Going for growth
Paul Hull is best known as one of the founders of Gas Safety Superheroes, the industry initiative that took the trade by storm a year ago. But his main focus is on growing his new business
It has been a busy 18 months for Paul Hull of Woking based PR Hull Ltd, one of the founders of the Gas Safety Superheroes. Until 2016, he was happily running his own business serving a range of clients in the commercial sector, undertaking heating and gas work, before a chance encounter on Twitter catapulted him on an unexpected journey.
Much of this he puts down to Charlotte Taylor. “ I got a message on Twitter in October 2016 about doing something to improve gas safety and raising awareness,” he recalls. “Charlotte was already following me, someone had spoken to her about me, and she got in touch saying that she would like to help with it. I met her and that’s how Gas Safety Superheroes started.”
Initially working alongside Peter Booth – better known by his Twitter handle @pbplumber – and the mysterious figure who goes by the name of @GasManGod, Paul and Charlotte set about developing the social enterprise with the aim of bringing together an online network of reputable installers and raising awareness of the issue of gas safety among both organisations and householders, through regular servicing of gas appliances and checking installers are Gas Safe registered.
The other two founder members have moved on, but Paul and Charlotte continue to run the initiative. “We’ve got a team of ambassadors from all over the UK,” he says. “There is a big part of the industry that is not on social media so the idea is they can spread the word in their local areas and start networking.” The campaign to make potential customers more aware of the issue also saw him give a speech to Parliament last September.
More recently, the focus has been to develop the Gas Safety Superheroes fund, which aims to raise money by facilitating services to plumbers – such as website building, accountancy and health and safety advice – that can help those in the industry who may be struggling. “Some people can’t afford time off for training or the travel costs, so they can apply to the fund to pay for someone to attend a training course,” explains Paul. “Or you might have been off sick but still need to pay your apprentice; there are lots of things we can do.”
Back to the day job, much of PR Hull’s work currently is in Paul’s traditional remit of maintenance, servicing and boiler refurbishments, as well as some renewable installations. The business also operates a boiler leasing scheme for commercial clients, where customers can pay back the cost of the installation over a three or five-year period.
Paul has big plans for the future. “The idea is that we have different sections of the company, so we can grow in different directions and add services,” he says. These could include dedicated heating, domestic and maintenance arms, he says, and in time he would get people in to head up each of these.
The wide range of equipment offered under one roof by Wolseley helps Paul and his team keep on top of the stock required. “We tend to get most items delivered to site, so we don’t have to hold large amounts of stock ourselves,” he says. “Sometimes with the big boilers we actually get them delivered direct from the manufacturer.”
For now, the company remains in its Woking base but takes on work all over the country. Paul still undertakes installations himself, although he expects this to change as the business grows. “I’m not getting any younger,” he says. “We’ve got four engineers working for us now, as well as an administrator. We’re getting offered a lot of work but I’m conscious we don’t grow too quickly because we need to have all the processes in place first.”
PIPELINE OF TALENT
Paul is also passionate about attracting new blood into the industry. For the past 18 months, he has been sitting on the government’s apprenticeships board for England and Wales, looking at how the role may need to change to meet the needs of the industry, and hopes to be able to take on a number of apprentices of his own as the business grows. “We might have to ramp up quite quickly if it takes off,” he says.
In the longer term, Paul’s plan is to get the company to a point where he can afford to focus more on other matters away from the day job. “I’d like to go around colleges and talk to the future of the industry, saying that 33 years ago I was where they are,” he says. “I have dyslexia, and I found it very hard, so I’d like to say to people that with some hard work and determination they can do whatever they like.”
As for the business itself, his only aim is to grow in a sustainable manner. “I always thought years ago that I would like to get to £1 million turnover, but we’ll do that quite easily in the next 12 months,” he says. “I’d like to get to 10 engineers, but really the aim is just to have a good company which is well structured. Someone once said to me that you run a company but a business runs itself, so I could go on holiday and not take my phone with me. We’re still a bit away from that.”
Nick Martindale, editor, Plumb Parts