Category: Tradespeople and builders advice

 

Being a tradesperson is hard work, filled with long hours and gruelling tasks. But we know there’s also a lighter side to the trades, and that Britain’s builders are some of the funniest people out there. We asked tradesmen to share some of their funniest stories of life on the tools, and they gave us plenty. Here are a few of our favourites…

 

Water water everywhere

 

I had a phone call from a man who was very concerned as he had water dripping down from the ceiling from his bathroom.

So I said I would go round to his house to see what was the cause of the leak.
When I arrived I knocked on the door and almost immediately the door was opened by a guy who, didn’t say hello, or anything, but just demanded that I take my boots off and insisted that I wore his slippers!

Then he asked me to follow him upstairs and into the bathroom.

I then started to ask him a question about his leak, to which he replied….. “you will see in a minute”….. Then he started to fill a baby bath, almost to the top, with water……..Then said “watch this “….. and threw it all over the floor…… Then said “now quickly follow me”. So I followed him downstairs with him now pointing to the ceiling saying “look… the water is leaking!

I honestly thought this guy was winding me up………but he was deadly serious.

The only advice I could give him was that as long as he NEVER does that again then he won’t have a leak.

He then just replied “OK”.

 

A cut above

 

We fitted a modern garden maintenance-free for a customer and he asked how often he should cut the artificial lawn.

Without batting an eyelid the apprentice said “I was wondering the same”.

Honestly, I couldn’t breathe.

 

A hole in the plan

 

We were working on a large project in Devon building one of our specialist wildlife ponds, it was quite big so it produced around 30 tonnes of spare earth which we included in the price to take away by grab lorry.

The lady of the house suddenly demanded ”why am I paying you to take away that soil in a big lorry?!”

I said “well, because there is nowhere else to spread it in your garden” to which she replied “pahhh, why can’t you DIG a hole and bury it!

 

Got your own hilarious story worth sharing? Let us know!

 

 

 

If you see Kevin Campbell working with military precision, that’s because he is.

Kevin, the damp proofer and plasterer behind Welwyn Garden City’s Anke Ltd, didn’t begin his career working as a tradesman – instead, at 16, Kevin joined the Army and spent six years being sent around the world, as he told us: “I was in the cadets as a kid so it just made sense to me to join up when I left school. I did three operational tours of Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, Jordan, Cyprus. I loved it – I was the second youngest Lance Corporal in the Army. Looking back I think I probably joined when I was a bit too young though. You have to grow up very quickly. It’s easy to feel you’re missing out on other things, when your friends are all going off on lad’s holidays and stuff – but it gives you a good work ethic.”

It’s an ethic that Kevin still carries with him, even now. “I still get up at 5am – even on weekends!” Arriving on Civvy Street was a culture shock to begin with. “I spent six months wondering what to do, doing a bit of bar work, but I knew the owner of a groundworking company and that got my foot in the door.” There was just one issue: “I realised I didn’t want to be outside any more.”

 

 

That was Kevin’s inspiration to find an indoor trade that would allow him to stay out of the rain, and appeal to his problem-solving nature. At first, it was plastering that caught his eye, but after a while he realised that specialising in damp proofing, with its technical nature, would be the career for him. “It’s hard work,” he told us, “it’s very hard – always dusty and messy. But I enjoy it. I’m always working.”

Kevin did a variety of technician’s courses to expand his knowledge of the trade, but there’s no substitute for experience. “No matter what you learn on a course, you really learn on the job, seeing different situations. I’m always willing to ask questions and get second opinions from other people. I’d rather get it right than guess.”

As he points out, damp proofing is an industry that can have a bad reputation for unscrupulous tradesmen, misdiagnosing issues and overcharging customers. “I really want to improve the reputation of the industry,” he said, “and a lot of it is about education. A large percentage of damp problems are simply caused by poor ventilation and can be easily fixed. Only 20% or so of damp at low level is rising damp, but people focus on it because they hear horror stories. I’ve been to see homeowners who’ve been told they have rising damp and will need to pay thousands of pounds for treatment, when it’s actually a small issue.”

