The lack of growth in the UK plumbing industry has been highlighted in recent years, as more plumbers opt for the one-man-in-a-van model rather than growing their team. Many plumbers avoid business growth, as they believe it will increase outgoings and decrease profit when, in fact, growth done right can lead to greater success.

Industry decline

One of the main problems plumbers face is the lack of new people entering the trade. The plumbing and heating industry has experienced a 4.19% decline in the last 16 years, according to the Skills Training Group Trade Trends Report 2021. The report’s current predictions show that by 2049 the number of plumbers and heating engineers are expected to drop by 15.75%. 

To prevent further decline, plumbers must start engaging with young people to encourage them to take up the trade. This could involve sharing success stories and increasing social media interaction with the younger generation in order to generate interest. 

Hiring an apprentice

Self-employed plumbers may be under the impression that they are saving their money by working on their own. However, they are losing out by not hiring apprentice plumbers, which comes with the added benefit of government funding. Business owners can also avoid the Apprenticeship Levy as long as the company earns less than £3 million per year and is also not part of any companies or charities for employment allowance purposes with a combined annual income of £3 million. 

Self-employed plumbers who want to grow their business may be entitled to incentive payments of up to £3,000. Companies can apply for this if they have hired an apprentice between 1 April and 30 September 2021. These incentives can be used to pay for salary, travel costs, uniforms, and other work-related expenses. 

By training and growing a team of apprentices, self-employed plumbers can begin to grow their business while also ensuring that the people they work alongside are fully trained and competent. This also allows the business owner to take a step back and oversee jobs, rather than being on-site themselves, which is great for anyone who plans to retire in the near future. This will offer substantial income with minimal manual work. 

How plumbers can grow their business

For a plumbing business to grow and thrive, the customer base needs to expand. The best way to achieve this is by hiring qualified and reputable plumbers as well as some apprentices who can learn along the way. 

Unlike the one-man-with-a-van model, which restricts the amount of work a plumber can take on, hiring employees enables businesses to cover numerous locations at the same time.  

When hiring, self-employed plumbers need to make sure that they are employing people they can trust. This will guarantee repeat business, as customers typically recommend companies that get the job done properly and treat them with respect. 

For years, the plumbing industry has been made up of an army of smaller operators, often one-person businesses who work hard to keep their customers happy.
Brexit and COVID-19 have exacerbated a skills shortage that needs to be plugged, and the only way for this to happen is through the rapid training of new plumbers. The issue with simply training to be a plumber and going it alone is that it takes several years to assimilate all aspects of the business. This leaves a massive opportunity for existing plumbing companies to take some risks and build out regional businesses that bring more people into the industry and help it mature like other industries. 

Inspiration can be found in the recent sale of Pimlico Plumbers to US firm Neigborly for a reported £145 million.

In 1979, Pimlico Plumbers started as a one-man-in-a-van business after founder Charlie Mullins completed his apprenticeship and began working as a qualified plumber. The company has since experienced massive growth, which led to it becoming London’s largest independent plumbing company.

The key to Pimlico Plumbers’ success is the quality of service it provides, which includes 24 hour call-out. The company is also very professional in its approach to business, with branded vans and uniforms for each employee, which is appealing to customers. It has also played a vital role in training the next generation of plumbers by offering apprenticeships to school leavers who want to take up a trade. 

All of these elements combined are what make a great plumbing company, and by adopting some of these practices, self-employed domestic plumbers can expand their business and significantly increase revenue.