< Expert Advice | 11.12.2015

Like Father Like Son

Like Father Like Son

 

Lewis Jones followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the plumbing and heating industry, and started his own business two years ago. Things have gone so well that his biggest challenge now is managing the workload

 

Lewis Jones followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the plumbing and heating industry, and started his own business two years ago. Things have gone so well that his biggest challenge now is managing the workload

 

Plumbing is in the blood for Lewis Jones, who runs his own plumbing and heating business, operating in a 20-mile radius of Barlby, near Selby, a patch that takes in York. He recalls, as a young boy, watching his father go out on plumbing jobs. When he left school, Lewis joined his father as an apprentice. “He used to do everything,” he says. “Nowadays, people tend to be more specialised.”

Lewis’s early experience of working for his father was on newbuild projects, installing bathrooms in properties for clients such as Barratt Homes, Persimmon and what was then Bryant Homes. This experience then led into regular work for Dolphin Bathrooms. His first employed position was for Yorkshire building firm Shouksmiths, where he worked for four years before being made redundant during the downturn. He then joined British Gas on its emergency callout team.

Two years ago, though, Lewis decided to set up on his own, initially focusing on plumbing and heating but more recently moving into bathroom installations – something that now accounts for around 60 per cent of the business. Much of this work is taken on by his father, Glynn, and apprentice Chris Bell, who moved into the trade after a career in retail.

“I prefer to keep it broad rather than specialise,” says Lewis. “If you specialise, you might find that one day there isn’t any of that particular work. The bathroom work keeps my dad and Chris busy while I do some other work. My dad still really enjoys it, and he’s young for his age, but it helps having someone else with him.”

There are times when all three work together on projects. “There was one not so long ago where we built a wall in a large room to create a bathroom and a wet room, and that required a larger hot water cylinder, bigger tank and shower pumps. So I was doing plumbing work – installing the cylinder and the tanks and doing all the pipework in the loft – and they were doing the tiling.”

 

Taking off

The business itself is flourishing, says Lewis, initially through advertising sites such as MyBuilder or Rated People, but more recently through word of mouth. “We’re getting busier and busier,” he adds. “I’ve never understood being a victim of your own success until now. I’ve got work coming out of my ears. I’m busy now for at least six weeks. There’s definitely more willingness to spend now. Everyone seems to be busy, and it seems there’s always a shortage of plumbers.”

As well as domestic customers, Lewis also takes on regular maintenance and emergency work for several small landlords. “They’re not massive landlords but they have two or three properties each, and I have two or three of them,” he says. “I also do some contracting work for a company in York, which owns quite a few properties. It’s general maintenance – the radiator isn’t coming on, or the toilet isn’t flushing very well.”

 

Balancing act

Managing the volume of work is one of the hardest parts of running the business, he says. “There is an art to juggling work; you have to move things around that can wait to accommodate those that can’t. Just recently I had a landlord with water pouring through the ceiling – you just
have to go. But there comes a point where you really can’t take any more on.” The boiler side of the business has picked up recently too, he adds, as the heating season has kicked in.

As the business develops, Lewis is aware that his own role may have to change. He’s keen to get Chris qualified so that he can take on projects without needing supervision, and doesn’t rule out taking on another apprentice.

But he’s not looking to become a larger organisation. “I think there’s more of a market for a small plumber going out to his customers where they know him personally than there is for another big plumbing company,” he says. “There are loads of those around, and they charge too much. It’s much better to keep it personal and not charge the earth

 

 

Taking away the hard part

Designing and quoting for potential customers’ bathrooms used to be a time-consuming part of the job for Lewis Jones, and one that inevitably had to be reflected in
the final cost.

“One of the most difficult things is knowing how you price for that element,” he says. “Once you start designing – with colour schemes and everything else – you have to factor that in, and then the quote goes up. Sometimes I’d source the materials myself and have to put a margin on that, too, and that’s where these figures people get quoted of £10,000 or £15,000 for a bathroom come from.”

Fortunately, Plumb Center’s new bathroom showrooms mean that the design part of the job is now eliminated, as Lewis can direct customers to go into the showrooms themselves and place the order. So now Lewis needs to quote only for his own labour.

“Plumb Center will organise everything with the customer – design it, quote and handle the materials side of it – and I’ll go round and do a quote for the labour,” he says. “The showrooms give customers a better idea of what they can have, and it means I can be a lot more competitive.”

The arrangement has even led to extra business for Lewis, through working closely with his local branch in York, James Street. “It works both ways,” he says. “Plumb Center have passed me customers who have come into the showroom, and I’ve passed them some of my customers who are looking for materials.”

 

Share

Related articles

Keep it in the family

Keep it in the family

For Peter Booth, 35, a plumber and gas engineer from Leicester, the industry has always been in the blood.

CITY RESPONSE

CITY RESPONSE

Response Call

Field of dreams

Field of dreams

After years of playing rugby as a hobby, Jason Oakes realised his ultimate dream of playing for Newcastle Falcons, alongside some of the best players in the game.