 

 

Anke Ltd (the name comes from combining letters in Kevin’s name with his son, Austin’s – as Kevin said, “you have to think outside the box!”) was set up three years ago and has already built up 87 pieces of feedback on MyBuilder, all of it positive. “I stumbled across it one day and went from there – it’s been great for us, and I’ve recommended a few more people to join it.” The company has grown to have five full-time employees, and Kevin is considering growing the team. “They guys I’ve got are all great – I’ve kissed a lot of frogs to find my princes. I could probably take on a few more guys, but it’s all about finding the right people – training them to think the way you do. It’s very hard. Everyone tradesman can snag another tradesman’s work, but you’ve got to have a line where what gets done is acceptable. We’re all human and all make mistakes, and people can get told the wrong thing by the wrong people. Ultimately, experience is what counts.”

As the business continues to grow, Kevin will carry on getting up at dawn, doing great work, and trying to improve the reputation of the industry. He may not wear a uniform anymore, but he’s still a man on a mission.

 

 

Many tradesmen start out in the business because they grew up with it, but for Bradley Jones, life as a tradesman is a real family affair.

Together with his dad, Steve, and brother, Danny, Bradley is 33% partner in their business, Johnson & Jones, which takes on a range of projects, from boiler replacements and demolitions to renovations and large loft conversions.

 

 

Going into business with his nearest and dearest wasn’t always in the plan though – it took leaving home for Bradley to realise where his passion really lay.

“At school I was always really good at certain subjects – maths, chemistry, physicals, all of that, I always did really well and was in the top set,” Bradley told us. “When I finished school, I wanted to carry it on, so I went to university to study maths. I was there for a year, but I realised I didn’t like living away from home, so I came back. Then I had to figure out what I wanted to do next.”

 

 

Bradley’s dad, Steve, was a gas engineer of 35 year’s experience, who’d spent most of his career working alongside a close friend. Bradley said: “I didn’t really want to go into the same line of work, but when I was sat at home, I realised I could help him out a bit. I got him joined up to MyBuilder, set up a profile for him, and started using it to find him jobs. Anything he got through the site, he’d give me a cut at the end. After a while, as well as doing that, I ended up going out with him on site, helping out where I could, cleaning up and stuff. I started to think about what else I could do to help.”

With brother Danny already following in their dad’s footsteps as a gas engineer, Bradley decided to follow a slightly different path. “I decided to become an electrician,” he said. “I knew electrics could be something I’d enjoy, because there’s a maths side to it, there are calculations to do – the electrician is always the cleverest person on a building site – although I would say that!”

Bradley committed to becoming a fully qualified and accredited electrician, becoming certified through NAPIT. “The fact that we have gas engineers and an electrician means we’re able to take on more jobs – we can cover everything. I can even go out by myself on weekends and evenings to do littler emergency jobs. If someone posts something up at 8pm, I’ll just head out and get it done.”

With the three working together and able to turn their hand to a variety of jobs, the company has grown massively, now employing a team of ten. “Any job that is there, we can undertake it,” Bradley said, “from something big like a loft conversion to smaller jobs stripping out a room or fixing up a boiler. We use MyBuilder to pick up quick jobs and fill in the gaps between the bigger projects.

 

 

Though based in Chigwell, Essex, the family work a wide radius, picking up jobs across London – they even did some work this autumn taking apart the old MyBuilder HQ when the company moved into new offices (we left positive feedback).

Despite all the time spent working together, Bradley says arguments between the trio are rare. “My brother and I never argue – I can’t think of a single time we’ve ever really had a falling out. It’s usually more that me and him will be up against my dad, because he has a different way of looking at things. Dad’s always think they know best! They don’t like to listen to their sons because they think they’re right. But to be honest, it doesn’t happen very often, and it never lasts long if it does. If anything, my mum will get involved, get everyone together in the front room, and force people to make up.”

As for taking work home with them, that’s just an occupational hazard. “Every time we come home from work, mum will open the door and make us take our work boots off before we come in the house. She must be sick of it – we’re out all day on jobs, come back late, then spend another two hours talking about work. Even when we’re out for dinner somewhere, we’ll be talking about work. She deserves a nice holiday.”

