Steady on Mr Plumber, blockage in your soil pipe?

January 2019

I’m in quite a fortunate position in that, over the last fifteen or so years, I have built up enough of a client base to such a level that their combined monthly and annual hosting pays for my overheads and my salary. This probably sounds like I have a jolly easy life but it’s really not that simple. You see in order to maintain a loyal customer base, I have to work very hard to keep them all happy. This means spending a lot of time and resources making sure their services run smoothly without errors, having a jovial and personable attitude at the end of a phone or email whenever they need me, making improvements to our systems and occasionally doing favours.

Another reason it’s not all glitter and rainbows is because my salary is rather modest. Because I have a mortgage, two children and a wife who is currently unemployed, every penny of what I bring home every month goes straight out again. I’m also currently forking out for an extension to my house which means my anus has been well and truly puckered for the last year.

I am on a never ending quest to find new business in the form of new customers or new work for existing customers in order to try and increase my salary. Of course this never happens because for every new client I bring on board, it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll lose one.

I probably spend half of my time maintaining healthy relationships with my beloved customers. When I’m not doing that, I probably spend a remaining quarter of my time dreaming up marketing ideas and seeking potential new business, and the other quarter visiting them and writing up quotes. Because the internet industry is such a saturated market now and it’s getting increasingly difficult to convince people why they should spend money with me and not one of the thousands of other companies offering a similar service, if I get a fifty percent success rate on the quotes I send out, I count that as winning.

When you write a quote for someone, you are in no way entering into any legal agreement or entitlement to carry out the work. You are basically just giving them written confirmation of the work they said they want and estimating how much it will cost. Anyone who is even remotely sensible will get at least three different quotes and compare them before making a decision. I have a policy that if I don’t hear back from a potential client after a couple of weeks, I might chase them once. If I still don’t hear anything back I write it off as a dead lead and move on. People will generally only get back to you if they want you to go ahead with the work. It’s very rare for people to come back and say “thanks but no thanks.”

As I mentioned, I am in the process of getting a house extension. I contacted half a dozen builders and got quotes from each. Some were ludicrously expensive, some were clearly con artists but the remaining ones were fairly evenly matched so we ended up going for the one who was more flexible with his price and seemed the nicest. I didn’t bother letting any of the other companies know we wouldn’t be using them.

As always happens during this type of work, our requirements changed somewhat and we decided shortly after he started that we would need to get the whole plumbing sorted as well as get a new boiler. He gave us a revised quote and got in touch with his plumber. His plumber duly came in and spewed all the usual gubbins a tradesman does. A few weeks passed and I got a call from this guy independently and he sent me over a quote of his own which was nearly double what the builder quoted. Immediate red flag. Needless to say I queried with our builder why his plumber was contacting me directly and also why he was quoting such an extortionate amount of money. He seemed slightly bemused but came back telling us to pay this plumber directly and remove the difference from his original quote because the plumber is not VAT registered so we’d save money on the VAT. Big red flag.

Because I’m a shrewd businessman I thought “Hey if I’m dealing with the plumbing independently I may as well get a few more quotes.” So I got another two quotes and they both came in nearly a thousand quid cheaper than this guy, including VAT. I went back to this guy and asked him to take off the bits on his quote that we didn’t ask for and to add some other requirements we’d had in the meantime and he came back with a price six hundred pounds more expensive than his original quote and over a thousand pounds more expensive than anyone else, despite not being VAT registered.

I obviously don’t want to mention this plumber by name because he looked like the type of guy who’d beat me to death with a u-bend so I’ll just say the guy’s company starts with Lee Speller Plumbing and ends in Services. Anyway, he paid me a surprise visit while I was getting other quotes and was clearly irked when I informed him I was talking to other plumbers. To be honest, his unannounced visit felt a little bit like harassment so any tiny chance he had of getting the work pretty much ended there.

A few weeks later I went with another plumber and thought, out of pure courtesy, I’d phone not Lee Speller up and inform him he wouldn’t be getting the job. I was perfectly polite, thanked him for his time and said we’d bear him in mind if we have any future plumbing requirements. To say he was cross would be an understatement. He started his rant by telling me I’d messed him about and wasted his time. He then went on to accuse me of being a “penny pincher” and a cheapskate”.

Okay so a few things: Firstly if you think writing quotes and not getting the job is time wasting, you’re an idiot. Secondly, assuming you’ve got the job based on the fact you’ve given someone a quote is also idiotic. Thirdly, if trying to get the best deal is penny-pinching, I’ll take that as a compliment because anyone who doesn’t look for the best deal is an idiot. Finally, when I’m spending tens of thousands of pounds on an extension, I think I’m more than justified in trying to knock as much off as I can so I don’t spend the rest of my life in debt.

He ended his tirade with a threat. He informed me that my thirteen year old boiler installation is illegal and not safe and he was going to report it as such. Kind of redundant really as we are replacing it. He also said the guy who did it obviously isn’t gas safe and he would be reporting us all to the plumbing police or something like that. The guy who fit is is gas safe. And VAT registered. And he’s the one I chose for this plumbing job.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I have spent well over a decade building a strong and loyal customer base. I’ve done this by being nice, friendly, accommodating and only mildly sarcastic to my clients. And being reasonably priced. This guy (who, according to the builder, is VAT registered but chooses not to declare it, which I’m pretty sure is illegal) has been trading for less than a year and is threatening and abusive towards customers. A good reputation is hard to build and easy to lose. A bad reputation is easy to get and hard to lose. Especially to a new business. Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing, especially in this day and age of social media. It only takes one disgruntled customer to submit a poor review on Facebook or a sarcastic individual to write a rant on his personal blog and that will sit there like a hairy wart on a face forever. It also only takes one phone call to a builder informing him that his plumber is abusing his customers to cause that builder to stop using the plumber. Ouch.