A Lesson on Branding From Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers
Pimlico Plumber's cheeky license plates and red and blue branding make them the most recognisable plumbers in the UK. Last year they turned over £48 million despite the impact of the Covid19 pandemic. The key to their success? “Branding,” says Charlie Mullins. We caught up with the outspoken CEO to find out more…
*** Scroll down for Charlie’s top branding tips for businesses***
Pimlico Plumbers is a famous brand. Did you consciously set out to create a brand or did it happen organically?
It was totally deliberate. I got the business established in Pimlico first and then I took on a marketing manager who is still with me now, 30 years later. I took him on with the intention of creating a brand. By working together and developing ideas, and by not begin afraid to try new things or change things, we’ve got to the top of our game. We were the first company to become a brand name in the plumbing industry.
Whose idea was the number plates?
My idea! I bought the first number plate 25 years ago, DRA1N. I saw it in a DVLA auction and bid £6,000 for it. I had sleepless night thinking about it before I bought it, because personalised number plates weren’t that popular then and they were very expensive. Nobody had it in business, and I thought you had to be bonkers or very rich to be paying money for them. But I took a chance, I thought we’d be the only person with DRA1N and that would get us recognition, which you need in business. Our biggest advertising tool is our vehicles after all – now we’ve become the Eddie Stobart of plumbing!
How important is recognition in branding then?
It’s the most important thing! You’ve got to get recognition to develop a brand, but you must make it right for your product too. Have the right presentation and image – for us that’s our vans and about having our plumbers in uniform – but the content needs to match it as well. What our customers want is reliability, trustworthy and value for money. Our content must match our packaging.
What else did Pimlico Plumbers do to get recognised?
We’ve got the ‘on-call’ sign. That’s a light on the top of the vans that lights up when our plumbers are on the road heading to a call. We tried to think of the most recognisable vehicle – which is the London black cab – and copy it. So you might be walking down the road, or driving along, and not need a plumber necessarily, but if you pass a van with a light on you’ll notice it – and you’ll then have plumbing on your mind.
We also have red and blue wing mirrors on all our vans, which match out red and blue uniforms. Why red and blue? It’s subliminal; it’s represents hot and cold!
We also bought the rights to play the Mambo No. 5 song. So now, when a Pimlico Plumber van reverses, instead of it beeping, it sings Mambo No. 5!
What are your top branding tips for businesses?
(Charlie’s tips, in no particular order)
Tip #1: Keep trying new things.
The more ideas you have, the better. Don’t be afraid to try crazy ideas, I was worried about the number plates at first but it totally worked.
Tip #2: Be the first to do it.
And if you’re not the first that time, try again.
Tip #3: Be media friendly.
Don’t shy away from it. Get in the papers and get on TV whenever you can! My marketing manager once said to me, “we can be the best plumbing company in the world but if nobody knows about us what’s the point?”
Tip #4: Be different.
Have your own image and stand out from the crowd. One way we do that is by having distinct uniforms that everybody in the company has to wear. It makes us recognisable and shows we’re all drinking from the same teapot.
Tip #5: Use a PR or marketing agency.
People always tell me they’re not sure they can afford to use one, and I always reply ‘can you afford not to use one?’
Tip #6: Give to charity.
It might sound cynical, but giving to charity is a great of building your brand – as well as doing good of course.
Tip #7: Get into merchandise.
We have tonnes of merchandise now, and we give some of it away – our plumbers sometimes give out limited edition model vans to our customers’ kids. We’re a family business, and we know what our customers want.
Tip #8: Take on issues within the industry.
This will get you noticed and talked about. At Pimlico Plumbers we campaign for more apprenticeships.
Tip #9: Don’t wait.
My biggest branding mistake was not doing it sooner. I ran Pimlico Plumbing for a couple of years and was only known in Pimlico until I brought my marketing manager, Tony Davidson, on board.
So what’s the plan for Pimlico Plumbers’ future?
The plan is to put another 100 vans on the road – it’s our best advertising tool after all. We need to update the livery, stay ahead and keep it modern. We’re also doing more and more press and TV lately. We’ve got lots of media plans – there’s a TV company in at the moment!
We’ve just opened up a plumbing and heating shop too, so we plan to push the retail side of the business and become the first 24-hour plumbing shop. It’s all about being the first!
If you need to know more about how to best reach your target audience, Nutcracker are here to help. Call us on 020 3941 0305