BURGON'S BLOG: Good plumbing needs to be paid for

Published:  15 August, 2012

Plumbers should stand firm when customers try to get out of paying reasonable amounts for services, believes Robert Burgon, SNIPEF chief executive.

by Robert Burgon, SNIPEF chief executive

I bumped into the proprietor of a local plumbing business in a garden centre this week. I was on holiday and had popped in for some lunch. He was working and was about to undertake a repair to the plumbing system somewhere in the large premises.

After we had chatted about the (surprisingly good) weather, we went onto the usual topic of how he was finding things in his business. While being kept reasonably busy (mainly on account of his eye for the opportunities which diversification offers), he said that he was facing regular challenges from customers about his charges.

There is no doubt that times are hard. Research just published tells us that people are spending less on food than they were last year. That is serious and can’t simply be explained by the competition war being waged amongst the large supermarkets. Spending less on food (which is hardly a luxury purchase) is a real indicator of belts being tightened even further than before.

Against this background, it is probably not surprising that people are seeking to minimise the amounts they have to pay for their plumbing and heating work. This can result in a number of things. Using a black economy operator is clearly something which becomes attractive if one’s goal is to pay as little as possible regardless of the quality. However, even when professional firms are engaged, customers are either challenging their bills when they arrive or, even worse (and often in addition to challenging the amount), they are simply not paying until they really have to.

Plumbing and heating businesses with charge-out rates which are designed to cover all of their costs and make some profit need to think carefully about what actions to take when faced with customers challenging accounts or simply not paying. Setting out charges in advance and getting customer agreement to those charges is desirable but not always possible.

Having effective credit control procedures and following-up as soon as payment terms have been exceeded is essential (but not always seen as such by businesses). Being firm and not agreeing to unreasonable reductions in charges is probably the most critical issue today. What is the point in running a business if you can’t make a decent income from that business?

It is a sad fact of life that many people don’t value plumbing. It is often a nuisance purchase. Don’t be tempted to agree to reducing reasonably issued accounts. Such action will not be good for the health of your business nor will it help us to show customers that good plumbing deserves to be paid for at good prices.