Pimlico Plumbers grew from small local firm to the UK’s most recognisable plumbing brand. Here are five things retail can learn from it:
Build a strong brand
Pimlico Plumbers is undoubtedly the most recognisable plumbing firm in the UK. Ask the person on the street to name a plumbing company, and apart from “Dave down the street“, they’d struggle to name anyone other than Pimlico, a company that has committed to building a brand as well as a business.
The firm has bold red and blue branding emblazoned on its fleet of 160 vans and its staff wear its distinctive uniform. The colours are subliminal messaging, according to Pimlico Plumbing founder Charlie Mullins, who says it represents hot and cold water.
It has also gained notoriety for its cheeky advertising and its plumbing-related number plates, which include FLU55H, B1DET, W4TER and BOG1. The business has also bought the rights to the song Mambo No 5, so when a Pimlico Plumber van reverses, instead of beeping, the vehicle sings out the song.
Many people have been known to book their services based on this humour alone. Bold with a sense of fun, this emulates Pimlico’s brand values.
In retail, many have had success by adopting a similar technique.
Electricals etailer Ao.com boosted its brand recognition when it launched its tongue-in-cheek TV ads, which pushed the fun, friendly nature of its employees. The etailer used a similarly catchy tune – a take on the Ramone’s Blitzkrieg Bop, which turned the lyrics “Hey ho, let’s go!” to “AO, Let’s go!”.
Pimlico has also harnessed the power of PR, helped in part by the larger-than-life personality of its founder Mullins. The enigmatic founder has appeared on programmes as diverse as Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, BBC 1’s Posh Plumbers, Panorama and Daily Politics.
Nothing angers customers more than being misled.
Pimlico realises this and has embraced transparency. The plumber publishes all rates on its websites and vows to have no hidden charges. Customers are not charged for call-out charges, travelling, parking or congestion charges.
Engineers also show a full breakdown of labour, material and other charges and a comprehensive description of the work carried out on all invoices and estimates.
This transparency even extends to the privately owned company publishing the number of complaints it receives.
Transparency is a big issue in retail, particularly around price. A common frustration is quick fire Sales, with many shoppers feeling misled when products they have bought are slashed in price soon after purchase.
Some retailers have introduced ‘Last Chance to Buy’ rails in store to inform customers that the product will soon be on Sale.
Online, previously unseen delivery charges is one of the biggest reasons that shoppers exit their purchase at the checkout stage. Clear, prominent messages about delivery charges throughout the shopping journey could prevent this.
Build your offer around the customer
Pimlico Plumbers has built its service around the customer and what their hectic lifestyle demands.
When you have a nasty leak, you need a plumber as soon as possible, whatever the time. Pimlico trades 24-hours a day, seven days a week and promises to get an operative at a customer’s home within the hour, regardless of the time. Mullins says it often gets bookings for non-urgent work at 2am in the morning. Not everyone works a standard nine-to-five job and Pimlico recognises this.
So are retailers doing enough to serve their customers’ needs?
Tesco has been scaling back its 24-hour opening and across the retail industry, waiting at home for a delivery window that can stretch for half a day is still common practice.
Is this really putting consideration of the customer’s hectic and varied lifestyle at the heart of their business?
Investing in tomorrow’s stars
Mullins is a great believer in apprenticeships and investing in young people.
He says he knew he wanted to be a plumber at the tender age of nine. He dropped out of school at 15 and undertook a four-year apprenticeship in plumbing before making his fortune.
Mullins believes that young people and employers can benefit from apprenticeships. He says it’s a great way to find fresh talent and train new people in the way Pimlico wants them to work from the very beginning.
As well as offering trade apprenticeships, Pimlico has partnered with the City of London Corporation to offer training schemes across all departments including human resources, public relations, administration and accounts.
The retail industry also benefits from apprenticeships. Retail is one of the few industries where employees can start on the shopfloor and end up in the boardroom.
However, apprenticeships need to evolve to meet the needs of modern day retail. Sainsbury’s, for example, has recently rolled out a two-year apprenticeship programme to find the next generation of software coders.
Pimlico Plumbers, like many retail brands, lives on repeat custom. The business believes when a customer uses its services they should become a “Pimlico customer for life’.
The business must be doing something right as 73% of its work is from returning customers. Reliability, high standards of service and transparency all contribute to this.
Pimlico has also invested heavily in customer service with a focus on after-sales service and support. Retailers could similarly benefit from contacting shoppers after their purchases, particularly on technology products.
The plumber has also introduced a customer loyalty discount card, which gives cardholders discounts on labour of up to 25% and priority appointment times.