HVP speaks to Valley Heating Services about how it works with other installer businesses to provide market-leading service to customers nationwide.

Any installer will tell you how important word-of-mouth is when it comes to winning new business. If you’re able to build up a core base of clients who will recommend you to their friends and family, you may even find you have enough work to keep you busy all year round, depending on your remit and manpower.

However, in the current climate of comparison websites and social media reviews, it can be difficult to win work from prospective clients who haven’t heard of you before. The days of cold calling and leafleting are over, and it’s more important to have an up-to-date and engaging website that provides visitors with examples and testimonials of your previous work.

Many sole traders will choose to work with larger companies when the books are a little light, and the culture of subcontracting is one that has gained a lot of press recently. This can offer bigger earning opportunities but has the downside of delayed payments and less autonomy. Valley Heating Services (VHS), based in Chesterfield, has come up with another solution.

Two are better than one

Founded by David Smith, VHS is an installation company that provides plumbing, heating and renewable services for domestic applications. But it also partners with smaller installer companies to offer them support and find them additional work, while extending the reach of its brand nationwide.

By partnering with installers, not taking them on as subcontractors, they’re able to develop their own customers in their area and maintain their own identity.

The VHS Partnership was created two years ago to help smaller companies gain a competitive edge against larger companies by working together.

The Partnership makes this possible by providing installers with the tools they need to offer competitive quotes and grow their business. VHS supplies partners with training and support, from administration and literature through to certification.

The aim is to improve the knowledge and skills of these smaller companies and help them to establish a stronger position in the marketplace with the resources and backing of a national heating company.

However, VHS won’t put its name to just anybody. Prospective partners must demonstrate their dedication to high-quality, professional installations time after time.

“While the partnership exists to support smaller companies, we are still looking for the best of the best. If an engineer isn’t able to meet our high standards, we won’t take them on as a partner,” said Mr Smith.

Partner installers are required to use particular products and adhere to the wider practices of VHS when they carry out work under the partnership, which includes conducting a system clean and flush with water samples sent off for additional independent testing.

VHS works with Vaillant and ADEY Professional Heating Solutions, giving installers the benefit of a larger buying group so they can access the best products at the best prices. Additionally, partners can access an extended 10-year warranty for the Vaillant boilers they fit and ADEY even provides them with a free Magnacleanse Unit.

The company also offers cashback for each boiler

installed through the Partnership.

What’s more, companies have access to VHS’ bespoke CRM system, which holds customer records, installation details, gas safe certification and landlord certification with before and after photo storage of each boiler and heating installation.

There is no joining fee or monthly subscription to become part of the VHS Partnership, and partners can even choose to access finance from VHS to help with cashflow.

Hard graft

Mr Smith founded VHS 16 years ago, having previously completed an apprenticeship and worked hard to learn his trade with another business.

VHS now employs more than 70 people and works with 400 partners, having established itself as a Which? Trusted trader, and winning National Energy & Efficiency Champion of The Year 2016 and Regional Boiler & Heating Installer of The Year in 2016 and 2017.

However, it’s not always been smooth sailing and Mr Smith is the first to admit that it’s taken dedication and help from others to get where he is today.

“It’s not an easy ride. It’s so hard to build up from a sole trader,” he explained, which is why he’s now keen to offer others partnership with VHS. “I want to give something back.”

VHS also takes on apprentices through Chesterfield College, though is quite stringent with its requirements.

The company approaches training by teaching apprentices to work hard and work their way up, while emphasising the soft skills that are often forgotten, such as how to effectively interact with customers in order to properly advise them and upsell services.

The company currently has 10 apprentices working within the business – three in the office and seven training to be heating engineers.

By playing an active part in educating the next generation of installers, VHS hopes to improve the perception of on the job training and set an example for other plumbing and heating businesses who are thinking of taking on an apprentice.