Pro Features

Mastering the plumbing business

Tim had been working as a contractor in Hawke’s Bay before making the decision to move to Port Headland, travelling around the Pilbara in Western Australia, setting up massive infrastructure for satellite mining camps – housing developments for between 2 to 5 thousand people. The money was amazing and the driving eye-opening.

“I covered some huge km’s, often driving 5-6 hours to fix a tap. It was the Australia that you wouldn’t otherwise see – vast desert. It was awesome.”

Coming home in 2012 Tim knew he wanted to set up on his own. He opened an office in King Street in Hastings, with a part-time office person and one other plumber joining him. There was plenty of work and it was hard to know which jobs to take and how to manage the business growth, having had no business management training.

“I went to an event and listened to another owner speaking about his experience with The Icehouse and thought it sounded practical and could work for me.”

Tim was able to access NZTE funding from the Regional Business Partner in Hawke’s Bay which gave him the extra push to get into the local Owner Operator Programme, facilitated by Michaela Vodanovich and incorporating one on one business coaching with monthly workshops and action groups.

“Getting started with The Icehouse, I realised how naïve I was, but I quickly picked up more and more skills from the workshops and the other people on the course. I had been a bit worried about paying

Jay Jay Kettle and Tim Masters at their new offices in Hastings.

for the programme but the funding we were able to access did make a big difference. I started pushing ahead and was gaining clarity as well as momentum so the cost wasn’t an issue – looking back it was a no-brainer – suddenly I was adding another plumber and another plumber.

One of the first things I learnt from the Icehouse was, if you want to be a bigger business then you need to act like a bigger business so we invested in software that could run massive crews, even though at the time we only had a few staff.”

Tim also learnt about the importance of high-quality customer service to the business and what that looks like.

“I know that’s one of the key reasons we are so busy today, together with top notch, quality workmanship – customer service remains our focus.”

Now the business has 10 staff, including plumbers, gasfitters, drainlayers, a digger and truck driver plus apprentices and two office staff in a bigger office in King Street. They cover a mix of commercial and residential services for Hawkes Bay’s top builders and Masters is one of only a few local companies to offer central heating – a feature that many people moving to Hawke’s Bay from Europe can’t be without.

Jay Jay Kettle is the face of the business as the office manager and is taking more responsibility from Tim. A need to understand strategic aspects of the business meant Jay Jay required new skills and management tools. Tim enrolled her in The Icehouse Effective Leadership Programme at the Business Hub, a three month programme of workshops and coaching, to support and develop managers in their individual roles.

Over the last year or so I have been picking up a lot of work that Tim used to do and now I feel like Tim can focus on growing the business and I have the confidence to take on more responsibility, including recruiting staff and dealing with issues that come up.

Learning how to be a better communicator and take positive and different approaches to day to day challenges was valuable and we all learnt so much from each other on the Programme.

Sometimes you think you’re the only one dealing with complex issues but The Icehouse makes you realise you’re not alone.”

For Tim, the chance for Jay Jay to do an Icehouse programme was perfect timing, not only just for the business but also allowing him to plan for some much-needed time-off.

“The leadership training has given Jay Jay a deeper understanding of the business, allowing me to focus on the jobs I need to be across and the big tenders.

“I’ve also got a trip planned to the States later in the year and to be able to leave the country with confidence that everything will be ok is pretty cool – we’ve come a long way.”

Working as a travelling plumber in the Aussie mines gave Tim Masters the experience to manage large scale projects but it provided little guidance through the minefield that is owning your own business.