Greg – Intro (00:00):
The construction industry can be a tough business to crack from cash flow problems, struggling to find skilled labour, and not making enough money for your efforts, leaves many business owners feeling frustrated and burnt out. But when you get the business strategy right, it’s an industry that can be highly satisfying and financially rewarding. I’m here to give you the resources to be able to create a construction business that gives you more time, more freedom, and more money. This is the Develop Your Construction Business podcast, and I’m your host, Greg Wilkes.
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I’ve got a special treat for my listeners today, and I’ve always had some fantastic guests on in the past, but today is really a treat because the story’s going resonate with so many of you, because it really is a story of rags to riches in construction. We’re going to dive into the mindset and the tactics of how my guest went from being just a plumber on the tools, to creating the UK’s largest independent plumbing company: ‘Pimlico Plumbers’. He’s been awarded an OBE in 2014 from her late Majesty the Queen, at the ‘New Year’s Honours for Services to the Plumbing Industry’, and he’s been a business advisor to David Cameron and George Osborne. He’s recently sold his business for over 140 million pounds, and often you’ll see him on tv, radio, and the papers. So ,if you haven’t worked out who it is already, it’s a huge privilege to welcome my special guest today, Charlie Mullins, OBE. Charlie, great to have you on the show.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (01:54):
I agree. Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this and thanks for a great introduction.
Yes really great to have you. Charlie, a lot that will be following you, especially if they’re living in London, will know all about Pimlico Plumbers, but there’ll be some that are listening that might not know your story and your background. Do you mind telling us, first of all, a rundown how did it all begin? What was your ambition when you first started out as as a plumber?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (02:19):
Basically, I started off as an apprentice plumber when I was 15, I did a 4 year apprenticeship, and then immediately went self-employed, and carried on for about 7-8 years of self-employment. Then I started working in the Pimlico area, and in 1979 formed Pimlico Plumbers. I started off on my own, one man /one van, then went on to employ about 450 people with a 50 million turnover. The business was going 41 years, and rightly, as you said, sold it onto an American outfit just last year for 140 odd million, and we still retain 10%. My son carried on as their CEO for a short while, but he’s now decided to come away from that. Again, it became the largest independent plumbing company in the uk, and certainly the most recognisable. We’ve been involved in everything over the years, from a PR point of view. Rightly as you said, I got an OBE in 2014 for services to plumbing. We’ve had over 1,200 apprentices on the books over the years, which I’m very proud of. That is short cutting it obviously!
It’s an incredible story Charlie. Obviously there’s thousands of plumbing companies out there that maybe have the same ambitions as you, to grow such a big company, but Pimlico really has been a standout success. What do you think were the keys to Pimlico’s success? If you could whittle it down, do you think there’s one thing that made you stand out above others?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (03:58):
I would say there’s probably not one thing, but many things. I always explain it like this, Greg, I know your listeners are up and running and they’re running reasonable businesses with good turnover and employing people. So I’m not trying to teach anyone anything, but I looked at business, and a simple way to explain it is this; it’s like making a cake. You’re putting different ingredients in; a bit of PR, a bit of HR, a bit of recruitment, a bit of call centre and a bit of quality control. You can keep adding things to the mix. I found that’s the easy way to explain it. Over the years, we kept trying different things: better uniform, change the vans, bit more publicity, and eventually, you get a good mix and you get a good cake. I would describe it as, all business is the long term. There’s no such thing as a short term successful business. I believe the longer you go, the more successful you’re going to be if you’ve got it right. What did make us also very different was, I wanted to change the stigma in the industry. As you’re probably aware in the plumbing industry, that meant not turning up, overcharging, arse hanging out their trousers, rusty old van, not being transparent, not being clean and tidy, not finishing a job. So basically I came up with a list of things that people are very against that was knocking the industry. I’ve literally just done the opposite. Again, I explain that to business people, just come up with a list of what is not good in your industry and do the opposite.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (05:35):
I think I’m a great believer of doing something right. If you do it right, I believe you’ll come through, no shortcuts, and being very transparent. That was quite new to the plumbing industry then, because of the image that they had. So I went about it that way; we were clean and tidy, lovely uniform, lovely van, turn up on time, polite on the phone, get the job done, transparent, don’t leave a mess. And that’s what the customer wanted. Then I realised, very early on, that people will always pay for quality. Doesn’t matter whether it be a suit, hair cut, shirt, product, electrical service or washing machine, people will always pay quality. If you mix the right customer, with the right plumber, and the right sort of format that you’re going to give somebody, and they get a quality product, then I think you’re onto a winner. I’m making it sound simple, but let’s not kid anyone, during 41 years there’s been some ups and downs. We’ve nearly gone bust a couple of times, but the longer you’re in business, the more likely that it is going to be successful.