The future looks promising for the business, with the team looking to take on work with local councils to renovate and expand their housing stock. “It’s something we see more and more of,” Bradley said. “Generally, people seem to be moving less, so they think more about expanding. For councils, they need to maximise the space they offer, so they’re doing the same thing.”

If things do get busier, there’s always more manpower on the way. “My younger brother, Sam, is training as a carpenter – so hopefully he’ll be joining in soon.”

 

 

Advice for Tradesmen:

 

  • Work on your messaging: “Your initial message must be strong. It has to be professional. You can’t just say you’re interested, you’d love to quote and so on – it has to be in depth, introducing yourself and the company and what you do, and outlining potential costs based on what they’ve posted. And no spelling mistakes helps as well!”
  • Build your profile: “You need a strong profile. It’s your showcase. Especially with pictures, show off what you do and make it relevant – show off the big jobs and the small jobs so people know you can do everything.”
  • Go the extra mile: “Go that extra step for every customer – if it’s just 10 minutes do something while you’re already there, why not? Clean up after yourself, and take away your rubbish. The customer will remember you, leave great feedback, and call you when they need something again.”

 

One cup of tea. That’s how emergency plumber Tyrone Tash measures his jobs. “I like to turn up, get to work while I have my tea, and be done before I need a second cup. Then I’m off to the next job.” It’s a quick pace, but that’s how he likes it.

 

 

Life hasn’t always been that fast-paced for Tyrone. When he was a teenager, he found himself working on the tills for Marks & Spencer. “I was in retail for a while, working at three different stores,” Tyrone told us. “I worked in Ealing, then in Kensington, then I thought I’d be the best I could be, and moved to the flagship store in Marble Arch. I was on the tills mainly, and helping customers out, but I didn’t really feel like I was learning anything. After three years I’d had enough.”

Tyrone was at a crossroads. “I’d tried college, doing a course in leisure and tourism, but I knew deep down studying wasn’t for me. I wanted to work full time.” Luckily, something came up. “My dad is a clerk of works. He started out as a painter and decorator but now he goes round inspecting big building projects. He’s got high standards – if you’re not going to do it properly, don’t do it! So he never liked me tinkering at home, because I wasn’t going to do it properly. But he knew a lot of people in trades, and one day, one of his friends gave me a call.”

It was a call that would change Tyrone’s future. “The guy gave me a week to decide if I wanted to come and work with him. I was still in the shop, and I wasn’t sure, but I thought about it for a couple of days, decided ‘yeah, I’m in’, and quit my job. Then the guy told me he thought I was going to turn it down and he’d offered the job to someone else! But thankfully, he kept his word and took me on.”

 

 

The job was joining a large team of plumbers and other tradespeople working on large projects, such as newbuild apartments. Tyrone started doing four days a week on the tools, and one day a week in college. “The other guys used to take the mickey out of me for being a good little student, reading my books – they’d all been doing it for years and learned it all on the job,” Tyrone said. “But I appreciate having the qualifications now. It’s something solid you can show people.”

Tyrone knew from the first day that plumbing was for him. “I couldn’t have done decorating like my dad,” he said. “I’m sorry, but it’s so boring – you’re literally watching paint dry! But I knew plumbing would be for me. I’m an enthusiastic person, I like to get stuck in, and as soon as I was doing it, I just knew.”

It was a steep learning curve, but Tyrone thinks working on the large sites helped him develop his skills. “I spent four years doing new installations, and I learned to solder my pipes properly, all nice and neat. You’re doing it from drawings so you have to be exact, because if you put the pipes in wrong, when they come in and lay the concrete, you might suddenly find what you had planned to come out in the bathroom is now coming out in the bedroom.”

After a few years learning the ropes, Tyrone knew he wanted to go it alone, setting up 24-7 TT Plumbing and Heating, which has now built up more than 200 positive pieces of feedback on MyBuilder. “I just like being out there,” he told us, “where every day is different. On the same site every day, I go mad, it’s like working in an office for me, my brain just turns to mush. I like meeting new people. Six or seven jobs a day, that’s what keeps it fresh”.

