow wise on the systems piece, the idea is we know customers want to buy. They all want to be sold. If you ask somebody, “Do you want to have a stranger come into your house? Yes or no?” “No.” “Do you want to be under the gun at the kitchen table to make a decision right now before you’ve had a chance to think about it, yes or no?” “No, of course not.”
What customers want to do is they want to do some upfront research. They want to figure out, “What I am getting myself into here? What’s my budget range? What are the options?” That’s what our system does for the HVAC systems in particular. The customer comes to your site. They answer a few quick questions, click through an easy little questionnaire about their home and situation. They can see a page that shows the good, better, best system options, side by side, comparing features, benefits, pricing, warranties, and all that add-on options. They can pick the system that they want and place an order, or they can request more information and basically become a hot lead, and your sales team can follow up.
With that information that they receive, I’m sure that it can’t be an exact price. Is there some wording or an asterisk, like, “This isn’t the exact price,” because there are certain situations like you don’t have access to your attic and all your stuff is in the attic? “By the way, your ductwork is completely ransacked by raccoons,” or something. We can’t tell that information before we get out there.
All along the process, there’s wording that explains to the homeowner that a key step in the process is an in-home visit. Before any money changes hands, a job is scheduled, any equipment is ordered, somebody’s got to go out there and verify the job details, meet with the customer, make sure there are no raccoons in the duct, and lock in the final scope of work and the final price, do a load calculation. Whatever the steps are that you would normally do when it’s time to prep for a job, measure, make a material list, you’re going to do that. We’re not changing operationally what happens in the course of closing a deal, ordering the equipment, doing the work, and collecting payment.
What we’re doing is the front-end piece, which is people are online. How do we get them to your website to do your shopping, and then have them either make a selection or at least say, “Please contact me. This is the system that I want to talk to you about? It’s 2021, for goodness’ sake. Technology is out there. Everybody’s online and got a device in their pocket. Let’s leverage that?” The nice thing about doing it on your website, as opposed to them Googling, “What are furnace prices in my area,” you can control the message. It’s a lot closer to the reality for your business in your market than what they might find elsewhere online.
We all know that they can fluctuate a great amount across the state line because of certain requirements and everything else. Are you able to share financing options also, or is that like, “We have financing available. Ask for more?”
It integrates with your existing financing, how you can display what the monthly pricing would be. You can show the fully installed prices. You could show one or the other. You can show both at the same time. We have some customers that decide not to show pricing at all on systems until they get out for the in-home visits. Lots of flexibility with how it’s configured to make it work the way you want it to work.
The last question I have about this is, is there a certain platform? Do you have to have a WordPress website or something like that? Is it being hosted somewhere else, and you’re using a sub-domain to do this?
It is not hosted somewhere else on a subdomain. It will implement on any website. It does not have to be WordPress. We’re on homegrown websites, Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy, etc. It’s built to plug into anything.
It sounds like you’ve figured out the answer to everything, every problem that could be thrown at us.
I’ve been asked these same questions many times.
Especially with the hesitation to move forward in our industry of new technology, I could only imagine how much skepticism that you have to battle against. I’m over here chomping at the bit. I’m like, “Where do I sign up because I need this now?”
A few years ago, when we got this thing started, there was a bit more skepticism in the industry. The idea of eCommerce to some contractors almost seemed a little threatening. It’s going to disrupt their world. With the changes we’ve seen in our society with more people staying home, shopping online, all the safety requirements for contractors even come into a customer’s home, to begin with, it has changed the dynamic dramatically.
There’s a great deal of momentum in the trades now. People have woken up to this reality that, “Yeah, we do need to be thinking about how do we provide this information remotely through our website?” Let’s let people transact online, not just fill out a Contact Us form. It isn’t something to be scared of. It’s an opportunity to be grasped and harnessed.