Yes, I’m sure there’s definitely been some ups and downs as with all businesses. You seem to have specifically targeted high end London clients that can pay a premium for a really good service. Did you fall into that market, or was that very deliberate? You’re branding and everything was very geared up towards that. Was that a deliberate thing?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (07:10):
Yes, very deliberate. We worked for everybody whether you’d be rich and famous or a politician or just Mrs. Smith, in East London. The service was the same and the charges were the same. But we marketed more of an upper class clientele, on the basis that I wanted to provide the best service, a quality service, which meant you’ve got to pay to put that together. You’ve got to pay more money, it’s more expensive to run. On that basis we needed customers that were more on the wealthier side, that are happy to pay that kind of price. That’s how it went, because if we’d done it on a cheaper scale (e.g. cut price plumbing) we could have charged a lot less and worked in different areas, but that wasn’t the market I wanted. I felt that plumbing needed change and I think there’s some great tradespeople out there. I put it all together and in the end we were doing over 2,000 jobs a week. You could tell that how busy we were in all the good areas. Maybe another way of putting it to business people is, it’s easier to get money off of people that have money, than for people that haven’t got money. It isn’t anything too clever, it’s just common sense really. There’s a big gap in the market for quality plumbing service or there’s a big gap in the market for any construction, quality service.
That’s great. Obviously you’ve been through some pain points in the business. It’s not a straightforward line up from 0 to 50 million. You’ve transitioned through some phases and probably some plateaus where you got stuck and then burst through plateaus. Do you remember where you hit those barriers and how you got through them? Was there any pain points at certain levels that you thought, “that was really difficult, but this is what we did to get through it?”
Charlie Mullins, OBE (09:11):
Undoubtedly. We were up and running 1979 / 1980. We plodded along nicely for a few years, just very small. Then in 1989/ 1990, there was a recession. I just purchased a building, we were going to move into out of Pimlico, and everything went wrong. At that time we were giving credit to customers, and basically, we nearly went bust that time. I went to see 2 liquidators. 1 of the liquidators said, “How much do you owe?” We owed everybody probably £300k to our suppliers and tax etc. Then he asked, “how much have you got?” We had nothing, but we had £80,000 outstanding from clients and, and he said, “Look, you just got to go bust, but you’re going to lose your house” etc etc. The sleepless nights were there. I don’t think anyone can become successful without something giving along the way, whether it be going bust or whether it be family, friends, sleepless nights… I want to see a second liquidator. I’m a great believer getting second opinion on important things. The second liquid data said, “Look, if you’re going to lose your house, you might as well fight for it.” And that’s what we done. We took his advice, changed everything, we came away from giving people credit, made it payment on completion. That worked for us. That plus many other things. You have to change a lot. Anybody that we’ve done work for, they have to pay. That made a difference to the cash flow.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (10:49):
Quite often Greg, (and a lot of your business guys know this) the reason that most people go bust is because somebody else owes them money. The knock on chain. So that’s what we done. We changed our payment policy, we smartened up a bit, we livened up. It’s a bit like a boxer. You’ve been knocked down, there is no point in getting up and just carrying on the same because he’s going to go down again. You step it up, and that’s what we’ve done. Fortunately, we got through it. It took 4 or 5 years, and I changed everybody. I changed the accountant, I changed everybody in the office. Everybody went, every plumber went. We changed the complete thing because they were used to their old system. I’m a great believer in that. If it’s all going wrong, get rid of everyone or they ‘jump ship’ anyway, if I’m being honest. I changed everybody. At that time, just to give you an idea, in 1990 we were turning over a £1 million we just got to a £1 million. To get to a £1 million pounds at that time, even now, it was a great thing. It was a big milestone. But unfortunately, we were in trouble. We didn’t have it right. I changed the accountant, and the second liquidator said “I believe in a £ 1million pound business, there’s something here, we can’t just let this fold. With his good advice and backing, we went from a million and then it gradually went to 2 and 3 and £4 million, so the millions keep going.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (12:18):
At the end of the day, we got to £50 million and (I’m not gonna say dream) my format that I was going to do, we would’ve reached a hundred million. That’s where we were heading for. I’d worked this out, how we could get to it, we were going to go into the commercial side of it more, we were going to expand geographically. We would’ve hit the hundred million. Once we got out of that recession, there was no other time we didn’t go up. Even through the pandemic / Covid-19 situation, we went up. We were really on a good role. When you are nearly going bust, you really have got to step up. You either chuck the towel in, or fight for it. Fortunately, we fought for it and we got through it.
