Founder Charlie Mullins explains the importance of customer service and how he’s learnt to delegate after 34 years in business

About your business

Founder name: Charlie Mullins
Company name: Pimlico Plumbers
Company age: 34 years old
Company location: London
Staff numbers: 170 tradesmen and a support team of 50
Date started: 1979

Tell us what your business does:

Pimlico Plumbers is the UK’s largest independent plumbing company. Our philosophy is to provide value for money by doing the right job, at the right price, at the right time to suit our customers. We try to keep things simple.

Where did the idea for your business come from? What motivated you to start it?

Once I finished my apprenticeship and became a fully qualified plumber and heating engineer, working for someone else didn’t exactly hold any appeal when I could do things my way.  I started off working from the basement of an estate agent in Pimlico and did a lot of work in the area. Before long people were calling me the ‘Pimlico Plumber’ so I thought – who am I to argue with my public? So in 1979 I founded Pimlico Plumbers.

What did you do before?

Apart from attending school part-time, being a plumber on the tools and then going full-time managing my company, this is all I have ever done when it comes to my working life.  These days that involves marketing and PR work quite heavily. For me it’s not so much about what I did before I started my business, as it is what I did afterwards.

What did you have to overcome (if anything) to start it and get it off the ground?

As any successful entrepreneur will tell you it’s never easy getting a business off the ground.  At the time I was too busy thinking about earning a living to even think that was what I was doing. On a different note, I suspect if you had asked any of my teachers if I was going to amount to anything I’m not sure too many of them would have picked how things would turn out!

What makes your business stand out from others like it?

Pimlico Plumbers is the opposite of what people generally expect when it comes to dealing with plumbers.  We are totally customer focused; it’s all about service and giving people what they want

What was your first big breakthrough?

There is no doubt that was when I was offered an apprenticeship at the age of 15.  Everything that has happened to me since then goes back to that day. All the cold mornings and early starts were worth it in the end.

Your business tips

You’re prime minister for a day. What would you change for small businesses?

I would drop corporation tax by 1% for any company, large or small, that employs one apprentice for every ten full-time employees.

What’s your best customer service tip?

Don’t make idle promises. Always carry through with what you say you are going to do.

What would you do differently? (What have you learnt?)

As I grew Pimlico Plumbers I tried to continue to attempt to run everything directly myself.  The trick for entrepreneurs as they become more successful is to be able to delegate to a small group of trusted, skilled individuals.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?

When faced with major decisions canvass opinion widely and then go with your instincts.