Charlie Mullins, CEO of Pimlico Plumbers – otherwise known as the ‘Plumber to the Stars’ – isn’t shy of using social media. In fact, it’s an essential PR and marketing tool for him and his brand. I interviewed Charlie for our Social CEO series to find out more.
Charlie, you’ve grown Pimlico Plumbers into the most well-known and well-respected (and very profitable!) plumbing company in Britain. What’s the secret of your success?
I would say hard work. One thing people always forget about is the amount of hard work and graft that goes into making a business.
Do you have any advice for other small business owners looking to make it big?
Small business owners need to remember that you can’t be captain of the ship, as well as the helmsman, navigator and cook. If you want your business to grow you need to employ reliable people with the same vision as you. They need to want the business to boom. Skilled workers are the best investment and are the key to expanding your operation.
Pimlico Plumbers has an amazing marketing strategy. You also heavily promote your own personal brand as the ‘Plumber to the Stars’. How important is marketing and PR to the business? Can you put an ROI on it?
It’s extremely important! Some of our biggest marketing tools are our vans. They’re iconic and instantly recognisable – especially with our personalised number plates. We probably have about £1.5million worth of number plates in our arsenal, but I would never cash them in because the marketing value of them is worth much more.
Our customers often refer to the engineers by their vehicle registrations and will call in and ask if we can “send W4TER back round to fix another leak”. It’s great! But still I couldn’t ever put a number on it – it’s just a precious and priceless tool.
In this article you question the value of social media as a recruitment tool after your Facebook apprenticeship offer only attracted 21 applicants. You also suggested it could be because too many young people are too lazy to work. Would you reconsider using social for recruitment in future?
Social media is valuable, I do believe that, and there’s nothing to say that I wouldn’t reconsider using another social media recruitment campaign. At the moment we’re getting more applicants through traditional methods so I’m happy to stick with that.
“It’s YOUR social media, make it your own”
For the record, I may have said that some people, of various ages, are dis-incentivised to work, not least because of generous (by world standards) benefits, but the 200-odd applications and enquiries we receive each month about apprenticeships suggests this is hardly a general condition.
You clearly still believe in the value of social media as part of an overall marketing and PR strategy, as you say in this article. What are your top 5 tips for effective social media promotion?
- Timeliness of posts
- Interaction with customers and followers
- Personalisation of your channels – it’s YOUR social media, make it your own…not generic
- Accuracy – information shouldn’t be misleading
- Images tell stories
I think the power of social media for small business owners is demonstrated by #MicroBizMattersDay. How did you get involved? What is its most useful aspect?
I think it was about four or five years ago the ‘man in the hat’ (Tony Robinson) talked me into doing the first one, and I’ve been a contributor. For me, I’d have to say there is some brand recognition for Pimlico Plumbers to be gained, but I like helping others who might be smaller and just starting out. It’s a great event and demonstrates what micro-businesses can achieve if they combine their power, reach and enthusiasm. This is probably why we hosted the last one at Pimlico Plumbers.
You received a lot of abuse on social media over your views on Brexit (and even a death threat) – how do you handle this dark side of social media?
Whenever you stand up for something that people are passionate about, I reckon it’s normal for others to have different opinions. But I say “screw you” to people who send abusive message, not only to me, but to anyone! Death threats aren’t something to joke about either, mine was handled by the Metropolitan Police!
“I like social media because I can talk directly to customers and staff”
Quite apart from trolling or abuse on social media, do your political viewpoints clash with your clientele and could they affect business negatively?
We build our business by having quality service and quality staff. So no, our business isn’t effected by my political views. Our services are second to none and that’s why our customers stay with us. My views might make us more interesting as an organisation, but they don’t detract from our craftsmanship – and our customers understand that.
What do you personally get out of using social media?
I like social media because I can talk directly to our customers and my staff. I can keep them up to date with any changes in the company, new joiners, a summer party, etc – and also share any new promotions. I also love hearing how well jobs have gone or seeing pictures of a completed project. It’s important for me that staff and customers know that they can reach me if they need to get a piece of information to me directly and fast.
How important is it for entrepreneurs and small business owners to master the arts of social media?
Social media is a handy tool, but I think it’s more important to master quality in the service or product you’re providing. Quality of business is what will get you a repeat customer.
“CEOs should be using social media to keep in touch with customers and clients. They’re ‘missing a trick’ if they avoid direct interaction”
What about the MDs and CEOS of larger businesses? Should they also be active on social media? Does it depend on the business? What would you say to those who think social media isn’t part of their remit?
MDs & CEOs of large businesses should be using social media to keep in touch with their customers or clients. I’d say to them ‘you’re missing a trick’ if they avoid direct interaction. I’m no Donald Trump fan, but you have to admire how he interacts with the US people. And if it’s okay for the President – and there’s no CEO with a bigger client base – you have to say it’s OK for any CEO.
When did you sign up for Twitter? What was your main reason for doing so?
I joined twitter in 2009 and I think my main reason was to make sure Pimlico Plumbers was adapting and moving with the time. Our core values will never change, but if our customers are using different ways to communicate, we need to do the same.
Many thanks to Charlie for his candid answers and insights into running a successful business – and for sharing the value he sees in using social media in his leadership position. If only more owners of small businesses would take his lead, they may find themselves pulling ahead of the competition!