Pimlico Plumbing founder Charlie Mullins OBE chats honestly about business post corona

Charlie Mullins OBE shares his frank and inspirational view on what businesses need to be doing to pull through the crisis.

Hear his full interview on the Business Matters podcast, a sneak peak of opinions are shared below …

It’s been publicly known that you work on a different business model with all of your engineers being self employed working under the Pimlico umbrella. Do you think that business model is the reason why some of your team has come back and started working pretty much as soon as it’s safe to do so?

We completely changed our business model in the 2007 recession that almost made us go under and thank goodness that we did. I think it’s been a winner for us that they are self-employed because they were very quick and helpful in getting back to work and they’re actually doing longer hours at the moment, but that’s what’s made the company survive during this crisis.

Saying that, all our office staff are PAYE and we’ve had quite a few of them on furlough. The chancellor said the other week that a lot of people don’t want to be on furlough – well the chancellor’s got it wrong – there’s lots of people enjoying it, lots of people want to be on it and lots of people will stay on it if the gov are going to pay for them not to come to work so the fact that our engineers are self employed has really proven a point that we’ve managed to work through this crisis.

That’s actually facilitated the fact that I know you regard yourself ‘the fourth emergency service’ through your engineers you’ve been able to help nurses and key workers with their plumbing and household issues…

Yes absolutely. There are a lot of key workers out there and we offered a service to them where we wouldn’t charge for emergency work and also give them 20% discount if it went into further works and it’s been so gratefully received.I applaud my team for doing it and grateful that we can do something to help.

Is there anything detrimental to the rebuilding of businesses post-corona?

The rise in the congestion charge is by far the worst decision that Sadiq Khan has made since being in office. From a health and safety point of view there’s no safer way to come in to London at the moment than in a vehicle. He’s obviously got no business sense whatsoever he’s kicking people when they’re down when he should be incentivising businesses not penalising them.

We have a lot of engineers who are on different shifts so they avoid the charge and a lot of other workers do the same. Most businesses have struggled with lockdown and some of them were just about scraping through, that decision is the straw that’s going to break the donkey’s back.

He doesn’t realise it but he’’s going to bring in less money because there were so many businesses that will now not operate in London with this crazy additional charge. Of course it’s going to affect their bottom line, but let’s not kid anybody, we all know that you have to build that in with your hourly charges so who suffers?

The general public suffer. Absolute madness the worst thing you can do is to penalise a business in times of crisis. I think whoever becomes the mayor needs to be backing and supporting the government – they’ve quite clearly said to avoid public transport, why raise the charge now? Absolutely crazy.

If I turn you into Mystic Meg for a bit, how do you see the next six months panning out?

It’s going to be incredibly tough, I think many businesses are not going to get through it and many people are going to be out of work. I was talking to a local business in London that his turnover for delivering this food was £1 million a month and it’s gone down to £100,000. That’s how bad things are in businesses at the moment I fear.

Is there a good side?

Yes definitely. The good side is that the businesses that have performed well during this crisis will go on and become better businesses. To give you an example: when this crisis peaked we went from a £1m per week turnover to dropping by 30%.

It’s a big loss. However, everyone’s pulled together and last week’s takings have actually gone up from this time last year. So you know there are certain businesses that know how to operate and meet the challenges front on. The ones that are prepared to give people value for money out there I think will turn into better businesses. Unfortunately the weaker ones are going to go by the wayside.

So by definition, because there will be a smaller pool for customers to choose from, that does mean that those who are able to survive will become stronger, Darwin theory.

Absolutely. Unfortunately when bad things happen out there, some good always comes out of it -the expanding businesses will get more of the market share and that’s certainly our intention.

There’s a model whereby if you get rid of your worst 10% every year, then your business will grow and expand and I think that’s what’s going to happen. Offset the people who haven’t squared up, the ones who haven’t pulled their weight. People who have a job after this are very fortunate.

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