 

 

That passion for novelty means Tyrone has found his perfect job as a reactionary plumber, becoming an emergency service of sorts for homeowners who find themselves with leaks, floods, and other plumbing crises. “I like being out there on the road,” he explained. “I got a new van five months ago, and I’ve already covered 10,000 miles. I’m all over north and west London, from where I grew up in Cricklewood out to Uxbridge and beyond – but not central. I can’t bear being stuck in traffic!”

Tyrone can do six or seven jobs a day, and although he can pick and choose his jobs these days, in the past he’s worked late into the night. “When I was doing all-night calls, you used to get people crying down the phone at you. It’s tough. The money is good because there aren’t many people who want to do those jobs, but it’s hard to drag yourself out, and you could be so tired.” Now, he tends to start work mid-morning and go into the evening, but can still end up getting home at midnight.

In the years he’s been working, he’s seen it all. “I don’t mind all the dogs and stuff, but you do end up in some strange places. The worst is when places are really dirty – I’ve seen dust gathering on top of dust.” He added: “One job I really remember was when someone rang me about a pipe that had split. He’d been on holiday in the USA and it was during a snowy winter a few years ago. His ceiling has collapsed, falling into his bathroom, but he couldn’t get someone to come see it because no one wanted to head out in the snow, and the water was still flowing. I had 12 jobs that day – I must have been the only one working. I got there after about four hours, and turned off the water in five seconds. I was like ‘sorry mate, I wish I could have got here sooner’. People need to learn where there stopcocks are though!”

 

 

Despite the long hours and tough jobs, it’s all been worth it. “It was hard, starting out,” he admits. “MyBuilder was great for building up my reputation though. That’s what it was all about for me – getting those reviews. I was chasing feedback over money to begin with. The first job, when someone took a chance on me and I didn’t have a review on there, I was so grateful, I practically did it for nothing. But I wanted the reviews. I used to look at other guys on the site and see how they did it. I was going for jobs all day long, then asking the people to leave feedback. You can’t beg them, but it’s worth explaining to them how important it is.”

Tyrone has big ambitions, inspired by the Pimlico Plumbers vans he sees around the capital. “I think it’s amazing the business they’ve built up. I’d love to grow into something like that – I already have the personalised plate for the van! By the time I’m 40, I’d like to have a team of people and be the one directing the work. Running a business is difficult, dealing with admin, and I’ve made mistakes along the way, but it’s been a learning process. I still enjoy it.” He might have a few more years to go in his van, but Tyrone is always keen to take on the next job, and always happy to have another cup of tea – just the one though.

 

 

Advice for Tradesmen

 

  • Timing is everything: “You can’t be late in this game, keeping people waiting is just rude. I tell people a window when I’ll get there, and I make sure I’m there.”
  • Stick to your quote: “It’s annoying if you make a mistake and you’ve underpriced it, but the person has accepted you based on what you told them. If you have to just charge for materials and undercharge for your time, I think it’s worth it to build your reputation build trust with a client.”
  • Give receipts: “Make everything nice and official, be professional. It’s not that hard to do but it helps everyone out.”

ben copy

Whether climbing trees or jumping out of planes, tree surgeon Ben Robinson is making the most of his head for heights.

 

 

Ben Robinson of north London’s Clear Cut Trees thinks it’s only natural that he ended up becoming a tree surgeon. “Most of my childhood memories are of playing outside,” he tells us when we met him in the midst of a day of quoting. “I grew up in London, in an estate, and we were always out swinging about in the big willow trees that were there.”

 

Despite his love of the great outdoors, it took a while before Ben realised that was where his real passion lay. “I came out of schools with just some GCSEs, and I actually ended up going into the media. I started out doing graphic design stuff, and then moved to a post production company, but I realised quite quickly that it wasn’t for me – it just didn’t fit my personality. Being indoors, at a desk – when I was growing up, I just wanted to be outdoors, but I was stuck inside.”

