In the 1980s, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, became one of the biggest shows on television. Showing the antics of a group of British builders who leave the UK to find work in Germany, the comedy-drama attracted millions of viewers, with episodes following the mismatched gang still being made in 2004.
July’s Tradesman of the Month, Stephen Clarke of Chingford’s STAC Landscaping, got to live the role for real, spending an early part of his own career looking for profitable work on the continent. “I’m a bricklayer by trade,” he told MyBuilder. “I first went to Germany when I was 19. I went over as a hod carrier, looking after 10 other bricklayers, but I ended up having a row with them.”
However, the falling out ended up working to his advantage, as he set out on his own in the unfamiliar country. “I got jobs off my own bat and it turned out pretty well. I was earning £1,200 a week – Auf wiedersehen! Then, after a year over there, it turned out I spoke German well enough, and I ended up meeting a guy and troubleshooting jobs for him. I’d travel all over to where I was needed to help get jobs started, just putting the first three courses in the ground.”
Back to the land
Stephen came back to the UK a few years later, to carry on what would become a career spanning more than that a quarter of a century. With his German adventures under his tool belt, and a four-year apprenticeship and other qualifications proving his credentials, he ultimately decided to set up his own business, STAC Landscaping, taking on a variety of jobs including brickwork, landscaping, paving and driveways, as well as fencing and even extensions. After founding the company 15 years ago, the business has gone from strength to strength, building a loyal customer base and strong reputation, as proven through his 137 jobs and 99% positive rating on MyBuilder.
“I like having the different kind of jobs,” Stephen said. “We really can take on lots of different jobs, working on everything from extensions to landscaping a garden. A lot of the time, we do different jobs for the same people, who are so happy with what we do, they ask us to come back.” As if to prove it, when we met Stephen, he was building an extension for a home where he’s already renovated a fireplace and installed some decking. “It’s a pleasure to keep coming back – it shows how much they liked your work,” Stephen said.
As a result of his firm’s success, STAC Landscaping is regularly booked up for 10 to 12 weeks in advance, but the experienced tradesman is always on the hunt for new jobs and bringing in new leads. Since joining MyBuilder four years ago, Stephen has regularly used it to pick up new jobs and help boost his company’s standing. “When I started off on the site, I was going for loads of jobs, giving lots of quotes, going out to meet as many people as possible. It’s the best way to get your reputation up and get you started. And I still use it today. You find that even if you’re busy, if you make contact with people and explain, they might still want you to do the job. People are usually willing to wait a bit for good work.”
The feedback that STAC Landscaping has received on MyBuilder speaks for itself:
“Right from the first phone call I was impressed. Steve and his team are punctual, hard working, trustworthy and are all really nice guys who take pride in their work and seem to enjoy doing it.”
“Steve and his team did a great job. Extremely hard working and very punctual, arrived on time every day regardless of the weather.”
“I was amazed by how hard and efficiently they worked to get the job done. A well oiled machine!”
For Stephen and his crew, it’s all in a day’s work. During his career he’s encountered all of the usual issues from entrance ways too narrow to take the machinery needed for a job, to structural engineers throwing out architectural plans just before work is about to begin. Stephen shrugs it all off: “You’re always going to have jobs like that, where the plans have been through 10 different versions from the architect, but at the last minute the structural engineer has to change something. You just get on with it.”
Whatever issues have come up, Stephen has managed to overcome them. And while business is booming, he won’t be saying “auf wiedersehen” to the trade just yet.
See Stephen’s full profile here.
Advice for other tradespeople
- A picture speaks a thousand words: “I always take a lot of photos of the jobs I’m doing,” Stephen told MyBuilder, showing off his iPad, well-stocked with pictures from recent projects. Building up a portfolio of images showcasing the firm’s best work means he has an easy way of showing prospective customers just what his team can do.
- Stay in touch: Stephen makes a point of getting in touch with leads on MyBuilder, laying out his availability and explaining his experience and fit for each job. As he says, with many jobs, including large projects like extensions and landscaping, people don’t necessarily need the work to begin tomorrow, they’re just looking for the best tradesperson who can guarantee a job well done.
- Build your network: Stephen has gained lots of extra work from previous clients calling him up and asking him back to do the next stage in their home improvement plan. It pays to maintain good relationships with clients throughout the build and afterwards – if homeowners are happy with the service the first time around, chances are they’ll be keen on having you back for the next round.