Yes and it massively paid off, which is incredible. I think that’s really, really valuable because there’ll be some that are listening to this that might be going through those difficulties at the moment, and they’re thinking, “what should I do?” It is really interesting. Just to work out, what was it was that that got you out of that situation, was it a combination of taking payment on demand and growth that got you through that? Or did you change anything else?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (13:41):
First all it was payment, getting our payment in which meant we could operate properly without all the pressure. The other thing is we got rid of all the dead wood. You tend to have a lot of it there. I hate to to say it, I don’t like to see anybody out of work, but it’s either you or them. We got rid of everybody gradually, and I changed them with better people. You start to realise that you can’t have anybody dragging you down. They don’t care if you’re going to go bust, they couldn’t care less. You got to be a little bit ruthless. You’ve got to get rid of people. I think I became more serious, I’m a lot more now black and white. I was like, ‘if you don’t stack up, you got to go’. If you want lots of money, you got to produce. We changed everything. We put everybody on financial incentives, all the office staff, all the engineers were on some form of incentive bonus. That definitely worked. Everybody was fighting then too, because all of a sudden it was a great job. You were getting good money. We were very busy. So the combination of that and also great PR. PR is so important. People often say to me Greg, “how important is the PR? I can’t afford to have it”. I’ll say to people that old saying, “can you afford not to have it?” PR is a big deal and it doesn’t matter what construction you’re in, whether you’re building apartments or whether you’re working for, private customers in Chelsea. It can be the best company in the world (this is what I was taught) but if nobody knows about you, there’s no point. PR helped massively with our growth.
Yes, I know you were big on that. It’s amazing how in some businesses, the business owners are completely faceless, aren’t they? You don’t actually know who they are. But would you definitely say that you attribute that to your success? That you were out there, you were the face of the business?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (15:48):
Undoubtedly.There’s no two ways about that. If you mentioned Pimlico Plumbers, it was known. We created a brand. The good PR company told me, “this is what you need to do”. Very hard to do, but you just keep going. In PR it’s called recognition. Whether you’ll be on a billboard, on the tv, in the paper, any form of advertisement, on social media. If you can get recognised for the right thing, then that’s the way to be successful. It’s called recognition. Simple as that.
Yes, that’s brilliant advice there, Charlie. What is interesting is, from someone who was on the tools as a plumber to get to 1 million, then 5 million, 10 million, how did your role change in the business? To jump and run a 50 million pound company, it’s a completely different beast to being on the tools. When did you know how to step back or when to employ different people? What did you do?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (16:48):
To be honest, once we had formed the Pimlico Plumbers company, I had a rented one room in Pimlico, from an estate agent that offered me. I was thinking to myself, “what am I doing? I’m a plumber, what do I want an office for?” It just didn’t add up. I had sleepless nights again. I had an answering machine in there, I was taking a few calls, going out, doing a few jobs. Then I quickly realised that you can’t do the two. So then I started employing people. Again, I have to say the road to being successful is employing people. You can’t do it without people. You need many around you. I found in business, the worst thing in business is employing people, and the best thing about business is employing them because without it, you are not growing. That’s my take. It can be a nightmare, but eventually you get the good ones. I realised the more people I employ, the more plumbers I put on the road, more vans on the road, the more business we are gonna bring in. It’s fairly obvious. I think that goes the same with any industry. If you’ve got 10 bricklayers or 20, you’re going get more money for 20, aren’t you? You’re going to get more work outside.