 

It was a random encounter that provided the spark for Ben’s career change. “I fell into it by accident, I guess,” he tells us. “I saw some guys working on a tree on my road, and I liked the look of it. I ended up going through a directory, ringing as many different companies as I could to see if I could get a job. Most weren’t interested in someone with no experience like me, but after a while I found a company that said, okay, let’s have a chat.”

 

Ben began working for company, staying mostly on the ground while he began to learn some of the skills needed to master the trade. “The firm that took me on did so on the proviso that I did an intensive course to get my knowledge up. I went and did a ten week course that showed me as much as possible – tree names, tree lore, climbing, knot tying, first aid, chainsaw use – all the basics you need on a day to day basis.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

But it was working with other, more experienced arborists – known as climbers in the trade – where Ben got his real education. “I was very lucky, in that the company was big enough to have climbers from all over the world working there. Back then, the money here in London was seen as very good, so guys who’d be travelling would stay here for a while to find some work and make some money. I had the luxury of learning from some of best climbers from around the world.” Nowadays, he says, those lessons are just as likely to travel in the opposite direction. “You’ll see people from the UK going over to Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, to do work over there. I think it’s a bit less lucrative here than it once was. There are fewer Aussies coming over now, I think their industry has matured and grown, so they can stay and find good work. But I was there just at the right time where I could learn a lot from them.”

 

“I didn’t have any plans for the long game,” Ben says, “but I was young enough that I could just try some things out. I got to realise that I really enjoyed it, and still do.”

 

Despite finding his calling, Ben still had other ambitions he wanted to pursue. “I’ve always been good at the sciences and had an interest in it, especially biology. I guess trees fell into that. So it was something I wanted to explore, and see what direction I might go in, beyond just being a climber.” Ben found an outlet for his ambition in undertaking a part time degree in biological sciences through Birkbeck University, eventually receiving first class honours for his efforts. “My final thesis wasn’t actually about trees, in the end,” he admits. “It was about antibiotic resistance – but that’s another story!”

 

Managing his coursework alongside his busy career as a tree surgeon spurred Ben to achieve another ambition – starting his own business. “The admin side of things doesn’t come particularly easy to me, but I’m a quick learner. The degree helped to teach me to fairly militant about deadlines and organising my time. I was capable before that, but I don’t think I would have been as much of a success.”

 

Clear Cut Trees began in 2014 and now has a team of six, working in two crews. “Business has been really good,” Ben says, “it’s been pretty consistent, with natural peaks and troughs. It’s a bit quieter around Christmas and in the summer holidays, but there’s always been enough work. I like to try and get jobs booked up a month or so in advance to stop me panicking, but we do get emergency work coming in too, especially if there’s been a storm.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

Tree surgery is a year-round trade, with autumn the best time for most pruning jobs according to Ben, while it should generally be avoided in spring, particularly for trees that bleed, such as birch and mulberry. “Tree removals also happen throughout the year,” Ben explains, “though you might have more issues in summer with subsidence because there’s more going on with the roots.”

 

He joined MyBuilder in the autumn after he set up the business, and says it was vital in helping to get the company up and running: “It was the first thing I joined and it helped a lot to get me going – it’s such a handy tool for tradesmen, I couldn’t recommend it enough.” Three years on, he still has 100% positive feedback from happy clients.

 

“We do a mix of all jobs,” he says. “We focus almost entirely on private gardens, because they’re just nicer jobs – people are more appreciative. Local authorities used to keep a lot of their work in house but now they outsource, but it tends to go to big firms who can basically work to cost. I much prefer private gardens. The nice thing now, three years in, is that we’re starting to see repeat work from people we saw back when we started. That’s a really good feeling, that they liked us so much they want to have us back.”

 

Like in all trades, he occasionally encounters people who’ve tried to have a go themselves. “You do see some scary stuff,” he admits. “YouTube has a wealth of videos of people doing dangerous stuff with ladders and chainsaws. The main issue with doing tree work yourself is that whatever you do, you have to wait a very long time to be able to undo it – until the tree grows back. It’s not like a plumbing job where a professional could come and get it back to normal that afternoon.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

Ben makes sure his own crew keeps safety in mind at all times. “We’ve not had any significant accidents, we keep a tight ship, and all our equipment is top of the range and well-maintained. Some issues are unavoidable, but you mitigate against it with good procedures. A lot of the safety stuff becomes second nature, but if you’re going up a 90ft plane tree for example, you make sure you double and triple check everything.”

