“We got onto Fergus and in just one quarter we smashed an extra 20-30% onto our sales through sheer organisational-efficiency.”
Duncan Leask has been a certified plumber, gas fitter and drain layer by trade for 15 years. In 2013 he and Peter Carter took the reins at J.T. Carter Plumbers, which they have since grown from 8 to 23 staff working across two sites. Despite part-owning one of the largest plumbing businesses in the Waikato region of New Zealand and juggling up to 600 jobs in any given month, he manages to switch his phone to silent when he gets home at night to spend time with his young family. So how does he do it all?
Duncan credits some of his early success to his experience working and travelling as a mobile tradesman in Perth. Seeing his boss maybe once a fortnight, it was a different way of doing business, but it worked. It got him thinking and setting himself some big life goals. On his return to New Zealand, he rejoined J.T. Carter Plumbers (where he also did his apprenticeship) and his passion for the company and customers, combined with his own vision, led him to take over the growth of and eventually the management of the business.
Work smarter not harder
A first glimpse at the books revealed that Duncan and Peter had a lot of work to do. Cash flow wasn’t good and pricing on jobs was below where it needed to be to make a profit.
“Tradies think just doing the job every day can get you paid, but that’s not the case. We had to take stock, starting with the numbers, then the organisation and work from there.”
In the beginning, the business was mostly paper-based and while Duncan was a skilled tradesmen, he’s the first to admit that he lacked experience when it came to running a business. There was no time to waste, so he enlisted a business coach. This, paired with the right technology to sort field and office work, set J.T. Carter Plumbers on the path to success.
Having tried a few Job Management Software apps, Duncan finally got onto Fergus and he hasn’t looked back.
“We were running, but it was like we were on a treadmill. We weren’t going anywhere. Once we purchased Fergus, we really started to move.”
J.T. Carter Plumbers has integrated Fergus with Xero, making it the primary tool used to run the business. Quoting, invoicing, scheduling, communicating with staff, managing timesheets - you name it, Fergus does it and it enables them to service up to 30 customers a day and 600 jobs a month.
From paper-based to all in the cloud
Transitioning from paper-based processes to systems in the cloud did take time and effort, but the pay back has made it all worth it. The ease-of-use of Fergus meant that he was able to onboard his team quickly.
“Fergus is actually very comprehensive, but easy to use on the mobile app. Office staff are generally good with computers, for tradies though it has to be easy to get them to use it, so from that perspective it’s absolute gold.”
For Duncan, stress comes from feeling like he’s not in control. He likes to be organised, to set goals and to plan. With Fergus on the job, Duncan feels like he always has his finger on the pulse.
“Looking at it from my point of view, the dashboard is where it’s at. It’s a one-stop shop, a real-time report of what you’re doing. You can tell just by looking at the invoicing and payments columns just how much has been paid and what’s still outstanding.”
Enabling clear and consistent communication around how each job will be tackled has enabled him to better manage staff and customer outcomes.
Duncan says he can invoice a job and see how much it makes him in just two clicks. At the end of the day, that operational efficiency equates to saved time. Time he can spend with his family and young children without constantly being distracted by work.
“It’s all about family when I’m at home now, I’m no longer side-tracked.”
Duncan’s top 5 tips for tradies
1. Plan, plan, plan
If you’re not organised, Duncan says it’s like running blindfolded.
“Goal setting and planning enables you to work from a script. It’s about organising yourself, so you know what’s coming next.”
2. Back cost every single job
Duncan takes the time to back cost every single job. When your business gets to the size of J.T. Carter Plumbers, that’s what you have to do to keep on top of it.
“If you control every job, you control your business.”
3. Know what you are good at and outsource the rest
From advice from a business coach, to managing the website and social media accounts. Duncan doesn’t waste time on things he knows someone else can do better.
4. If you make a mistake, admit it
You know when you’ve let something slip. Yes, there will be a cost to it, but you will earn back the respect of the customer by admitting to the mistake and working through it with them. What’s more, is that the customer will come back.
“A happy customer will tell 3 people, an unhappy customer will tell 10 people.”
5. Disconnect and let work be work
Systems give you the ability to disconnect. Duncan makes a conscious effort to eat well and keeps his mind fresh through reading, learning and stepping away from the business as much as he can.
Moving the Hamilton branch of the business out of home to an office was a game-changer. The commute alone, gave him time to transition from work mode to Dad mode. He is emotionally available for his kids and can talk about more than just ‘shop’ with his partner.
At just 34 years of age, what Duncan has achieved is exceptional. It’s awesome to hear about the positive impact Fergus is having on the success of the business.
You can follow Duncan and the team at J.T. Carter Plumbers on Instagram and Facebook.