What is it?
The plumbing industry has become somewhat of a sexy career option over the last decade. Fuelled by press coverage of demand for plumbers outstripping supply, and countless case studies of the ‘city-professional turned tradesman’, the industry has taken on a new lease of life. Far from the image of a guy in overalls with his head under a kitchen sink, the industry is an incredibly varied one. Specialist areas range from emergency repairs and bathroom installations and to fitting energy efficient and alternative fuel sources.
There are approximately 120,000 registered plumbing and heating engineers in the UK, and while the market may lean more towards emergency call-out work than extravagant water installations during times of economic crises, the fact remains that people will always need plumbers. So if you’ve got a solid proposition, a strong work ethic and don’t mind getting your hands dirty there’s no reason you can’t make a success of a plumbing business even in the midst of a recession.
Who is it suited to?
Well ideally this is a business suited to plumbers, and if you’re not one already you’re facing an uphill struggle to set up in the industry. This is not the kind of business anyone can run. You need plumbing experience, or if you don’t have it yourself, you need to involve a partner or key member of staff that does. William Davies set up Aspect Maintenance after working for an investment bank for several years. He didn’t have plumbing experience himself so he brought on board Nick Bizley, who’d spent all his working life in the industry, as his partner. So while it’s not essential to have gone down the typical apprenticeship route you do need to be aware of your own limitations and surround yourself with staff that can compensate for the skills you don’t have.
Blane Judd, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Plumbing and Heating Engineers (CIPHE) advises that it’s best to work for an established plumbing business for at least 2-3 years after qualifying before you set up your own venture.
In terms of the type of people that choose a career in plumbing, there’s been quite a shift in the last decade. University graduates and women seem to be the case study of choice for journalists focusing on the new-found appeal of the industry. While background, gender or educational history doesn’t seem to be of relevance anymore there are a few personality traits you’ll need to make a success of this kind of business.
For a start you’ll need to be someone that copes well in stressful situations. You’ll need to be happy to get your hands, and clothes, thoroughly mucky and be keen to do a lot of hard physical labour. You’ll also need to be good with people. The job will involve direct face-to-face contact with your customers so a sunny disposition is a must if you want them to call you back next time they need a plumber.
Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, says the industry is far more computerised today than it was when he set up his firm 30 years ago. “It’s a more in depth and harder job now. Years ago people that weren’t very academic went into the industry but it’s not like that anymore.”
On top of all the industry specific skills and qualities you’ll need, there’s also the general business acumen required to make a success of any commercial venture. You may be able to fit a boiler but if you can’t balance the books or manage your staff, your venture won’t make it off the starting blocks.
Image courtesy of Hanssolo on Flickr