 

Heights aren’t an issue for Ben, though. “I lived in a block of flats growing up, so I’m used to being up high. In fact, my hobby is skydiving! I did a tandem course in Spain, jumping with someone else, then a course to learn how to do it solo, so I now have a licence and can jump from any drop zone.”

 

As well as unusual hobbies, Ben has also encountered the occasional unusual job. “I guess the classic is the cat stuck up the tree. I’ve only done one I think, where the cat was still there when I turned up. I had to scale a roof, then use a ladder to get across to a tree. And when I finally got it, it scratched me to pieces.”

 

With the business going from strength to strength, trees are still where Ben’s passion lies. “I think my favourite trees are the almost stereotypical ones – oaks and beeches, trees that grow to enormous proportions. It’s still one of my ambitions to go out to California and see the giant redwood forests.”

 

With plenty of work booked in and only a few days off planned, the big US trip might have to wait for now – but if there’s one person sure to make an ambition a reality, it’s Ben.

 

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Spend time getting your online presence right: “Starting out on MyBuilder and making my own website felt like a lot of work, but once you’ve put in the groundwork to get it right, the really see the results down the line.”
  • Be willing to answer questions: “Customers will naturally have a lot of questions when it comes to the job, so you should be willing to be patient and explain as much as possible. The more helpful you are, the more appreciative the customer is.”
  • Don’t delay on quotes: “I think it’s a bad look to let people chase you for a quote. They want to make a decision on a tradesman and get the job done – as a basic courtesy, I try to get any quote turned round in 48 hours.”

1000-4

 

When you meet Rob Joy today, you’ll find a confident, outgoing family man, leading a team of 15 painters and decorators as the head of his company, Finishing Touch Services. But this wasn’t always the case, 10 years ago you would have met a very different person indeed.

We met Rob not on a building site, but in a charity shop and community centre in the heart of Luton. SOAR is the base of Rob’s church and charity, Kingdom Cause Community, and the ambitious project has all been made possible through the achievements of Finishing Touch Services. Like many successful tradesmen, Rob started out on the tools as a youngster, but his career didn’t always go smoothly.

“My dad had a roofing company which was quite successful, so weekends and school holidays I’d go along and help out labouring for him,” Rob told us. “ I’d be on building sites and scaffolding when I was so young that my dad would have to tell me to duck if the police came past! But I’d get my five pounds for the day sweeping up broken tiles and what not, so I was happy.”

Sadly for Rob, the happiness didn’t last. Rob’s world was shattered when his beloved dad died, and the teenager soon found himself headed off the rails. “I hit rock bottom,” he admits. It went from flirting with drugs at the weekend to going in at the deep end. My dad left me a lot of money and I threw it all away on drugs, down the pub, at the football. From the age of 16 to 26 I was in it. The drugs destroyed me – I was 8 stone, my mental health had gone, I’d been in and out of prison. I literally lost everything.”

Rob’s journey back to sobriety was fueled by faith. “My mum had always prayed for me and I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t deny the change I’d seen in her – whether it was real or not, it had an impact for her. I remember, one night, I just said, ‘God, is there any way you can change a man like me,’ and for the first time in years I went to bed with no fear, no paranoia. I woke up the next day completely and utterly transformed. No one could tell me it was just willpower – my mind had changed, my heart had changed.”

 

1000-6

 

The pleasure of painting

 

Despite this transformation, it took time for Rob to build himself back up, reconnecting with his family, and getting back into work. “I knew that roofing might not be for me – all the angles and the maths were too much to get my head round! But I’d done other jobs with my dad, painting here and there, and thought I could make a go of that. One of the first jobs I did when I got straight was painting those temporary buildings that go on building sites, just one after the other, and I enjoyed it. Painting is therapeutic.”