Yes, a hundred percent.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (18:02):
I learned to employ people and then I very quickly came off the tools straight away. Someone said to me then, it’s like being on a ship. You can’t steer the ship, be the captain and feed the boiler. It’s got to be one or the other. Of course the more important thing is to direct your ship, to be in control. All the old sayings come out! I’ve learned also in business is that we all learn from somebody. I don’t think there’s anything new in business. You just learn, you see this one do this, you see that uniform, you see that brand, you see that approach. We all learn off someone. That’s what you got to do, pick bits and pieces as you go around. Thats the way. I also was very quick at picking things up. I already had a good knowledge of changing the image of plumbing, and wherever I go, even now, I pick something up and think “that’s a great idea”. You put all the bits in together and it makes the cake basically.
That’s brilliant. It is interesting you talked about hiring people is the key, because all we hear in construction is there is a massive shortage of trades people, you can’t get people. This often seems to barrier to people’s growth. How did you overcome that? What did you do, what would you say is the key for how you attracted some of the best trades to come and work for you?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (19:26):
That’s a simple one. It’s money. There’s no two ways about that. The more money you pay, the better the person you’re going get. Obviously there’s other things you can chuck in. We used to have a subsidised canteen for all the office staff. We used to have a gym for everybody, roof garden, barbecues, boat party, Christmas party, massaging in the gym. We had a lot of extras, it makes the job more attractive. So it is money plus incentives. Then you’ll get the better people, the people that need the money, the people with a bit of drive. On the plumbing side or the tradesman side of it, we employed as many self-employed people as we can. They worked for us all the time, it was okay with the tax people. You always find with self-employed people that they got a little bit more driving them cause they’re getting more out of it. Their Engineers were on a percentage of what they earned. We had set rates. If an engineer’s going get more, he is going to work more, he is going to stay longer, and back the company up, it is about money. It’s all very well people saying, ‘its not about money’. The people that are driven are driven by money and incentives at work. Obviously to pay good money, you’ve got to bring good money in.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (20:56):
It’s a no brainer really, if you think about it. Definitely money is the key to employing good people. I just want to add this in case anybody copies what I’ve done and they go bust, it worked for Pimlico Plumbers. Whether it could work for everybody, I couldn’t say that. If I did it again, I would do exactly the same system, but I’d actually pay plumbers even more money, because I feel with the shortage of tradesmen now, you can ask for more money these days, as there’s a massive shortage and people will always pay for quality. It’s probably obvious now, but you’ve got to have a good recruitment team bringing them in. You’ve got to have a good HR at the other end. If you’ve got them two right, you’re not gonna go wrong. You only bring the right ones on and when you have got to get rid of them, you’re covered. So if I set up again tomorrow, I’d have the best recruitment, and I’d have the best HR.
I think that’s great advice and success leaves clues Charlie, so I think a lot of people would be listening to that. That’s brilliant. When I was reading your book, there was something that came out in it about the Pimlico Bible, and I was fascinated with that concept because that seemed quite new for a business to be able to do that. Tell me why you felt the Pimlico Bible was so important and out of interest, what sort of size business were you when you implemented that?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (22:23):
We were only very small, probably about 5 or 6 people. I’ll tell you what it happened. When I was first employing people from this office, I used to put signs up in the office saying; no trainers, no shorts, no vest, certain hair cuts, no ponytails, no earrings, no tattoos all over your face, for our image. We start at 8am and finish at this time. I was fed up of explaining to every individual, everyone I interviewed, I had to explain how we work. So I started forming these A4 bits of paper and laminating, to give them to the engineers when they started working for us. Then I thought, let’s just put it in a book. They called it the Pimlico Bible. It was very straightforward, nothing complicated; how we operate, van’s got to be clean, you’ve gotta be clean, you can’t wear this, you can’t wear trainers. I called it our do’s and dont’s or rules and regulations book. It probably grew to about 40 pages, but it was very straightforward (more examples) these are our working hours, this is how you contact the office, if you are not coming in a particular day, this is what you do. I know it’s all common sense, but I was repeating it to people & they would say “Oh, I didn’t know” So that was it, we formed these books. Of course as we grew, it was simple. Explain a few bits, show them the book, and then if anything went wrong, for example say a guy turns up in trainers, and one of our quality control would see it / someone else would comment on it, you would just say, “Look, on page 27, that’s what it says. No trainers, you’ve got to wear proper footwear” Then there’s no argument with it. Either our way or the high way. I don’t mean to be ruthless on it, but one thing you got to do with your business, is that you have got to be in charge of it. You cannot have other people running your business. Those were the rules. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (24:31):
You could be getting rid of good quality engineers but you’ve got to set standards. I think image is so important, especially if you’re working direct with a customer.
