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  • An Australian Perspective

    Greetings .

    Ive been reading this forum for a little while and thought id say a few words.
    I began my apprenticeship in 1987 when i left school.

    My brother and i started our own plumbing business a year ago after many years working for different employers in different fields of plumbing.

    I now realise that the plumbing is the easiest part of business.The clerical/administrative side threatens to overtake sometimes.

    Although plumbing can sometimes be dull and repetetive it has always paid my bills and allowed me to travel extensively and find work easily in the UK and in Canada.

    I enjoy reading all the different opinions in various threads.In my view often well informed and experienced, mostly interesting and sometimes plain naive.

    In light of a recent hotly debated topic,a little about how we operate.

    We do most small maintenance work based on a service call fee plus hourly rate plus materials and government taxes.I buy materials at wholesale rates and charge them at retail, and if i need to make a special trip to the suppliers then i charge for that time.

    Often though people ask for a quotation,especially for jobs of more than a couple of hours. This is where it gets interesting.

    Mostly quotes involve inspecting the job and calculating time and materials plus an allowance for the unseen/unexpected.Being realistic I add an hour to compensate me for travelling to inspect the job, writing the quotation etc.

    Generally we are fairly accurate time wise,so the price charged is similar to what the client would pay on an hourly rate.Sometimes though the job easier than first thought or we find a much simpler solution during the job and finish under time.

    In these cases the quoted price is still charged and we make good money.However some times i get it wrong and have to put in more hours than anticipated and lose even when considering the profit on materials.Quoting accurately is an art form that can only be learnt from experience.

    In my opinion, me quoting on a small job is often to my advantage.I will quote minimum 1 hour ,allow for the unexpected and make extra money if i get finished sooner.In return the client gets a fixed price.

    Some clients want a quotation for even the smallest jobs,some are happy for me to do the job and charge time and materials.In the end its their decision.

    Dont misunderstand me.I care about doing the right thing.Our business is young,and time is proving that we are our own best advertising.Making a good impression the first time is the best way to get more work and a positive referral.It seems that this is a widely held opinion on this forum.Where i live there are many many plumbers,and someone will always do the job cheaper.If i cant be the cheapest id like to be remembered by the client as being reliable and doing quality work.

    Being self employed is rewarding.I enjoy the flexibilty of work hours.The reality of a start up business is that we are just one of many plumbing companies in the area,and until we establish a good name and have continuous full time work i will earn much less than when i was employed by a major construction plumber.

    Enough about that.

    In Australia it seems we use slightly different materials.Copper water pipe is commonly silver brazed here.
    There are many brands of plastic water pipe on the market.To be competitive on new domestic construstion i have to use plastic for water, unless otherwise specified by the builder.

    PVC is the most commonly used material for above and below ground drainage in Sydney.We dont have the same extremes of temperature as the northern hemisphere.It gets hot, but it doesnt get cold in Sydney.

    A final thought;

    3 types of plumbing;

    quality plumbing work
    cheap plumbing work
    plumbing work done right now

    no job fits all 3 descriptions


    josh

  • #2
    Welcome to the forum.

    I am usually known as the "company jack-***", but I'm not all that bad. Your opinions are more than welcome. Please feel free to be involved.
    the dog

    Comment


    • #3
      welcome josh

      i enjoyed your post ,and look foward to more. tool
      I can build anything You want , if you draw a picture of it , on the back of a big enough check .

      Comment


      • #4
        plumber josh, looks like you've been doing some research on this forum. you do it just like i do. typically people want a contract price on a large ticket repair or replacement item, such as a water heater, toilet, water service and even a stoppage. i too base it on my hourly rate and "guesstimate" based on years of experience. (25+ 5 as a helper). i still am less expensive than most. i'm not complaining, and i can land 95% of any job when i have to bid against another contractor.

        infact more than 50% of my gross comes from other plumbing contractors that hire me for specialty services. in fact tomorrow i will be at a brand new fire station next to lax airport. i've already found 3 broken sewer lines on a prior inspection and tomorrow will hopefully be the final look and jetting of the lines. lots of construction debris and dirt from the broken lines.

        sounds like down under is just like out here. now work on getting your toilets to flush the right direction and then you can work out here in the states.

        glad to have you here to keep us informed.

        rick.

        ps. be careful in kings cross. it's been 16 years since i was in sydney. if you need any special equipment, just send me a ticket. (coach is fine).
        phoebe it is

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Josh and welcome to the forum.

