Friday, 16 January 2009

Use Google to scratch that itch

When companies design a Google adwords campaign they spend a lot of time trying to think up all the words and terms their potential customers will be typing into Google. Competition on generic terms like 'plumber' or 'handyman' is fierce. So the idea is to try and think of more specific terms that describe your service or product more precisely.

Sophisticated search engine users know this so when looking for a specific product they will be very specific in their search terms and almost always find exactly what they are looking almost immediately. The problem is however that there are millions of searchers out there who aren't searching specifically and therefore might not be finding exactly what they are looking for at the best price.

In the past people used directory publications, like the Yellow Pages, to find services they needed. But to find a service they would need to know what category that service would fall under in that specific directory. Many people still search for services in this way. But if they are more specific about searching for the exact service or product they are looking for they will find companies offering exactly what they want.

Here are two examples:

One of our customers used our service recently to unblock her toilet. Once the job was done the handyman asked her how she found Silver Saints. She told him how she had initially searched on Google for a 'plumber'. Of course she got thousands of results so she refined her search to 'London plumber' and called three of the companies she found. They all told her a similar story, it will cost her minimum of £100 for one of their plumbers to come out and investigate her blocked toilet. Unsatisfied with this she refined her search even further to 'unblock toilet London' and found our web page dedicated specifically to our unblocking toilets service for which we charge a fixed price of £70+VAT.

The second example relates to Electric showers. If you ask 10 people who they would call if their electric shower stopped working. Five of them would say a plumber and the other five would say an electrician. But the beauty of Google is that you don't need to think, they will do it for you. If you need an electric shower repaired all you need to do is search for ' electric shower repairs' and you will find numerous companies specialising in electric shower repairs.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Market Karma

When I first moved to London seven years ago Foxtons were operating at full tilt. They seamed to be the agents for almost every rental property we looked at. I remember been flabbergasted that they could get away with charging prospective tenants to find a property as well as the landlords to full their properties. Foxtons seemed to treat everyone like they were idiots looking to be squeezed for cash.

After two years of working for London's biggest handyman service we were approached by Foxtons to undertake maintenance jobs in the properties they managed on behalf of landlords. They dictated to us what our hourly charge should be, which was almost the same as we were charging anyway, but then deducted 20% as a commission after the landlord had paid the full invoice amount for themselves. They would also charge the landlords a fee for managing their properties for them. Once again they were using their market position to squeeze anyone they could.

So when I read this article, Foxtons stuck in housing market slump, I felt a great sense of satisfaction, as if justice had been served. I'm sure there are thousands of Londoners out there who would be happy to see Foxtons fall on their faces. Like gluttons they grabbed as much as they could in the boom and now many will be smirking as they suffer in the gloom.

I am a firm believer in market karma or economic justice. If you treat your customers badly or turn your back on business ethics the market will one day exact its revenge. The founder of Foxtons, John Hunt, obviously saw this moment of reckoning coming and just like a Banana Republic Dictator he escaped just in time with all the loot before the whole thing collapsed.

I'm just glad I'm not trying to sell a mini motorcar, because the second hand market is about to be flooded with them.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Blocked Sink or is it a Toilet?

One of our handymen had an interesting job last week. We were called by a housing charity to unblock a small hand basin in one of their properties. The house had a number of bedrooms all with their own hand basins in one corner. This particular basin was the only one blocked in the property, so we knew the blockage had to be local to the basin and not a problem with the main down pipe.

The handyman unscrewed the u-bend to inspect it for any sign of a blockage. He found that the whole u-bend and waste pipe were completely blocked with what seemed to be cement. After a quick call to one of the senior handymen the cause of the blockage became clear.

The cement like substance was actually limescale which had been encouraged to grow so aggressively due to the constant presence of uric salts and bacteria found in urine. The tenant had obviously been using the basin as a urinal for some time which had resulted in the u-bend and waste pipe becoming the ideal environment for limescale to build up quickly until the basin waste pipe was solidly blocked.

Once we knew that the problem was limescale we were able to treat it with an acidic solution known as 'Spirit of Salts' which over time will dissolve the limescale. Using this acidic solution combined with 60 minutes of traditional roding we were able to clear the blocked waste pipe. We fitted a new u-bend and instructed the tenant that he should not pee in the sink.

A strange job, but an interesting one among handymen and plumbers who deal with blockages.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Rats for Christmas

We received a call from an office manager just before the new year asking us to repair a faulty toilet flush. The cause of the fault surprised us all.

The inner workings of the toilet concerned were concealed behind a decorative panel. All that was visible on the panel was the pneumatic flush button. These buttons work by compressing air within a rubber tube the increased pressure is enough to operate the flush valve and the toilet flushes. In this case the rubber hose had become disconnected from the button and as a result the toilet was not flushing when the button was pushed.

On closer inspection the handyman noted that the end of the rubber tube was jagged as if a rodent had been chewing on it. He cut off a bit of the tube and refitted it to the flush button which restored the correct operation of the toilet. The whole process only took 20 minutes.

A few days later we got a call from the same customer to say that the toilet was not working again. We sent the same handyman back to investigate. This time he found that most of the flush button had been eaten away by rodents. The extent of the damage to the button can be seen in the photo.
It emerged when discussing the problem with the customer that they had come back from the Christmas break to find that rats had run riot through their offices chewing on anything from computer cables to coffee cups.
The rats were using the toilet cisterns as their water supply and once they had had a drink were pausing to nibble on a bit of rubber to pass the time.
The answer was to prevent the rats from getting into the toilet cisterns and this meant removing the decorative panel, filling all access holes with steel will and expanding foam and then reinstating everything. This was done in conjunction with an exterminator laying poison and traps throughout the office.
We completed the work and are confident that the rats won't gain access to the men's toilet again. However we got a call this morning to say that the woman's toilet now won't flush. I believe politicians call this phenomenon 'crime displacement'.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Loose Taps

In conversation with one of our London handymen recently, he pointed out how common it is to stumble upon a loose set of taps while doing work at customer's properties. Normally these are monobloc kitchen sink taps which require a special box spanner to fit or tighten. Not the kind of tool an average household would have in their B&Q toolbox.

The problem is that most people don't think it is worth paying a plumber the best part of £100 to tighten a loose tap and therefore just live with the problem. What they don't realise is that you don't need a plumber to undertake most plumbing jobs within a property. A professional handyman can do almost all of them for you at about 50% of the cost.

All our handymen fit taps and therefore carry a full set of box spanners with them. It only takes a few minutes to tighten a loose tap if you have the correct tool. It's the kind of job that a customer should just tag onto their 'to-do' list when they have a handyman round to take care of all those niggly jobs. However if a loose tap is really getting on your nerves we don't mind coming out for any on small job and our minimum charge is only £40+VAT.