Few people are in a better position than Charlie Mullins to give advice about growing a plumbing business. From humble beginnings, Charlie’s business Pimlico Plumbers is now London’s largest independent plumbing company.
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When we spoke to Charlie about starting a plumbing business he had some really useful tips. He told us that to get started as a successful plumber, you need to be determined and have the right attitude, turn plumber stereotypes on their head by being tidy, punctual and polite, and build a strong, recognisable brand for your business.
But once you’ve got the basics together and your plumbing business is up and running, how do you take it to the next level? Charlie also chatted to us about scaling up your plumbing business. These were some of his top tips.
The growth of small businesses
Charlie applauds the UK’s current entrepreneurial surge, which sees new small businesses starting up each day, and believes that the wealth of small business advice that’s now available is a big help:
“It’s booming out there, because of programmes like this and people like me, who know how to succeed in business and are prepared to explain it to others.”
How to grow a plumbing business
1. Take on employees
Charlie reckons that “to be successful in life you’ve got to have a business, and you must employ people.”
In fact, in Charlie’s opinion, taking on employees is the key to success and the best way to grow a plumbing business: “The more people you employ, I believe the more successful you are.”
Taking on employees means you can take on more work and expand the reach of your business. When Charlie started Pimlico Plumbers he was a one-man-band working from the basement of an estate agents, but today the business has a workforce of over 270 people doing around 2,000 plumbing jobs a week.
To grow your plumbing business, hiring someone - whether it’s another plumber, a plumbing apprentice, or someone to manage your paperwork and handle customer queries - could be a good move. Bear in mind, though, the additional responsibilities that come with being an employer, including employers’ liability insurance, which is a legal requirement for most businesses with staff.
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2. Clearly lay out your terms of business
Charlie’s next piece of advice for running a successful plumbing business is to make your terms clear to your customer, and stick to them as the business grows.
In the early days, Pimlico Plumbers found that customer invoices would go unpaid, so Charlie has this advice for small business owners struggling with cashflow:
“There’s a simple way round it: lay your terms of business out. Our terms are payment on completion. Everybody that we work for, they pay us by cash, cheque or credit card. If we did invoices and waiting for payment, we’d probably go bust.”
If you don’t ask for payment immediately on completion, then Charlie suggests you only give customers a short payment time: “Forget all this 30 day nonsense: give it seven days. You’ve got to run a business under your terms. Lay out your own terms and if the customer doesn’t like it, you’ll have to find another customer.”
3. Secure repeat business
To scale up your plumbing business, you need happy customers who are keen to use your services again and will recommend you to other people. Charlie tells us that there’s a motto at Pimlico Plumbers: “once you become a Pimlico customer, we hope you become a Pimlico customer for life.”
And how do you get customers for life? Well, you treat people with respect, Charlie says. It’s an approach that’s had a stunning level of success at his company:
“I mentioned that we do about 2,000 jobs a week - in winter a lot more - well of that probably 75% to 80% of those customers have used us before. Now in plumbing, or any business, that’s a massive return rate.
“I realise now that to be successful in business is to retain your customers. We’ve still got people using us now from when I was a plumber.”
If you have any top tips for growing a plumbing business, tell us in the comments.