          Your three types of plumbing reminds me of something from a quality assurance class I took once. we talked about the Time-Cost-Quality triangle, it looks like this;

          Last edited by Bob D.; 10-19-2007, 04:57 PM.
          ---------------
          Light is faster than sound. That's why some people seem really bright until you hear them speak.
          ---------------
          “If I had my life to live over again, I'd be a plumber.” - Albert Einstein
          ---------
          "Its a table saw.... Do you know where your fingers are?"
          ---------
          sigpic http://www.helmetstohardhats.com/

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for the welcome everyone.
            Rick,
            an australian toilet bowl has a low water level,unless there's problems.My first visit to north america as an ill informed young man i didnt realise your toilets operated differently and thought for a minute they were blocked!

            Sounds like you have a lot of specialized drain cleaning equipment. I only have a K-1500,which is a commonly used machine among maintenance plumbers around here.

            Fear not.Kings Cross is much the same as when you visited.

            josh

            Comment


            • #7
              Well said Josh. My only difference is that I give the customer the price up front on very nearly every job with the only exceptions coming with jobs in which I can't see everything I need to see before hand, i.e.: if I'm digging I will include a "buried obstacle clause" for large boulders and such, or if it's a rocking toilet it may just need tightening or shimming if the floor is out of level, but it also may have a busted flange which is unknowable unless you inspect it.

              As for everyone else, "can't we all just get along"? I'm not much for grudge holding. If we disagree about how much money a plumber should make let's just let it go at that but please understand and believe me when I say that I am not a thief. Rick, Plumber, Utah, I would never presume to question your plumbing abilities as I am sure that they are probably superior to mine since you've been at it much longer than I have. It is however my sincere opinion that you are not charging (Rick) what is just and reasonable for your knowledge, skill, and the legal authority you possess to do the work that you do. Having said that, America is a beautiful place, you run your business the way you think you should and I'll run mine the way I think I should.

              I want to relay what happened to me yesterday. First I have to back up a little. About 4-6 weeks ago a lady called me about a small remodeling project. I talked to her on the phone and it seemed what she really wanted was a price over the phone. I understand this, I am a consumer too, and sometimes you have no idea what something will cost and you can't really decide whether to spend any time planning and pursuing a project until you have some idea what it will cost. However, I do not give prices over the phone (it never works out well whenever I have) and I can't afford the time or money required to ride all over town giving free estimates to people who aren't even sure they want to do the work at all. So I told the lady that I would be happy to come out and give her an up front price to the penny and that it would cost a $59.00 service charge to get me out there (my normal minimum service charge is $49.00 and increases at a certain distance, I do lose a certain percentage of calls over this service call issue and so I go back and forth sometimes as to whether I should charge it, but I've decided that I should because it costs me money to drive my truck around and it also helps me weed out the people who aren't really serious or who are motivated only by the lowest price, I will never be the cheapest) . Well she wanted to "talk to her husband" and that was that, I forgot about her. Ok, so this past Monday afternoon I get a call from this same lady wanting to know if I can come on tuesday morning to look at the job and do the work if everything is agreeable. Well I'm not even sure who she is or what job she's talking about at first but then I remember who she is but I still won't give her a price over the phone and restate that yes I can come (I had to do some juggling to get there on such short notice) but it will cost $59.00. Well she wants to talk to her husband again and I say "yes ma'am thats fine, let me know if I may help you" but I'm thinking "whatever...". Well she calls back about 5 minutes later and we set up a time. I get there and look at the job and we talk about it for close to 30 minutes because she has some code issues only she lives in a county where there is no code enforcement (no permits, no inspections). I explain that what she wants to do would not pass an inspection anywhere in the state. We talked about possible options. In the end she elected to go ahead with her original plan. The issue was that she was going to be 1" too short on the lateral distance from the center of a toilet to the wall she wanted to build. I explained that functionally it probably would not make any difference but that it was not code worthy and that I could not predict what that might mean with respect to any future code implementation in that county or what effect it might have on resale value, etc. Ok, so we got to the price, I quoted her $269.00 for the job. She kind of stood there muttering "oh, uh, well, hmmm, that's not really what I was expecting", "I see, well ma'am if you don't mind me asking, what exactly were you thinking this job would cost?", "Well I don't really know but I guess I was thinking maybe $150 to $200", "I see (pause, turn and look at the job again, turn and look at the lady again) "well ma'am, I'd love to do the work for you but I do an awful lot of this kind of thing and I know that it will take every bit of $269.00" So then we talk for a couple more minutes and it comes out that she had already gotten two other estimates which I had not known about. "I see, well ma'am if you don't mind me asking, what were your other estimates for?", "one was for $150.00 and one was for $220.00", "I see" (pause while I'm being tempted to lower my price) "Well ma'am, again, I'd love to do the work for you but I just can't do it for less than $269.00. In the end she authorizes me to do the work for $269 + $59 service charge = $328 which is $108 more than the next closest price. Why?

