Create a Plumbing Pricebook Your Techs Can Understand

Diana LamirandDecember 30th, 2019

Plumbers are consistently in high demand. Nearly every plumbing job is an emergency and needs to be fixed right away, and most plumbing companies stay busy year-round with no downtime or slow season to clear their own drains. Help your trained plumbing technicians manage the demand overflow from customers out in the field by creating a plumbing cost estimator guide they can easily understand.

Consult with your plumbers first to better understand how they compile and communicate plumbing estimates to your customers:

  • Can they easily find detailed service descriptions, images and costs when working on a plumbing estimate for a customer? 
  • Do they clearly outline the benefits customers receive from any plumbing coupons or discounts offered by your company, and are those incentives easy to track in your profit reporting? 
  • Are your plumbing techs choosing “miscellaneous” way too often because your plumbing pricing manual is too complicated?

Kathy Nielsen, a business development consultant and operations expert who’s worked in the skilled trades for 20 years, advises companies to follow the old adage of “Keep it simple.”

“The simpler it is for your techs, the easier your transition will be” when creating a plumbing pricebook that functions really well for your company, Nielsen says. “You can always grow it, but if it’s so robust to begin with and your plumbing techs get all tied up in it … it doesn’t have to be something completely out of left field for everybody.”

Nielsen’s company, Operations Excellence, works with plumbing service companies and others in the skilled trades to: 1) create customer service and office management excellence; 2) establish standard operating procedures to increase efficiency; and 3) set up and optimize their ServiceTitan and QuickBooks accounts.

Relieve the pressure valve on your busy plumbers and build value for your customers by creating a well set-up and easy-to-use plumbing cost estimator guide. It not only increases your techs’ efficiency, but also drives your company’s profitability, reporting, truck replenishment and inventory. “It drives everything in your company,” Nielsen says. “It’s your complete foundation.”

Here are Nielsen’s top 5 tips on how to create a profitable plumbing pricebook:

Make Your Plumbing Estimates Guide Easy to Use

Master plumbers know their trade inside and out, and if they’re not spending the whole day in the field completing plumbing service calls, they’re training apprentice plumbers or journeymen on best practices. It’s no wonder they have little time to unclog the administrative side of the business!

Plumbing companies rely on their service techs to set clear expectations for customers when completing a plumbing work estimate. Keep your plumbers happy and the company flowing seamlessly by eliminating any guesswork in the field with an easy-to-use plumbing cost estimator guide.

Filled with detailed plumbing service product images, descriptions and prices, a flat-rate plumbing pricebook should clearly outline each specific task, the materials involved, the cost for service and materials, and the estimated time involved. 

Customers also like flat-rate pricing, because they know the cost upfront and pay a fixed flat rate for service, with time and materials already calculated in. “We all know the more times a technician offers options and educates the customer, the more money that can bring in for the business and the technician,” Nielsen says.

Set-up for some pricebooks requires the user to spend time searching for and manually adding in each service description and product image. ServiceTitan’s Pricebook Pro for plumbing comes loaded with curated content, detailed descriptions and vivid images already built-in. Pricebook Pro also includes an “Upgrades and Recommendations” feature that shows customers good, better and best options, along with recommendations for required parts. 

Track Discounts and Coupons in Pricebook

With plumbing service calls in such high demand, your company may not need to offer coupons and discounts, but Nielsen believes it’s a good way to market your brand to new and existing customers. Just make sure your plumbing technicians — master, journeyman or apprentice — understand how to utilize those incentives when interacting with your customers.

When offering an incentive to a customer, train your techs to properly track and apply a discount or coupon to the customer’s account and show the customer specifically how it reduced their total bill. Simply changing the price of a plumbing job and failing to apply the discount or coupon correctly on the account can cause confusion for customers and unnecessary grief for your office staff.

Nielsen considers a coupon as a marketing tool and a discount as a giveaway, and she advises companies to track each one in separate accounts for best reporting practices. She says it’s important for companies in the skilled trades industries to understand how much revenue they gave away in a discount form versus tracking customer engagement through coupons on the internet, via direct mail or distributed as part of a welcome wagon package for new residents.