I remember whenever Amazon first announced they were getting into the services or service industry and there were Amazon services, and that teetered out. I remember everybody like, “Amazon and Google are going take over the service industry. We have to do what we can to get offline or whatever.” Obviously, it’s tough because you can devalue yourself if you’re selling Amazon versus yourself. I appreciate that.
I thought to myself, I was like, “I need to do something like what Will’s doing here.” I got to get some marketplace going but creating an Amazon marketplace, unless you have a woo-commerce website, it’s not a super easy task to accomplish. I love that you’re saying that it’s a simple integration. How long does it usually take from the time that we signed on the dotted line until we’re starting to see orders come in?
Getting a store up on the website, I’ve done that in 7 or 8 minutes. It’s crazy quick and easy to put on the website. There are a few minutes of backend configuration to make sure of product markups and user permissions. There are a few up things like it that we make a direct deposit. After that, the sales roll in as soon as you start showing it to your customers. There’s no hesitation. We’ve had folks sign up, implement, and get their first sale on the same day.
Do we have to go in and put our logos on anything? How does that work?
As soon as someone registers for an account, we schedule an onboarding call. We walk everybody through onboarding. We get face-to-face like this and walk through a few simple configuration steps. One of those is uploading your company logo, making sure that those order confirmation emails and everything is branded and looking nice. You’re not on your own to figure this thing out. That’s the point.
You don’t throw people out there. Here’s the informational video and you’re done. You can figure it out now. We are on a WordPress website, and we are like, “We’re going to have somebody like Paul change up a website and put us on a Squarespace or Wix website or something else.” Is that something that’s difficult to transition, or is that something you all take care of? It’s not something that happens a lot or ever probably.
It happens from time to time that someone will migrate platforms. It’s basically a copy-paste. It takes no time at all for it to move from one platform to another.
The last question I have, and then we’ll be done. What do we need to do a demo or learn more about you and all that good jazz?
It sounds like you’re ready to do a demo. You go to ContractorCommerce.com. There’s a big orange Get Demo button. Click the button and schedule a demo for a time that works for you. We’ll walk you right through it.
Does the pricing structure range in size, or is it flat across the board?
There are three plan options. They are all month to month. You basically pick the plan that you want depending on the features that you want to use. It can be broken down. Do you want to sell dropship filters? Do you want to sell services like maintenance agreements or tune-ups? Do you want to do the fully installed systems? Based on how you want to use it, you can opt into whatever plan makes sense for you.
All that stuff’s listed there on the website?
Yeah. It’s ContractorCommerce.com. At the top, there’s a link that says, “Pricing,” and you can see the plans right there.
Will, thank you so much for answering my questions. I’m sure it answered tons of other people’s questions, too, along the way. It sounds like they’re questions that you’ve been asked before, so that’s good.
Thanks so much for having me. It’s fun to think about the future of the trades and how we, as contractors, can evolve to serve customers the way they want to be served. It’s good stuff.
I will definitely be reaching out to you. If anybody has any questions about this at all, reach out to Will or myself, and I’d be happy to connect you with Will and also ContractorCommerce.com. Don’t hesitate. Go there, check it out. Obviously, I’m a little excited about this, but that being said, thank you, everybody, for reading this. It is a show focused on service business owners, managers, and technicians, who are considering becoming business owners themselves. I hope you have a wonderful and safe week until we talk to you next time.
About Will Housh
Will Housh was a traditional HVAC and plumbing contractor. In 2006, he recognized that eventually everything would be bought and sold online, so Will moved into e-commerce.
Today, Will leads an eCommerce business called Same Day Supply and a software-as-a-service business called Contractor Commerce. Will is engaged as a volunteer and board member at two non-profits mainly focused on serving orphans, foster children, and other vulnerable kids.
Will is actively looking for additional suppliers with whom they can partner in the e-commerce business. He is also seeking opportunities to serve as an investor, advisor, and/or board member for companies where Will can add value and bring a fresh perspective through his extensive experience with HVAC, eCommerce, technology, and digital marketing.