From those small beginnings, Rob began to build his experience. “I had this philosophy, short term loss for long term gain,” he explained. “For example, I did a job repainting a door, and I thought it would be simple, half a day’s work. But it wasn’t at all, it was falling apart, I had to take it back to bare wood, do loads to it, it took me much longer. I lost out on that job. But a few months later, I took on another door job, and I realised it was exactly the same situation, but now I knew exactly what to do.”

Rob joined MyBuilder two years ago, and soon realised that the feedback system would force him to up his game. “When you’re working for family, friends, friends of friends, they can say nice things but it’s not always the most honest. When you’re winning work on MyBuilder, that feedback is real. I realised maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – you have to improve.” The feedback for the business still has a negative review from his early efforts, but with more than 100 pieces of positive feedback, he hasn’t let it stand in his way.

Like many setting up their own business, it was a case of long hours and low pay. “I’d do 17 hour days, out on site until it was dark, back to kiss my kids before bed, then out to quote, writing it up before bed, then waking up realising I’d missed something.”

Rob began to build the company, eventually bringing in other people to help. “The best thing I did was take on a guy called Alan, who’s now my business manager. He’d been in the trade for 35 years, and his skills, his ability, they’re brilliant. I used to be annoyed that he was slower than other guys I worked with, but I realised, his jobs never had any snags. It might be a day slower, but it was perfect – never any stress. So I went to him and said, look, I might be the one paying you, but I want you to teach me how to be a good painter and decorator. I was humble. And so for six months, he showed me what he knew. It helped me get better, helped me understand the materials and the techniques, helped me quote on jobs.”

As he says: “You can’t be a great decorator in a few years – you have to do it for years and years, always learning. You end up breathing it.”

 

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A matter of standards

 

The business is now up to 15 men, and Rob hopes to add more in the coming year. “I wouldn’t want it to get too big, because what I’m concerned about is quality,” he said. “I tell the boys, I don’t expect them to have the same faith as me, but I expect them to work to the standards I do.”

Profits from the business go into supporting the charity, helping both in the local community, and in Malawi. “I’m all about going out into the streets,” Rob said, “I never wanted to be preached at and I still don’t. It’s about helping someone who’s starving with some food, or giving a coat to someone freezing.” In Malawi, the charity is looking to buy land in order to start work on an orphanage, with some of Rob’s team ready to go out and work on the project themselves.

“We went there in April, took some guys from work and it’s changed their life. We took loads of toys and clothes, it was incredible. It broke my heart. I came back and said to my wife, the business isn’t for wealth, for big houses and fast cars, it’s for this.”

The lads will be hands on when it comes to the orphanage: “The standards of construction over there aren’t always great,” Rob laughed. “But we’ll be able to to really do some good there. We do as much as we can. We send out money for the women in the community to buy materials and make bags, which we sell here in the shop, with the profits going back to them. And we sell second-hand clothes in here, with those that don’t sell going directly to the kids there.”

Rob doesn’t make a point of telling homeowners where the money from their jobs will be going, but when it comes up, he says they’re always happy to hear more. “The customers are amazing, so many of them are now friend, they donate, they come and help out.” He always tries to lend a hand where he can where customers are in need – through a contact at Dulux, he has access to discount paints that can be used for worthy causes or sold on to raise money. He’s also happy to hear from any other tradesmen who are keen to help out on charitable projects for worthy causes.

Through Rob’s efforts, both the business and the charity have continued to grow, but he insists it’s still the quality, not the quantity, that matters most. “One thing I always say to my guys is that it’s not the past hundred jobs that matter – it’s the one we’re working on right now.”

 

Advice for tradesmen:

  • Always be willing to learn: “I still meet young guys who come from doing professional qualifications who think they know everything, but they don’t”, Rob said. “When you’re working with people with lots of experience, there’s always something you can take from them.”
  • Prepare accurate quotes: “The biggest source of issues on any job is if there was something in the quote that wasn’t clear,” Rob told us. “A tradesman should lay out everything, materials, hours, who pays for what, so that there can’t be any quibbles.”
  • Think long term: “No one can be great at something overnight,” Rob said. “You have to think about the long term, building your skills and growing the business. It can’t be rushed.”

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