              Now as it turned out, I lost my shirt on this job. I ran into some unforseen problems. I created some problems and had to redo about 1/3 of the work because I did not listen carefully enough to what the homeowner was trying to accomplish. What should have been slightly under two hours very nearly took all day. When I finished and cleaned up I presented the homeowner with a bill for "how much class?", that's right, $328.00. So I'm willing to live or die with flat rate, but it doesn't always go my way!

              Comment


              • #8
                ecs, that's what happens when when a contract price is quoted. i too quote prices for the items as noted earlier. ie water heaters , toilets, stoppages (first hour), water services, clean outs to install. keep in mind that the prices are based on an educated estimate of the time and materials needed. this is still reflected at the $75.00 an hour rate. not at $150.00 like you.

                i don't know too much about alabama, but i doubt that the cost of living, housing , insurance is anywhere close to that of los angeles, calif. in fact 25% of my work is in beverly hills, i still charge the same to people that can afford a whole lot more.

                basically what i'm asking is, in my personal situation, a dedicated 2500 sq.' shop, enough equiptment to fill any 20 man shop, high insurance rates to cover association work, high cost of living, ect. i still make money and i'm not complaining. you are priced 4.5 times higher than a union journeyman plumber here in los angeles. how do you and your customers justify the cost? i would love to know what the t&m shops charge per hour in your local area?

                what percentage is return business? do you advertise in the phone book?

                95% of mine is return business. it would be almost 100%, but lots of work is a 1 shot deal for other contractors. no i don't advertise.

                yes i even charge $75 for digging. but the customer has the opportunity to get someone else to dig. then i just clean up the ditch to the right slope.

                sounds like the only way to justify the high rates is if all of your competition charges the same. kind of like price fixing.

                if a can of coke cost .75 cents in a vending machine. why would i pay $1.50 for the same can? the issues is not a mere 75 cents, it's 100% more.

                by the way, i still get to anywhere from 1- 6 jobs a day. i don't have the time to take my time.

                rick.
                Last edited by PLUMBER RICK; 02-01-2006, 12:13 PM.
                phoebe it is

                Comment


                • #9
                  my 2 cents

                  she was giving you all the tells to stay away. i never would have been available after the 1st conversation. been doing this for 44 yrs. don't have time for people like this. i am fortunate to live and work in an area of money
                  if i didn't , maybe i'd think differently. one estimator teaches, small jobs should be priced at 3 times the normal rate
                  I can build anything You want , if you draw a picture of it , on the back of a big enough check .

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    plumber josh

                    welcome , i hope you can join us in some of ower deepest conversations and debates .

                    although some do not know when to stop pushing someones buttons

                    Charlie
                    Charlie

                    My seek the peek fundraiser page
                    http://observatory.mountwashington.o...nal&fr_id=1040


                    http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/conditions.php

                    new work pictures 12/09
                    http://public.fotki.com/hvachawk/

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      i hope you do not mined being called plumber josh .

                      because there is another josh .
                      Charlie

                      My seek the peek fundraiser page
                      http://observatory.mountwashington.o...nal&fr_id=1040


                      http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/conditions.php

                      new work pictures 12/09
                      http://public.fotki.com/hvachawk/

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Bob D.
                        Hi Josh and welcome to the forum.

                        Your three types of plumbing reminds me of something from a quality assurance class I took once. we talked about the Time-Cost-Quality triangle, it looks like this;


                        Bob,

                        This simple chart is one every plumbing foreman can relate to. It should be posted in every bean-counter's office.

                        Thanks.
                        the dog

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Yep, Just tell them: "I can give you more of any one of the three, but at the expense of one or both of the other two.... you pick."

                          ---------------
                          Light is faster than sound. That's why some people seem really bright until you hear them speak.
                          ---------------
                          “If I had my life to live over again, I'd be a plumber.” - Albert Einstein
                          ---------
                          "Its a table saw.... Do you know where your fingers are?"
                          ---------
                          sigpic http://www.helmetstohardhats.com/

                          Comment

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