Clearly, and that obviously set you apart from other, other companies.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (24:48):
Straight away. It was the best thing I’d done. I was just so fed up of telling people, like in an interview, now you can just go to the the book. But they know now, they know our set up, it’s out there. Many people have copied the Pimlico Bible. I would say for any business that somebody runs, you’ve got to have your terms and conditions. Same as with your customer, for instance, payment on completion. We want deposits, we want part payment of a job, wherever your terms may be, and you must stick to it. You mustn’t let anybody else run your business for you.
I think that’s really valuable. Just something you touched on earlier, you mentioned about potentially wanting to go national and creating a £100 million business a year. Obviously it took you many years to get up to the 50 million, (it was great growth) but you done it slow and steady and sustainable, which is a lot different. You see a lot of companies absolutely going ballistic and then they pop, they’ve grown too fast. What was it that held you back from going national before? Was it that you weren’t sure if you could cope with it? What held you back from doing that? You did stay in London predominantly, didn’t you?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (26:03):
Just to square this up, we were at £50 million. To reach a £100 million, we weren’t gonna go national, we were just going to geographically spread to the M25 a bit more. There’s loads of work in London, it’s just loads. We wouldn’t have needed to gone out of the M25 to reach a £100 million. But at that particular time I imagine we were only hitting certain areas and there were so many more boroughs that we could have gone to. What we would’ve done is expand more engineers in that area, more advertisement in that area. We wouldn’t have gone out of that area at that stage to reach a £100 million. We were also going to start doing more commercial. We were only ever doing domestic projects. What was the question?
That covers it. I think what’s really interesting is sometimes we have the concept of that in order to create such a big business in the UK you’ve got to go national. But actually to achieve that just in London, or to have the potential of that is incredible.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (26:59):
There’s so much work in London. I started off in Pimlico, we didn’t move out of Pimlico to start with and you don’t realise there’s enough there for you. Then we took on Chelsea, Kensington, so there’s loads more areas. We were moving further and further out. People were starting to ask “Oh, could you come here? Could you come there?” Rightly as you said, we grew slowly because of the hiding we got in two recessions. First one we nearly went bust, the second one we sailed through it. But I think you become very cautious then. I remember my bookkeeper saying to me at the time, “If you get through the recession, Charlie, you are going to come out stronger”. And you are, you are like “I’m not having this, I’m not going down that road.” So we grew slowly and I think it’s more controllable. You got more control because (I know it’s all old sayings) but it takes a long time to build up your reputation and it can be gone overnight. The art of a successful business is the people you employ. You’re as good as the people you employ and the more you pay, the better the people. The better you treat them, the better the people, the better the job you do, the more work you get. It’s all the obvious things. I don’t think there are any secrets in business other than doing things the right way and the best way.
Yes and sometimes the easiest or the simplest things are the best things, which I think you’re explaining there. You’ve touched on this a few times about the recession that you went through in the nineties. Obviously a lot of people are going to be listening to this now, worried about what we’re going to face in the next six months or year ahead because it looks like we are potentially entering a recession. The thing is with the construction industry, is that it’s always pretty badly affected during recessions. If you were giving people advice now, in the recession that you faced, is that the reason you faced the problems, because you were full steam ahead? Would you do anything differently now to protect yourself against a recession?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (29:05):
We went through one in the late eighties and then I think we’ve had 1 or 2 other ones which we sailed through. The first thing you do in a recession, is cut down on the deadwood. That’s what you got to do. If you’ve got 4 people in a department and get them down to 3, that’s what you have to do. Unfortunately, you got to be cruel to be kind. The most important thing is to get rid of deadwood people that are not productive enough or people that are not stacking up, for example not coming in on time or bringing the company down. You get rid of them first of all. The other thing you got to do, believe it or not, or what we done, is you’ve got to step up productivity. A lot of people when the recession came, they cut back on marketing and that side of it. I didn’t, I went in the complete opposite way. If you think about it, a lot of people are pulling out the marketing, now all of a sudden you step yours up, you’re company are in their face. What we did was, when people were saying to me like, “cut down on marketing” “cut down on this” I said “No” because I’m a great believer in if we all do the same, everyone will be a millionaire. We’re not all millionaires, so you’ve got to do something different. I thought on the marketing, let’s really hammer the marketing, especially on social media. That’s what we’ve done. We upped our marketing budget, when we wrapped up a Pimlico project or sold it, we were spending a million pounds on marketing and that’s money well spent. But a lot of people cut back. I’m going to say don’t cut back, spend more on marketing, but get rid of the dead wood and you can increase your productivity.
