Charlie Mullins founded Pimlico Plumbers in 1979. It now generates an annual turnover of more than £25m.@PimlicoPlumbers
I left school at 15; I wish I’d left a year earlier. I started helping a local plumber called Bill Ellis when I was nine and he was a greater influence on me than any teacher could have hoped to be. He always had money in his pocket, drove a nice car and told me that, if I learned a trade, I would earn lots of money and never be out of work. Never has a truer word been spoken. As soon as I had the chance to leave school I took it, started a plumbing apprenticeship and the rest, as they say, is history.
A strong brand can help run the cowboys out of town. When I set up Pimlico Plumbers, I quickly realised what branding really means. Having a recognisable name is one thing, but your brand has to have a strong and positive reputation, which comes from everything you do in a business. Plumbing was blighted by cowboys who dragged the industry’s name through the mud. I made a conscious effort to change that and make plumbing a respectable trade.
Having a recognisable name is one thing, but your brand has to have a strong and positive reputation, which comes from everything you do in a business
I wrote the ‘bible’ and it’s full of common sense. I created a handbook for all our staff that not only sets out the working practices of the business, but what is expected of our people. Thanks to the ‘Pimlico Bible’, you’ll never see a builder’s bum on a Pimlico engineer or a dirty Pimlico van. It sounds like common sense, but trust me, it isn’t always that common.
Meetings prevent quick decision-making. I hate meetings. I prefer to have a quick discussion and, if the idea is sound, we go for it. I have a trusted team around me, which makes it very easy.
If you’re going to try something new, be the best at it. It’s a mantra we work to across the business. We’ve added electricians, carpenters, drain specialists and domestic white-good repairs to our core plumbing and heating business, which are all delivered to the same excellent standard. The same is true of our division on the Costa del Sol and our most recent addition, Pimlico Plumbing and Heating Merchants.
I believe in my brand and so do my team. Pimlico Plumbers is a very well recognised brand. People across London ‘van-spot’ our fleet and constantly post photos of them and their plumbing-related number plates like BOG1 and F1USH to my Twitter feed. All our people are proud to wear the Pimlico uniform and take pride in their appearance, which is a strong indication of their loyalty to the brand.
Even if you’re small, think big. Small businesses can create a brand that has an impact in their marketplace. If your business offering is sound and provides something different or better, and your customer service is strong, the opportunities will present themselves. Just work hard and remain positive.
From starting with an old bag of tools and a battered van, I now have more than 250 people working for a £25m turnover business, which is very satisfying
Motivations may change, but success is a constant. My personal business ambitions have changed as the business has grown, but whatever I focus on, I have to make it happen. From starting with an old bag of tools and a battered van, I now have more than 250 people working for a £25m turnover business, which is very satisfying – but there are always new targets to aim at, and I always want to hit a bullseye.
I’ve made ‘skilling’ young people a priority. Businesses are nothing without the right people and in our case, without decent skilled tradesmen our industry could become extinct. The last Labour government’s "university at all costs" mantra decimated vocational learning and, in particular, apprenticeships, which are the feedstock of so many industry workforces. The current government, building on the work of the coalition, has listened to business and is creating several million apprenticeships, which is great news. But more needs to be done.
I am campaigning for a national fully funded apprenticeship scheme where Jobseeker’s Allowance is redirected to employers to part-fund apprentice wages. It will solve youth unemployment in a stroke and create a sustainable pipeline of trained young people.