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What makes a professional IOPSA and PIRB plumber?

Written by Eamonn Ryan

    • Create a unique brand
    • Set yourself goals
    • As an aspect of your branding – specialise and differentiate yourself

Brendan Reynolds, executive director of the Institute of Plumbing SA (IOPSA) offers some tips on ‘What makes a professional plumber’ for plumbers to enhance the offering they provide to their clients.

Create a unique brand

    • Spend some time researching and devising a marketing strategy
    • Develop a corporate identity that makes your business stand out from the rest of the plumbing community (a bit more than ‘Best price – best workmanship – 24/7’). Get your shirts and vehicles appropriately branded with that identity
    • Build your business as a brand
    • In time, that brand will accumulate value and can be one day on-sold
    • Thereafter, protect your brand

Reynolds suggests the following: “Dress yourself and your team to succeed. If you’re an untidy, poorly dressed plumber you’re not going to get work. You want to look competent, organised and professional when you go to see customers. Also keep your vehicle clean and tidy. When you finish the day’s work, clean your vehicle and pack all your tools away so it’s ready for the next day’s work.

“Make sure your team goes out looking the same every day clean, tidy and presentable. Join IOPSA and PIRB, and co-brand your vehicles, with their permission of course. You can also obtain permission from suppliers where you specialise in their products, to have their branding on your vehicles. This enables you to project your brand. Build your business as a brand, and in time, that brand will accumulate value.

Set yourself goals

“You should start bv deciding where you would want your business to be in within three, five and ten years respectively. But be realistic when setting goals:

    • Analyse exactly how and where you see yourself or your business growing
    • Establish precisely what do you need to do in order to achieve this
    • Assess what tools, equipment and skills do you need to get to make those goals materialise
    • Focus on what is within your capability to change – don’t waste time on worrying about other people or things not within your control
    • Self-train yourself (IOPSA has any number of courses on Youtube) and your staff in order to get there.”

Be clean, tidy and presentable

Reynolds suggests always keeping your vehicle/s clean and tidy. “Tidy up when the job is done.” People care less about the price they pay, as long as when they get home after work they don’t have to see anything remotely resembling a dirty drain. Plumbers are often so busy fighting over price in instances when that service is not price sensitive – when all that a customer really wants is a completed job that they don’t have to call the plumber back for anything.: Reynolds suggests that a month after a job’s done, the price typically becomes irrelevant whereas what is remembered is: ‘That guy did a good job, that’s what we want – a high quality job’. That’s how one gets repeat business.”

Because the nature of the job is that a plumber switches between cleaning dirty drains and speaking to customers, Reynolds suggests keeping hand cleaner and a can of deodorant in the vehicle to make oneself presentable. “You should also remove your boots or have a separate pair for going indoors, and to respect the property you’re at at all times – especially regarding security and safety.

Good staff practices

    • Make sure staff are legal
    • Keep FEM, UIF and PAYE up to date
    • Maintain a staff file with all IDs, contact details and next-of-kin on file
    • Check for criminal records during recruitment
    • Have a safety file, and correct safety equipment
    • Take advantage of the free training offered by IOPSA/FEM
    • Dress staff appropriate to each job
    • Upskill staff so as to instill in them pride in their work performance

“Health and safety are vital: For instance, if there’s an injury with staff the owner has to ensure the business is insured and that the employee is able to go to hospital and get proper treatment. Your customer will similarly be concerned as to this. With IOPSA membership, the plumber has to prove their insurance – so you’ve probably all go it already – but have it clearly documented so you can prove it to a customer. This makes your staff more appreciative that you look after your staff,” says Reynolds.


    • Have a weekly or even daily training session before you go to work
    • Constantly remind your staff and yourself of what it is you want to achieve in the business
    • Keep a file of notes and instruction manuals to refresh knowledge, health and safety before going to work on a certain job – this ensures you’re more likely to solve the problem quicker
    • Make sure you pack your van appropriate to the job on hand

“There are many free webinars that you can use – IOPSA’s Toolbox Talk every Tuesday at 7am gives a bit of background on various aspects of work. It’s uplifting and helps your staff respect your tools, because they know you’re looking after them.”

As an aspect of your branding – specialise and differentiate yourself

    • Find what discipline within the plumbing trade you most enjoy and are good at and specialise in that
    • Then invest in the correct equipment
    • Charge more – after all, there’s less competition in a specialist area and specialists within all professions do so, like doctors and lawyers
    • If you don’t have an area that leaps out as an one for you to specialise in, then do some research on what’s the next trend or what is most needed in your chosen area:
      • Green energy
      • Back up water
      • Purifying water
      • Reusing water
      • Water saving products
      • Infection and contamination prevention
      • Gas geysers

“All areas of specialisation hold promise as they are going to become ever more important in the years to come. By specialising in one or more of these you are going to have an edge over your competitors. If you have to spend a bit of money to be the best plumber in your region or area of specialisation, then that’s what you may have to do,” says Reynolds.

Know how to charge

    • Research what are the exact costs of being in a specialist area of plumbing. Remember that each business has different needs to each other, so research needs to be more detailed than simply phoning and enquiring
    • Quote before you take on a job so that the customer is expecting the eventual bill
    • Give an itemised invoice, as more information leaves less room for error. A customer might think R1 500 excessive for ‘plumbing’ but that same R1 500 when structured in an itemised way may in contrast appear to be value. It also reduces arguments afterwards if you’ve detailed everything done
    • Detail the work but don’t price each list item as this results in comparisons with other plumbers
    • Learn to charge correctly for your particular skills

Quoting and planning a job

Reynolds recommends a plumber spend some time planning by working out a quote and what is need to complete a project, and to order stock in time, as having stock reduces hold ups. “That way, the job is finished quicker and you get paid sooner.”

Planning also results in:

    • Less pressure on you as you’ve verified the supplier has stock on hand
    • Consulting with other professionals before beginning a job
    • Managing expectations by under-promising and over-delivering

“Customers will use you again automatically if they were happy with the experience and there are no comebacks. Remember, your ultimate goal is a satisfied customer, because a satisfied customer will come back to you time and again – and will refer you to friends and colleagues. A satisfied customer is your best advertisement. If you get that right, you’ll be the busiest plumber in your market,” says Reynolds.

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