It’s interesting listening to you because you (maybe with humility) you’re saying it’s quite easy, some of the things you’ve done, but actually just listen to you there, you’ve done something completely different to the norm. I guess people may be wondering ‘what makes Charlie Mullins different to others?’ ‘Why is he able to create a 50 million pound business that others can’t?’ Did you find that that was generally the case, that you were going with your gut or what was it that made you a different business leader?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (31:10):
Most of the things were just going by my instinct. Your instincts are quite a good judge of things and being very brave. I came up with the number plate ideas, a marketing idea. Our biggest advertising tool on the company was the vans, we had 250 vans. It doesn’t cost no extra running round London. It was a great marketing idea. So I came up with plumbing related number plates, and the amount of work that that brought in was amazing. We had probably one of the most recognisable vehicles on the road and very tastefully done also. It’s great marketing. I put a sign on the top saying “on call” and I got that idea by thinking, “what are the most recognisable vehicles on the road?'” It is police, ambulance, fire brigade and then it’s taxis. I thought let’s copy the taxi as best we can, because you know yourself, if you are out and a taxi says “for hire” you don’t want it, but that its for hire. I thought lets do that with the plumbing, so we put “on call”. People are not necessarily looking for plumbing but the word, Pimlico, Pimlico, Pimlico – the name is there. It is thinking different ideas. I don’t feel it’s anything clever. We came up with a uniform, initially it was red and blue = hot and cold, and the vans were red and blue, all that type of image. The plumbing related number plates were a gold mine really because the first one I bought was a drain, it cost £6,000 in the auction. I’m having sleepless nights. Am I mad? What am I doing? As soon as I put it on the road, it changed everything. When I left that company, I sold all the number plates and we had probably a million and a half pounds worth of number plates. They’re worth their weight in gold. I say to any business, advertise with a number plate and obviously a sign written vehicle. I could never work out why a business has vehicles on the road and they do not have it sign written. I’m baffled. It’s a great marketing tool, the vehicle. I think all of that marketing combined with the PR we were building a brand. You have to think outside the box. What I tend to do, if I was in a room here and everybody said, “we agree on this, this”, I’ll go the opposite way, that’s me. I think, if we were all right, we’d all be millionaires as I keep saying. I tend to disagree with quite a lot of people. A lot of people want to stay steady and stick to the norm and that’s okay. But if you want to be different and you want to be successful, then you got to be brave and take chances. Not every idea I came up with worked, but more worked than didn’t work. We became the oldest employer in Europe, I took the guy on, he was 97. The amount of publicity and work we got out of that was incredible. It’s worth it’s weight in gold. We had women plumbers. I had a gent running the marathon and raising money for charity and it’s just making people aware. I think that all the ideas are out there, you just got to be brave enough to try it.
That’s really valuable, not being scared of making those mistakes. Out of interest, what was the biggest mistake Charlie, if you could put your finger on it? If you were advising your younger self, what would you say “ah, that was a flop. Don’t do that again!” Anything that you could point out?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (34:48):
Let me think, biggest mistake….I don’t think it was from a marketing point because all of our marketing worked. Probably the biggest mistake was not getting a PR company on quicker. It was pointed out to me, we bought this building in Lambeth of 30,000 square foot. I had some doors fitted, electric doors for the vans going in and out. A company up in Leeds supply them. Their boss said, “Can we do a picture for a magazine?” I said, “Yes, fine if you come down to London” and she said to me, “Who does your PR?” And I thought, “what you talking about?” She said, “You haven’t got a PR company”? I went “No”. She mentioned a company called ‘Recognition’ to me from up in Darlington. We took them on in (year) 2000 and I’m still with them today. They still do my personal stuff now. It’s these ideas you pick up off of people. It’s 25 years ago, why would a plumbing company have PR?
