Talking To Contractors

By Trish Holder

I interview a lot of mechanical contractors. Early in my career it was one of the most challenging and nerve racking calls I had to make when preparing to write an article or case study about a project.  Not only are contractors difficult to catch, most of them are unaccustomed to sitting and chatting.  They certainly aren’t eager to stop in the middle of their busy day to rehash the details of a project they’ve long since put to bed.

Over the years I’ve gotten better at making these interviews productive and even enjoyable. Being prepared helps. Contractors don’t like to waste time. Neither do I for that matter. By the time I call reach out to a contractor for an interview, I already know a lot about the project. I’ve talked to the engineer. I’ve researched the facility.  I’ve thought through the challenges from a contractor’s perspective. I’ve prepared and organized my questions with one primary goal in mind, to discover what made the project unique. Very often the contractor holds the key.

“And WHY are you asking me all these questions?” 

Even though I’ve no doubt explained that I’ve been hired by a manufacturer to write a case study about a product application most are still a little caught off guard.  Who is this woman and why is she asking me detailed questions about a job that was completed six months ago?  It takes a while for it to sink in that this could actually be a good thing.  

Gradually the apprehension begins to wane. Prompted by my questions the contractor starts to remember and share more about a project – what made it hard, or odd, or even funny.  And then something kind of amazing happens. It’s as though contractor himself starts to realize, “Wow, that really was a pretty neat project.”  It’s smooth sailing from there.

Unsung Heroes of Construction

I’ve found that contractors can be quite generous with both their time and expertise.  It’s fairly apparent that most like talking about their work once they sense that the person on the receiving end is genuinely interested in what they have to say.  They seem to enjoy explaining how things work and many are natural teachers.  They are also typically very pleased and appreciative when they finally get to read the resulting article. Good press builds good will. It strengthens B2B relationships and brand loyalty.

I believe that mechanical contractors need and deserve to have their stories told.  More often than not they are the unsung heroes in commercial construction.  Their work is hidden away in equipment rooms, above ceilings and beneath floors. Even if a building is world famous, its mechanical room isn’t likely to be featured in Architectural Digest.  So when a contractor see’s some of his handiwork work featured in a well-known trade magazine, it’s kind of a big deal.  

In fact, it’s pretty cool.