State of the Contractor

Every survey that Phc News conducts is an opportunity to hear from the heartbeat of our industry: the reader. Readers help us understand industry habits, preferences, questions, and other needs. Our annual “State of the Contractor” survey specifically helps us get a pulse on business in the plumbing and hydronics markets.

This year, we added questions to the survey, improved the infographic with comprehensive data from the survey, and created a superlatives theme to support the businesses that are highlighted in this issue.

We started by first expanding the demographical information that we collected from contractors. One question we added dealt with gender in the workplace. Of the companies surveyed, 99 percent reported that more than half of their employees are male. Only 1 percent reported that less than half are male. Such data substantiates the need for efforts like the American Supply Association’s Women in Industry Conference, which will be taking place for the second time on April 15-17, in Washington, D.C. The industry has an opportunity to improve job, networking, and education opportunities for women.

Another demographical data point, which is no stranger to discussion, is the age of employees in the industry. More specifically, the discussion has centered on the number of professionals entering retiring age and the resulting need to recruit young people into the industry to fill those spots. According to survey respondents, our industry is doing a better job with this than many of us thought. Of the contractors surveyed, 35 percent noted that the majority of their employees were between the ages of 36 to 50 years old. I should also note that the age bracket of 21 to 35 years old came in at a close-second, with 34 percent of respondents saying a majority of their employees fell in that age group. Only 9 percent of respondents said that the majority of their company’s employees were over the age of 60 years old.

A key question that we added this year, in relation to employee age and number, was: Did you face hiring challenges in 2014? It was a close call, as 56 percent of respondents answered “no” and 44 percent answered “yes.” In an effort to help those who said yes, we also included a question about successful recruiting methods. It seems that many businesses are turning to the Internet for recruiting, as 21 percent reported utilizing job websites and 6 percent specifically reported using Craigslist. Trade schools were reported as the most popular method, as 26 percent said that is where they turned to recruit.

Similar to last year’s survey results, the majority of our respondents ascribed to being a small business. Also similar to last year’s results, the majority of respondents reported being in business for fewer than 50 years; 83 percent said they had been in business fewer than 20 years. Additionally, residential, commercial, and insitutional were the most popular markets served according to respondents; something we also saw in last year's survey. There was, however, a slight increase in those reporting work in residential.

We did see some changes, however, between last year’s survey and this year’s. One of those changes was revenue. Don’t worry, it’s good news. This year, we looked at revenue according to each company, instead of looking at revenue according to regions in the U.S. What we found was that 60 percent of the companies surveyed saw revenue increases from 2013 to 2014. The largest number of survey respondents, 37 percent, reported their total revenue for 2014 as $900,001 or more.

Of course, I must end with my favorite subject: technology. Similar to last year’s survey, we found that utilizing social media for business is still a work in progress for contractors. Facebook was the most popular site among those surveyed. It was interesting to see, however, that 44 percent of the contractors surveyed reported using tablets on the job. With the ever-increasing popularity of fleet management technology, having a tablet, with a bigger screen than a smart phone that’s also lighter than a laptop, may prove handy at job sites.

Overall, it is nice to have data to support the “feeling” of a rebound that many in our industry have been casually chatting about at expos, meetings, and other events. The Phc News team sends its gratitude to those who took the time to respond to our survey. 

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