Managers and owners can also use some plumbing pricebooks to set up an alert for their service managers to know whenever a technician utilizes a certain coupon or discount to add value to a job. The service manager can immediately discuss each incentive scenario with the technician to keep the giveaways under control, which ultimately helps your company’s bottom line.

Avoid These Common Pricing Mistakes

Most plumbing cost estimator guides function like a tree, with the trunk or base of the tree serving as the foundation for all plumbing services. The bigger branches show the subcategories, such as installing a new water heater or sump pump, and the leaves on the tree detail the specific tasks involved, such as “install water line connections” or “connect discharge pump,” as well as how much time each task takes to perform and the total job cost. As your plumbing techs move into the leaves of the tree, the pricebook guides them through each step.

When setting up your plumbing price guide, focus on the now and worry about beefing up your inventory later, Nielsen says. Build a strong foundation of well-defined tasks first, and then link to the materials (all of those pieces and parts your plumbers use to stock their trucks). Don’t make the mistake of building a pricebook with too many confusing choices or failing to include enough choices.

Keep in mind, your “equipment” (a toilet, water heater or sump pump with a model number and serial number) should not be considered “materials” (flapper, float valve, P-trap, etc.) for your business’ reporting purposes. Documenting both correctly helps to keep your pricebook simplified and your business reporting on the right track.

Another common mistake that complicates business reporting practices, Nielsen says, is allowing your techs to choose a “miscellaneous task” as the type of service provided to a customer. Listing a generic task or service with no real description or price is basically useless when trying to report your company’s services and earnings for the year. 

“It’s keeping honest techs honest,” Nielsen says. When your plumbers choose the miscellaneous option, it’s probably because they don’t have time to look up a particular item, or your pricebook includes too many choices and they don’t know which one to pick. In some instances, a dishonest tech might take advantage of the miscellaneous option by upcharging the customer and pocketing the money.

Explore Features Specific to ServiceTitan

Take the time to become familiar with your digital plumbing pricebook and take advantage of everything it can do. Some cool features specific to ServiceTitan include:

  • Payroll Reporting — While it doesn’t calculate payroll with tax tables, it allows you to run a report to show the company’s gross payout for a specific payroll period. 
  • Master Pay File for Technicians — Shows the services provided by each technician for a specific period of time and total sales, and easily calculates any bonuses or SPIFs owed.
  • Upgrades and Recommendations — Allows the tech to show customers a good option for repair or replacement as well as possible upgrades for better and best options, along with recommendations for required parts.
  • Pricebook Categories by Technician — Limits what each service technician sees in the plumbing pricebook so they only access information relevant to them, eliminating errors when discussing sales options with customers.
  • Pricebook Wizard — Allows you to set your company’s markups and labor rates, while ServiceTitan’s built-in feature calculates what prices to charge for each service. 
  • Service Descriptions and Images — Gives techs the ability to search for specific service descriptions with easily recognizable images when discussing repair or replacement options with homeowners. Pricebook Pro comes with content already built in.
  • Sandbox Site — Each week, ServiceTitan dumps your data — based on the previous week’s reporting — into a sandbox site you can use for training, as well as testing new pricebooks before they go live.

Tie Your Plumbing Pricebook Back to Data Reporting

The two most important things to remember when setting up your plumbing pricebook, Nielsen says, are “consistency breeds accuracy” and your pricebook drives everything when it comes to your company’s data reporting — from how efficiently your plumbing techs perform on the job to the profitability of your company.

Concentrate on setting up a clearly defined set of services first, then add materials, Nielsen says. She follows her own 80/20 rule when setting up pricebooks for companies, focusing on the top 20 or 30 most-used services and keeping them as current as possible when price changes happen in the plumbing service industry.

“There are a lot of items in our industry that are considered commodities. Copper, the last few years, has fluctuated like crazy, so you want to make sure you are catching those price changes,” she says. “Most equipment manufacturers have a price increase, usually about February, and lately those could be anywhere from 3 to 10 percent.

“Have your list of the top 20 or 30 items and at least check those quarterly,” Nielsen adds. “It’s too hard to say you’re going to keep an eye on your entire pricebook all the time, so be realistic with your goals.”

Set up your pricebook so all of your company’s business reporting feeds directly from it and make sure any cost information listed on invoices comes straight from your pricebook. If you do that and the tasks in your pricebook are well-built, you can feel very confident about your reporting.

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