Great service generates reputation and reputation keeps and attracts customers.
It is not often these days that you hear about an established, growing and successful business that doesn’t have a website, especially a business that works in such a competitive and ‘search for a…’ marketplace like plumbing and electrics.
But that is exactly what IKPE Ltd has done, and has been doing, since 2002. Their secret is simple and is based upon the oldest and most fundamental law of business: great service generates reputation and reputation keeps and attracts customers. OK, so perhaps a website with a vibrant ‘case studies and testimonials’ page would have helped to increase sales even more – but the point is that giving great service has seen them thrive.
And that means they have a lot to teach any business that wants to be successful in a rapidly changing world where online reputation can be manipulated by clever IT brains and ‘fake news’ recommendations can be purchased for less than five dollars.
This is Hits’ and Nits’ story…
After dropping out of college with low academic prospects, Hitesh Kanbi trained and worked as a plumber’s apprentice. Meanwhile, his older brother, Nitesh, was at university studying electrical engineering and coming to a similar conclusion – that qualifying as an electrician might be an easier way to make a living than academia.
So, between the years 2002 and 2004 the two brothers (Hits and Nits, as they have affectionately been known to their family since childhood) began working together – starting out as a partnership and then becoming a limited company. Over the next three to four years they simply worked hard, initially carrying out residential servicing and installations for family and friends, then attracting a wider customer base as the word spread.
During those early years, Hitesh also worked as a maintenance plumber for a local estate agent, where his experience and skill set was significantly enhanced, and Nitesh added Gas Safe registration to his electrical qualifications. They had become a true powerhouse of competence, capability and local reputation – and had still not spent a single penny on advertising, not even on business cards.
Work hard and NEVER drop your standards
As anyone in business knows, when you carry out work for a friend of the family (especially if they are paying you) there is no way on earth that you will deliver anything less than perfection. The potential bad feeling simply isn’t worth not giving the job that extra bit of attention. And, when your second job is for another friend, then a friend of a friend calls, and after that pretty much everyone you work for knows someone else who you know – for years and years on end – (the Kanbi family are a friendly bunch) the ethos eventually becomes a culture.
Over the years, as more electricians and plumbers have been employed by the firm, commitment to perfection has been the one quality, above any other, that Hits and Nits insist on. Their big question is: would we be happy sending this person (full-time or contractor) home to do a job for our mum?
In 2007, once again through a family connection, the brothers were introduced to one of their first large commercial jobs – an intricate lighting system to add flavour and atmosphere to a local restaurant. This began a new referral stream among other businesses in the local foodie marketplace.
The business also launched into several innovative shipping container conversion projects, firstly as a contractor, and then as a supplier and converter. These projects included: a kitchen for an Indian sweets manufacturer, changing rooms at Wembley Cricket Club, and a Campo Viejo wine bar – all long before Grand Designs really popularised the container conversion idea.
It is worth a reminder, at this point in Hits’ and Nits’ story, that they still had not advertised their services in any shape or form other than to maintain their ‘working for close family’ standards. Perhaps it is an obvious thing to say, but a rare reality in the modern world all the same, that people (customers) appreciate great service and will always spread the word around.
From Grand Designs to the greatest architect of all…
A new direction loomed once more around 2011, as Hitesh’s father-in-law introduced the firm to a contact at a 40-bedroom staff house in Gerrards Cross. This was the largest job the boys had taken on to date, and it lasted several years, during which they still continued to manage their various maintenance contracts and residential customers’ requirements – without ever dropping the standards.
The Sarova Hotels Group, who owned the Gerrards Cross property, were so impressed with the staff house project that they offered them more work at another of their hotels in 2013. This one, beautifully situated on the banks of the river in Windsor, and named after the world’s greatest ‘old school’ architect – Sir Christopher Wren – included fitting a luxury spa area.
It seems that the ‘old school’ themes of attention to detail, a conscientious work ethic, and decades of expertise and experience are still as valid in the modern day as they were all those centuries ago. I think Sir Christopher himself would have been proud of the finished job.
Customer love and referrals galore – but the numbers just weren’t adding up!
It was about 2013 that Hits and Nits were introduced to Meades Group for the first time. A friend of theirs had started working for Xero and Paul Meades’ name had come up as the leading Xero expert in the area. Without wanting to put a dampener on what has, so far, been a 100% positive story, at this point in its history, despite their constant stream of new work, IKPE Ltd (and its two sibling owners) was under severe financial strain.
The work was coming in, the boys and their half a dozen or so full-time plumbers and electricians were constantly busy, the phone was still ringing, they were working weekends and evenings to keep up with the demand, and yet the numbers just weren’t adding up!
But, despite being introduced to the very firm of accountants who would eventually steady the course of their business – Hits and Nits decided they couldn’t afford to pay the higher fee, and neglected to take up the offer.
As chance would have it, the opportunity came around again; and two years later, at about the 6 same time they were starting another massive hotel project for The Sarova Group, they finally arranged a meeting with Paul and his team.
Two giant conversions in 2015
Everything changed for the company in 2015. They started their largest-ever project, an office block in Windsor that was to be converted into a 75-bedroom hotel, and their business numbers were converted into a strategic, profitable, efficient, smoothly managed, agile and robust operational model.
Externally, nothing changed; the team still worked to the highest standards on every job, there was no website, business cards or marketing, and Hits’ and Nits’ names remained far better known than IKPE Ltd’s. But behind the scenes, everything had changed.
During that first year under the guidance of Paul, Catherine and the rest of the Meades team, Hitesh and Nitesh were able to draw proper salaries for the first time. They have both been able to finally buy their own houses, all their bills (personal and business) get paid on time and they now get a bit of time off at the weekends.
Catherine’s day-to-day advice and outstanding attention to detail, in particular, has been a constant reassurance to the business and has enabled them to confidently (and profitably) take on larger jobs, like the hotel at Windsor.
Today, with a robust financial team behind them, IKPE Ltd is now in the process of launching a new division of the business, focusing entirely on large construction projects. Hits and Nits are even thinking of launching their first ever website to promote this new venture – wonders will never cease.