What level were you then, just out of interest, so people can gauge you. What level would you recommend someone gets a PR company on board? Is it a million or 10 million? What, what sort of size do you think?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (36:12):
Certainly a million pounds. If you’ve got a million pounds, you can afford PR people. You often start off with someone doing your social media, it costs nothing to be on social media. So if you give someone £800 a week to do your social media, are they gonna get you £800 worth for work a week? Of course they are, all day long. So I would say, as soon as you are up and running, but, even as a small one man band, you still got to do social media. You can start off doing that yourself. The quicker you get into PR, I think the better. I can hardly turn the computer on, but I’ve got enough brains to pay people that can do it.
Yes exactly that, sometimes its not how, but who? <Laugh> We said at the introduction, congratulations on the exit because that is an incredible figure, 140 odd plus million (approximately) it’s incredible what you achieved and retaining the 10% stake, you must be over the moon with that?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (37:22):
It’s not gonna get any better, is it? That’s for sure.
<laugh> Sure thing. What’s next for you Charlie? You don’t look like a person that rests on your laurels so what’s next?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (37:33):
I’ve got involved in business advice with a few singing artists. My fiancée, (her nickname is Ra-Ra) but her name is Raquel Reno has wrote an album. Since we’ve been together, we started off as friends, I’ve just given general business advice for example; present yourself differently and do it this way (I don’t know anything about singing) Within a year she’s gone from just doing the normal circuits to reinventing herself and wrote an album just recently. There are going to be some single releases coming out next year. She’s gone from that type of thing and now in a couple of weeks she’s doing the BBC awards, doing a shooting star ball, House of Lords in a couple of weeks for a charity function. Various different things. But she’s gone from just being a normal singer to undoubtably she is going to make it. The reason she’s going to make it is because she’s got some good ideas that can make her look different from the rest, and of course she’s got the talent.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (38:40):
So I’m doing a bit of business advice for a few artists there. I’m doing some property, a couple of top quality villas in Marbella, Spain. I bought a couple of plots, going to knock them down and rebuild. One of them’s going to be for myself, but one or two of them I’ll move on. I’m getting involved with a bit of property in London because my background is doing property up, so I’m not going to waste that.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (39:09):
I’ve bought myself in as a chairman on the Great British radio, so I’ve got involved with that. To be honest, the rest of the things are PR, we recently done a TV show and we’ve got some other things that are in the pipeline. It’s good recognition, but I think the difference is now there’s no stress, I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it because I think I find it interesting. I’m also still doing things that encourage people to grow their business and to get apprentices into work. So I’m as busy as ever but with no stress!
<laugh>. That’s brilliant. I think it’s testament of you being on the podcast here, is your desire to try and help others that trying to grow and inspire other construction businesses. I think that’s really fantastic Charlie. Are you still running Pimlico in Marbella?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (40:04):
No, we stopped all of that. That could have grown massively out in Marbella because there is a massive shortage. There’s many questions people ask me, one is about going from small to getting bigger and you got to make that jump of employing people. If I was giving out a few tips that I feel were beneficial, one’s definitely PR, one’s definitely employing people. Another one is, the obvious one, is be brave and don’t worry about being wrong because you can always turn that around. The other thing I learned over the years is, we always use this term, we’ve got to think bigger and we don’t realise what we can do. I realise now if I had thought bigger from day one, I mean I started thinking big from (year) 2000, but if I’d have started thinking bigger from years back, we’d have been double the size we were. I’m not going to use that term If I could do it, anyone can do it because I don’t believe in that term. But what I do believe in, you’ve got to think bigger. A lot of people I say this to they go, “well, we’re okay at the moment, we’re steady”, “we’ve got 10 million pounds worth of contracts going on, we’ll add 20 million pounds,” – Think bigger. That’s my take on it. If I had done that with Pimlico earlier, then we probably would be national and I’m going to say probably 500 million turnover or something.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (41:40):
We definitely are a lot more capable than what we think of ourselves. We must be brave, we’ve got to be brave. I don’t know if that’s the right word, brave, but we’ve got to be….Another other thing Greg, of all the tips I’ve given out, they did work for us, but the most important thing I believe is, the hard work and the enthusiasm, the drive. You’ve got to have drive. If you haven’t got the drive, you’ve got to employ people that have got the drive. The drive is the most important thing. A lot of people say to me, “I work hard, I work all the hours” etc etc. But are they ambitious enough? I’ve got to be honest, Greg, when I was a plumber apprentice and self-employed, and at the time, all I wanted be was a plumber. I’m thinking “that will do me, good money, easy life, lovely customers, lovely life”. I got pretty set. Then all of a sudden, somebody said to me, (again you learn when someone says) you need more of you, Charlie, all the books are busy, trying to get everywhere. They said “you’ve got to look for more people like you.” As simple as that, they said, “you got to employ people.” I’m going, “No, no, that’s the worst thing.” They said “your not going to do it without them”. These are the things I think you pick up. I know all the people that are looking in, there’re already employing people. We know it’s not easy, but the more people you get on board, the bigger the turnover.
