HVP Editor Joe Dart spoke to Martin Smith about PlumbAgent, a new app-focused platform which could prove to be a vital tool for independent installers to safeguard their businesses against new entrants to the market.

You will no doubt have noticed a growing number of online businesses springing up in recent years, aimed at delivering the same services as plumbing and heating professionals.

With every homeowner requiring a plumbing and heating specialist, it’s a very lucrative and secure market for businesses. It should come as little surprise that many of these ‘digital disruptors’ have sensed an opportunity and are taking aim at this industry in an attempt to pull business away from traditional heating and plumbing firms.

Market share for these disruptors is continuing to grow and, so far, traditional businesses haven’t had an effective tool to defend themselves with. That could now begin to change with the launch of a new app-focused service, PlumbAgent. Martin Smith, the mind behind the businesses, certainly believes so.

He explained: “I feel that there are very honest, quality, well-meaning independent plumbing and heating engineers, who are, if they’re not careful, are going to get mown down [by digital disruptors]. So, why wouldn’t I give them [a tool] to defend themselves them with?”

The mission statement for PlumbAgent is ‘supporting installers’, a phrase which features prominently on the company’s logo, but what exactly does that mean?

Martin explains that there are two main elements to the company. The first is a Gas Safe-registered business, providing boiler installation, servicing, and maintenance to homeowners. These services are delivered via a network of independent heating companies – typically small firms or sole traders.

The second element is what Martin describes as a ‘one stop shop’ for anything you might need as a plumbing and heating business, the PlumbAgent Trade app. This includes discounts on workwear and accounting software, as well as links to how-to videos, boiler manuals, and reference documents.

It’s free for installers to sign up to the PlumbAgent Trade app and enjoy many of these discounts and other benefits immediately, and it’s also free to join PlumbAgent’s installer network, but the requirements are a little more rigorous.

“They have to be Gas Safe-registered, they have to have a public liability policy, and then I would effectively interview each prospect before they actually come into the network,” said Martin. This interview consists of either a face-to-face meeting, or a conversation over the phone or online.

At the time of writing, Martin has over 450 installers on the overall network, and over 130 installation businesses as part of the PlumbAgent network. Even with a growing network of installers across the UK, Martin is quick to note that there are still plenty of opportunities for more businesses to get involved.

He explained: “When I start speaking to installers, they ask whether there’s anybody in their area [in the network], but it doesn’t really matter because this a lead generation tool for yourself. So, you can send it to your prospects knowing that you’re going to get it back in the form of a developed lead.”

To facilitate lead generation, PlumbAgent offers installers in the network access to its Homeowner app. The way it works is that once it’s shared with a potential customer (via text message, email etc.), the customer is then prompted to answer a few questions and upload some photographs relating to the job in question in the app, from which they then receive a cost estimate, subject to survey.

Martin elaborated: “Any work that the installer has referred through the app is developed by PlumbAgent to the point where a sale is due to be made, then we engage with that plumber to carry out a survey, before carrying on with the installation.”

If there’s any breakdown in the relationship between the installer and the customer, PlumbAgent will “parachute in and manage any customer dissatisfaction”, he explained.

“I oversee the whole relationship, so the minute I see any issue developing, or if there’s a customer not very happy, I’ll smother them with kindness just to make sure it doesn’t escalate out of proportion,” he said.

He adds that, for new boiler installs, the system will send a note after 10 months to remind the customer that they need to have their product serviced, and that job will work its way back to the installer.

The immediate worry for installers with some lead generation platforms is that it might siphon away leads they bring into the system to other installers, but Martin is keen to assure those interested in joining the installer network that this is definitely not the case.

“We have a completely outsourced sub-contract model, so we actually need the plumber to do the work. We’ll look after the ordering and the materials, and we provide the platform for the job to be completed on. What we need them to do is sub-contract and bring their skills to the job.”   

The app is due to officially launch this summer, and Martin has the belief that PlumbAgent offers heating and plumbing professionals the “win” they need in fight against these digital disruptors.

“I firmly believe that, if you’re going to have something that succeeds in life, everybody needs to have a win. Generally, I feel as though the process we’ve set up here gives everybody that win, not least the independent heating and plumbing engineer.”

To learn more about PlumbAgent, visit www.plumbagent.co.uk.