State of the Contractor 2016

As we do each year, this spring PHC News reached out to contractors and contracting firms in order to convey to our readers the state of business in the plumbing and hydronic industry. From all over the U.S., we have received insights of key statistics and trends. This year, we added questions to our annual "State of the Contractor" survey that were focused on the industry’s changing landscape, demographics and future challenges. And once again, we illustrated our results in a comprehensive infographic in order for you to gain better perspective. 

Businesses of all shapes and sizes participated in the 2016 survey. Most survey respondents were business owners (46.4 percent). The largest percentage reported being in business for 11-35 years. Small businesses made up the largest group of respondents, with 40.5 percent reporting that the number of employees working at their business was between1 to 5 people. Of the many services that our readers offer, this year's respondents said that their expertise is in plumbing (30 percent). Additionally, our largest percentage of respondents hailed from the Eastern U.S. (41 percent).

Taking a look at the inner workings of businesses in our industry, our survey showed that 28.5 percent of respondents brought in a total revenue between $1 to $5 million for 2015. Quite often, our editorial and sales teams are asked about industry trends. Turning to the pros for this answer this year, our survey showed that the biggest trend for the industrial segment in 2015 was repair/replacement (45.5 percent). In the commercial segment, new construction (29.2 percent) was the biggest trend. And, on the residential side remodeling (29.4 percent) was the biggest trend. Another notable trend that was reported across all three segments was going green through conservation and efficiency.

When assessing industry demographics, two of the points we wanted to learn more about this year were age and gender. Though the industry has made strides in the employment of women, there is still room to grow. A total of 70.9 percent of respondents said that less 10 than percent of the employees at their business were women. Unfortunately, this reflects little improvement since last year, in which our survey results showed that 99 percent of respondents reported that well over 50 percent of their workforce was male. 

Through increased networking, training and outreach opportunities in plumbing and hydronics, it our hope that the presence of women in this workforce will continue to gain traction. Our spotlight on women in this very issue of PHC News, for example, gives you a taste of some of the standout women who have been making a dent in the numbers. 

As we’ve been hearing at expos, events and meetings, industry businesses have become interested in recruitment efforts geared toward younger generations. This shift comes in a state of urgency, which is reflected in this year's survey results where 41 percent of respondents said less than 10 percent of their employees are under the age of 35. It will be interesting to see how this develops as baby boomers retire.

How businesses go about finding employees was another point we inquired on relating to talent recruitment. Last year, our survey showed that 21 percent of respondents used hiring websites, and 26 percent used school programs. This year's findings revealed a change in where our industry is going to recruit. The survey showed that word-of-mouth and referrals have a strong lead (45.1 percent). This lead was followed by use of LinkedIn, Craig's List and other online resources (16.1 percent), and school programs (11.6 percent). The recruiting tools respondents reported as less popular were human resources consultants and firms (4.1 percent), and billboards, yard signs, car decals, etc. (2.1 percent).  

Our team is intrigued by our contractors' technology preferences and usage patterns. What works for some businesses does not work for others. In an age of digital media, it’s remarkable to see how businesses are finding alternate routes and refining strategies  that previously worked. Our contractors are online, as 73.4 percent of respondents reported having a professional website, and 64.2 percent reported having a presence on social media. While there were 35.8 percent of respondents who said they are not on social media, for those who are, Facebook (35.3 percent) is the platform of choice. 

In terms of usage patterns, respondents did show an interest in mobile technology. A total of 81.8 percent reported using their smart phone on the job for purposes other than calls, such as emailing and GPS navigation. Respondents were nearly split down the middle when it came to tablet usage, as  45.9 percent reported usage, while 54.1 percent did not report usage. Contractors we’ve spoken to on the road have mentioned how tablets are being integrated on job sites through calculators, spec sheets, and manuals that have evolved into mobile apps.

Because there’s always room for improvement, this year we decided to ask contractors for their thoughts on industry offerings, specifically from manufacturers. Respondents said that customer service (22.9 percent) is most important to them, followed by troubleshooting assistance (21.3 percent). And if you are a manufacturer offering training, our contractors prefer that you do so through via mobile locations (18.5 percent) such as trailers, store front pop-ups, etc.

Feedback and open dialogue are necessary for any industry to improve. PHC News would like to thank those who took the time to respond to our survey.

For more exclusive content, please click here for a new and improved infographic of the State of the Contractor.

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