That’s fantastic. Charlie, you’ve really given us some absolute gems today and I know you’re a busy guy, so I really appreciate your time in giving us that for my listeners. They’re going to certainly take a lot out of that. If they wanted to learn a little bit more about you, Charlie, you’ve got a book, haven’t you? Where can they get that, Amazon and places like that?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (43:35):
It’s not actually on Amazon, but if you just email us: it’s Charlie Mullins – email@example.com – then we’ll just send some books out. They’re for sale but it’s not about money. I got to be honest with you, it’s an autobiography and half of it is business tips. What’s in there is straightforward, but it’s just reminding people. You’ll look at it and think “he done this” or “he didn’t do that”. Just go onto that email and my PA guys will send some out. It isn’t about the money, and that’s gospel. The book is about £17 but if you get one thing out of that book and it works for you, then it’s worth a million pounds, isn’t it?
A hundred percent. It’s a great book, I’ve read it and it and it certainly helped me to know you better and it was inspiring. I really found it inspiring. “Bog Standard Business” it’s called, isn’t it?
Charlie Mullins, OBE (44:34):
Yes, “Bog Standard Business”. Another thing I want to say is, don’t complicate business. The other thing I have to say that work for me, I never had meetings all my business life and I never will. It takes me 60 seconds to say yes or no. It’s normally yes or no at the end of a meeting. I found by not having meetings, not paying people to sit there all day, I’ve never had meetings for business. People just ask me a question, I’ll say “let’s do it. It’s either yes or no. I feel there’s so much time wasted in meetings. Some people say you got to have them, but really, if you ask me any question, I’m going to give you a yes or no at the end of it, within a minute. So, avoid meetings.
That’s interesting. I guess because you’ve not come from that background, you haven’t got that corporate setup, some people are just fixed in that corporate mindset and it’s probably quite refreshing not to have that in a big business like yours.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (45:36):
It’s great because you can make instant decisions and then other people copy off of you. A Manager can say “Look, I’m not gonna have a meeting, do so and so, let’s change this, let’s change that….” People often say to me, “but we’ve got to have meetings”. For my business, I’ve never, never had one, and never will have one. The other thing is, never meet your bank manager. I’ve never done, and that’s gospel. The bank nearly ruined me in the first time because we had loans, for me they’re crooks in suits. Then I joined a new bank when we nearly went bust, in 1990. When I closed the business up, I never met my bank manager. My motto was, I’m never going to meet him. I don’t need to meet him. It worked for me. That’s all I’m saying.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (46:31):
You can achieve a lot more than than what you believe in. That’s for sure.
Charlie, thank you so much. We really appreciate it and I wish you all the best going forward with your new ventures.
Charlie Mullins, OBE (46:42):
Nice one Greg, and good luck everybody. Thank you.
Greg – Conclusion (46:45):
Can I just ask a quick favour? If you are getting some value out of our podcast, I’d really appreciate it. If you could just quickly go online, make sure you subscribe and leave us a review on the platform that you are listening on that really helps our rankings and just helps other construction business owners find out about the show so they can improve their businesses too. So let me just say thanks in advance. If you’d like to work with me to fast track your construction business growth, then reach out on www.developcoaching.co uk.