Lost But Not Alone


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It is time to add some building performance “thinking” to our commercial service business. And, I am finding that getting started is pretty hard. If you google the phrase, you mostly end up with information about ESCO’s and becoming a “Performance Contractor” and that is not where I am headed with this endeavor. It looks to me like there is information but it is not easy to translate nor readily available.

But surely, I am thinking, the Building Performance “movement” is a good way to go to add value and demonstrate differentiation in this end of the business. “Surely”, I say to myself, “there are lots of materials in our company resource library”. So, I went to my library to open up the manuals on growing our commercial business operations through the use of “systems thinking” and “use of building performance” like we do in the Home Performance Contracting business.  I looked up “Commercial Building Performance” and …  whoops … there are no good reference materials.

Undeterred, I emailed some of my close friends in the industry, “Hey, send me your Commercial Building Performance Process. And, while you are at it, send me your methodology for dong a small commercial energy audit and your estimating process”. This would be a great way to start, I thought. I will do R&D (Rob and Duplicate) on what my friends are doing and then we can build on that with our Home Performance knowledge.

But, I got very few answers and not much in the way of documentation and support.  There was a lot of interest from my friends, but they were mostly in the same position as me. They know a good bit about building performance but most of their applications are in their residential business and not their commercial business. Almost to a company, their response was, “Hey Steve, when you get this figured out … send us the information.”

This is a problem and … I already had a fully booked up calendar of (previously scheduled) problems and really did not need any more.

Ok, I thought. I am a voracious reader and often scour the public and trade press for ideas and angles to make our business better. Back to the internet and to the historical copies of articles in the trade press. Fortunately, there are some good contractors to follow and some knowledge available in the trade press. Yet, it appears that there are not many companies to benchmark off of and to follow working on commercial building performance improvement.  And, unfortunately for me, I do not know most of the ones that are already doing this work.

Back to the trade press … read and study. When you read these articles, they are all about how the contractor has “figured it out” and is now “doing great things” and “operating profitably.” Sometimes, I just throw up my hands in dismay because it seems like everyone else is seeing fantastic success and the sun is always shining on their life and their business. Why can’t all this good stuff just come to me and to make our business better?

In reality having a bunch of readily available information probably would not have helped. In truth, I am a struggler. As a friend of mine put it not too long ago, “you are not happy unless you are unhappy”.  And, that is apparently true as I get impatient and when the world and economy are not stirring up difficulty in my life, I am just restless enough to stir it up myself.

The current struggle is the effort to take the building performance knowledge that we have built in our construction, consulting and existing single family service and energy retrofit business and push it into our commercial service business. I want it to be easy … and, in fact, it is not.  We have a decent and growing commercial service and retrofit business.  Growing commercial has been an emphasis for 4 or 5 years and we are slowly building a solid core of clients. But, the process seems slow and we have not yet found the right business model that really accelerates growth and really gives us an edge.

There are some great tools and information and applications but part of our problem is that we must build this offering around our existing process and the skills and interests of our current leadership team. In general, I do not think I have done much to build out a platform that makes it smart and simple and logical and profitable. We have knowledge but it is not properly packaged for internal consumption. Tempo is a good example of a company that buys the concept but has not yet built up to the kind of  commercial service and service agreement program like we have in other parts of our business. We are now approaching the point where it makes business sense for internal investment but we do not see a clear path … and could benefit from process and performance metrics developed by others.

This very problem is part of the reason that ACCA has created the Building Performance Council. One of our committee goals it to provide contractors who are predominately residential a path to grow their commercial BPC business and we are collectively working on that effort.

One friend of mine, Jim Crowder of Air Advice/Building Advice, has some very interesting ideas on the subject. I think he has an intelligent and actionable approach on getting traction in the commercial building performance area. Essentially, Jim thinks that we can build our Commercial Building Performance business around our Commercial Planned Maintenance clients. As Jim and I have talked about this effort at length, he has convinced me that there is a business model for growing and retaining commercial maintenance clients and using building analysis to demonstrate value and to grow retrofit and renovation opportunities.

My problem is pretty similar to a lot of your problems. Working on this type of issues is the major purpose for the ACCA Building Performance Council and ACCA’s investment in this business arena. ACCA’s objective is to take situations like Tempo’s and shine a light on both the business opportunity and the back end processes needed to properly address the delivery of services.

I am lost, but I am not alone.

Steve Saunders

Posted In: Building Performance, Commercial Buildings

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