Jo Lawrence, owner of the Pink Plumbers brand, explains why she joined the industry and why it’s so important that more support is made available for other women who want to become plumbers
Jo Lawrence became a self-employed plumber 12 years ago, changing careers after originally training as an occupational therapist. She had the idea after attempting to build a house with her then-husband.
After five years waiting for planning permission to renovate the property, Ms Lawrence said she was “fed up with builders not answering their phones” and, since her children had started school and she wanted to go back to work doing something practical, she decided to train as a plumber.
“I went to college and then just got out there and started putting into practice the things I had learned,” she explained.
Since then she’s built up a strong plumbing business in and around Hertfordshire, and is now focusing her efforts on helping other women enter the industry, by offering licences across the country under the Pink Plumbers brand.
She was also recently a finalist at the ‘Women Changing the Business’ World Awards, held by the Institute of Directors, where she was praised for the “valuable contribution” she is helping to make to UK businesses.
Making a start
Ms Lawrence credits her fellow plumbers with helping her start out in the industry, as she built up her experience with mentors at the end of the phone who could offer help and advice, and who would also work with her on bigger jobs that needed more than one person.
“There were plumbers in the merchant branches, and the plumbing merchants themselves were fantastic – whenever I got stuck on something they were very helpful, and they said they liked that I was willing to ask questions when I needed to.”
Ms Lawrence gradually built up her experience and abilities, and now she is the one mentoring other women who are looking to join the industry.
Operating under a national licence structure, Pink Plumbers enables women to remain self-employed while benefiting from a nationally recognised brand.
“I wanted to have an independent model where people would have my support and advice but ultimately be responsible for their business,” she said. “A licence allows you to do that.”
Pink Plumbers offers a range of services to its customers from bathroom upgrades, repairs and appliance installations to powerflushing, underfloor heating and pipework installations.
It’s also a more cost-effective option than traditional franchises, Ms Lawrence believes.
“As a female plumber working as a sole trader in the north, my income is going to be around £40,000. With that in mind, you’re not going to want to spend even £15,000 on a franchise, which is why we set our licences at around £5,000.
With her focus now on recruiting more licensees, Ms Lawrence is also offering an incentive to the first few women who sign up – £2,000 up front, then nothing for six months, and £130 per month after that. “I don’t want to take a percentage of their income, because ultimately I want people to feel inspired to get out of bed in the morning and go to work,” she added.
Practice makes perfect
One of the things Ms Lawrence is clearly passionate about is helping other women join what is, traditionally, a male-dominated industry, and she has seen first hand how difficult it can be for anyone to find apprenticeships where they can learn the practical skills they need to be a good plumber.
“One of the biggest problems in the industry is that it still keeps saying everyone has to go through work experience or an apprenticeship, but the recession has made it very difficult to find them. Taking on an apprentice when you have to employ them for 12 months is tough – I don’t even know if I’ll be able to find enough work for me over 12 months! But it’s a real problem, and while I’m sure there are things being done for 19 to 25-year-olds, I speak to a lot of people in their 30s or 40s who want to retrain, and there’s nothing out there for them.”
Ms Lawrence believes that less people are going into plumbing now, with fewer searching for apprenticeship courses than in previous years. “I think there are a lot of people who have spent money getting into college to learn a trade, but then can’t find an apprenticeship and have had to fall back to their normal jobs,” she added.
That said, Ms Lawrence thinks there will always be work out there for plumbers, and has seen bathroom and general maintenance jobs remain pretty consistent throughout the recession. “There’s always going to be people who want new bathrooms – people moving into a new house and needing work done,” she said.
While the women who take on licences through Pink Plumbers do need some prior experience, Ms Lawrence has also written a book – Hints And Tips for the Practical Plumber – designed to help support those who are just starting out after college. The book is available to purchase on Amazon.
“It’s about bridging the gap between college and setting up your own business – how to implement your training in the real world. It basically teaches them to get out there, do the little jobs, go in and out of the plumbing merchants. It teaches them the relationships they need and how to negotiate deals. “If I can do it, anyone can!” she joked.
“But I had to learn so much through trial and error. If I’d had that manual, I’d have had a much easier time.”