If practice makes perfect, then Paul Caton must be pretty good at his job.
More than 25 years of installing boilers. 200 boilers a year. The numbers might not be exact, but after thousands of boiler installs, Paul obviously knows his way around a central heating system.
The success is reflected in Paul’s MyBuilder profile - since he joined the site in 2010, Paul has racked up more than 400 pieces of feedback, and every one of them is positive.
Ask him about his success though, and the Chesterfield-based engineer is keen to deflect any praise, being more likely to attribute his good reviews to a quirk of geography rather than his lengthy experience.
“I can get a lot of good feedback because I do a lot of jobs,” Paul says. “Where I live, I’m literally just off the M1. Five minutes to the junction with no traffic. With that, I can be up to Leeds, down to Nottingham, in to Sheffield - anywhere I need to go.”
Regardless of the size of his patch, Paul wouldn’t be picking up the jobs without his experience.
As if his recommendations on MyBuilder weren’t enough, Paul is one of a handful of Worcester Bosch diamond accredited installers in the UK, as well as being an approved Valiant and Baxi boiler fitter. It means he can offer longer warranties on the products and his work, giving homeowners extra piece of mind.
Like many tradesman, Paul is a trade lifer - beginning his career when he was still just a teenager, going out on jobs with his dad.
Paul said: “I was probably only 14 when I started going out on jobs with my dad. He was a plumber, and I’d tag along on Saturday mornings and when I was on my school holidays. Now, sometimes when I’m busy, my dad will tag along with me - it’s come full circle if you like.” He added: “I’m trying to get my own son to come on jobs now. He’s 14, the same age as when I started. He’s not quite as interested as I was though - I think he prefers football, to be honest.”
From his days as a teenaged apprentice, Paul expanded his skills and joined up with a commercial firm, widening his knowledge of different trades, but soon coming to find that gas work was where his passion was. After a few years of working for other people, Paul decided to set out on his own, launching his own company, Paul Caton Gas Services, 15 years ago.
Seven days a week
It’s not a job for people who like lie-ins or weekends off. When we met up with Paul on the job in July, he was fitting yet another boiler, his 150th of the year, with many more in the pipeline, not to mention a list of quotations to give out on weekends. “It is busy, yeah,” Paul admits, “and I’m not always the best at keeping on top of the phone calls and organisation and stuff. But you have to do your best to keep up with it - you need to keep your business head on as well as doing the actual work itself.”
Something is going right for Paul though, with a small team working with him and plenty of work lined up. It’s got to the point where Paul can afford to be more choosy about the jobs he takes on - passing on inspection work to a friend, while he sticks to installation and replacement jobs. He’s also OFTEC qualified, meaning he can install oil-based heaters, another string to his bow.
“I’ve seen it all while doing the job,” Paul says. “You do sometimes see dangerous stuff - people have to get a qualified gas fitter, someone on the Gas Safe Register, to do their work. But sometimes you just see strange stuff, where someone’s cut a corner, and you just wonder why. The other day I got a free foot pump because another tradesmen must have used it when they installed the boiler, found it too awkward to get back from behind the boiler, so they just left it there.”
It’s not the only pearl of wisdom Paul has picked up over his time in the trade. He’s learned a number of things that help him win new work, and then win over clients when he’s in their home. When we visited him hard at work, he was easy to find, with high-quality flag-style signs out in front alongside his van, advertising his presence to the neighbourhood. “I always have something up outside the property when I’m working on it,” he said. It means that people know a little bit about what’s going on inside, and Mrs Jones up the road might take the details so that she knows who to call if she needs work doing.”
Clean and tidy
As well as dressing up the front of the house, he also makes sure the interior is looked after, putting down plastic sheeting throughout house to make sure the place stays clean and tidy. Paul said: “We always put this down - we buy a job lot of it so it costs us very little, but it means a lot to the homeowner.”
Looking after the homeowner also means going the extra mile for them, encouraging all his clients to buy quality boilers with long-standing guarantees. “If you do buy a quality boiler, it comes with a 10-year guarantee,” he says. “It might cost a bit more, but that peace of mind is priceless. The same with all the extra bits. I do a lot of digital thermostats now that connect with wi-fi, so you can control your heating from your phone or tablet. A quality thermostat like that might cost £200, but it comes with a two-year guarantee, and is massively useful.”
He’s also urges people not to buy cheaper boilers online - although they may look like bargains, the lack of protection can mean issues down the line. It’s a problem he’s had himself. Paul says: “Not long ago I actually managed to buy an AGA off Ebay. It was a lovely thing, in racing green, and a great price.” So what went wrong? “My wife wanted a red one.”
It shows that even the experts can get it wrong sometimes. Paul might have a bit of practice left to do yet.
See Paul's full profile here.
Advice for homeowners
- Always hire a qualified tradesman: “I’ve seen it all while doing the job,” Paul says. “You do sometimes see dangerous stuff. People have to get a qualified gas fitter, someone on the Gas Safe Register, to do their work.” Don’t be afraid to double check your tradesman - all fully registered tradesman won’t have a problem with it.
- Buy through your fitter: Although you can go on the internet and buy a cheap boiler, Paul discourages shopping that way. “My experience with the manufacturers means I can get products at better rates and provide longer warranties. You have to know you’re getting a quality boiler.”
- Look for a tradesman who takes care of the details: Just because your home is becoming a literal building site doesn’t necessarily mean it has to look like one. Paul said: “I always put down sheeting to make sure I leave the house nice and clean. It’s only a little thing, but being neat and tidy means a lot to homeowners.”
Advice for other tradespeople
- Stay on top of your admin: Paul is the first to admit that it can be a struggle to keep up to speed with all the phone calls coming in and appointments being made. “It is difficult to do. I’m used to actually doing the work and getting my hands dirty, not the whole organisation side of things.” But he also knows that being efficient with all the admin is the key to bringing in new work and keeping clients happy - both before the job starts, and after it’s finished.
- Keep things neat and tidy: A bit of care can go a long way. Paul is big fan of taking steps to look after the home, using plastic sheeting throughout the house to keep the worse of the dust and dirt away. “It really does help. At the end, we just take it up and throw it out, and that’s it, everything is as good as new, and the homeowner really thanks you for it. It’s not a lot of effort on our part, but it shows we’re looking out for them.”
- Be your own salesman: The best person to champion your work and your business is you - and if there is an easy opportunity to promote yourself, you should take it. Paul says: “It’s such a simple thing to do and it brings in business. I’m getting a new van with nice sign writing, and I always have signs up out the front of any job I’m doing. If you put it out there, people come to you.”