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Anne Timpany studied theatre and English at university and worked for years in events marketing, an unusual background perhaps for someone running a plumbing firm. But her firm, which she co-founded with her husband, who is a plumber, now has a multi-million pound turnover and is investing heavily in training and raising industry standards.
Anne’s achievements have now been recognised since she won the 2017 NatWest everywoman Awards’ Athena Award for the most inspirational woman running a business trading from six to nine years. This year marks the 15th Anniversary of the awards programme, which celebrates the achievements of female entrepreneurs.
Growing the business and a family
Anne came to the UK from New Zealand 14 years ago and worked in events marketing until she was made redundant. Her husband Raff was keen to start his own business and Anne had always been very entrepreneurial. It seemed a good idea to collaborate: her husband had the operational knowledge and Anne had the business mind and marketing experience.
A month after the business was registered in 2009, Anne discovered she was pregnant so there was pressure to get it off the ground fast. “As a mum I knew it would be hard to get a job and get the kind of balance I would get from being self employed, but I didn’t want to be a stay at home mum,” she says.
She went round networking groups in North London trying to spread the word about the business, On Tap Plumbers. “I got a reputation as the pregnant plumber lady,” she says. “As a woman running a plumbing business I was quite unique.” That uniqueness became one of the business’ USPs. “One of our main goals was to dispel the cowboy myth about plumbers being unreliable. Often when tradesman go round it is a mum who is at home and having me around made people feel more confident,” says Anne.
Since her first son, Charlie, was born, she has had two more – at one point she had three boys under four years old. Now her children are aged three, six and seven. From six months old, Charlie had a childminder who has looked after all Anne’s children and just recently she took on a nanny. Having good childcare has helped her focus on her work and push the business further, more than making up for any costs, she says. Raff is also very supportive and hands on. Being self employed, Anne has never taken maternity leave. In fact, after her second son was born she took a client phone call on her way out of hospital.
The business has grown fast from a small domestic firm to a multi-million pound business employing 50 people. That growth was steady in the early days, but from 2014 it really took off when the firm realised they could earn more from commercial than domestic contracts and work more regular Monday to Friday hours. In 2014 their biggest contract was worth £40,000. Now their biggest contract is worth £3m. As a result of Anne’s entrepreneurial skills and the firm’s hard work, On Tap Plumbers have worked as contractors on some of London’s most iconic buildings – ‘The Cheesegrater’, ‘The Walkie Talkie’, the Facebook Headquarters and they are currently working on a major Canary Wharf development.
Along the way there have been some challenges. One of them has been recruiting good quality plumbers and that means offering good rates of pay. “We want to be the Waitrose of the plumbing industry,” says Anne. Brexit has led to concerns around recruitment, given that many plumbing businesses rely on European workers. For that reason, On Tap Plumbers has invested in growing homegrown talent and Anne has visited career fairs, done road shows, industry events and colleges to talk about careers in commercial plumbing. She is now targeting secondary schools and the firm has recently appointed a training and development manager from New Zealand. “Not many companies like ours do that,” says Anne.
She adds that in New Zealand the plumbing industry is more regulated than in the UK and people need specific qualifications. Anne believes training raises standards. “We would like to raise the standards in the industry,” she adds. To this end On Tap Plumbers are working with the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors on what should be included in Level 3 Apprenticeships and launched their own apprenticeship programme in August. Seven people are now on the programme and the firm has prepared starter packs for them.
Anne would like to see more girls coming into plumbing, but says that needs a different approach, for instance, emphasising how plumbers can make a difference. She speaks regularly at colleges and schools and recalls one theatre student girl who was at a fair for careers in the construction industry. Anne spoke to her about her job and how she uses her theatrical background when she does presentations. “She was really listening and was engaged,” she says.
Anne was nominated for the NatWest everywoman awards by her PR manager. “I never dreamed I would get this far,” she says.