I’m Robbie Newton, owner and head engineer here at Stonehenge Plumbing And Heating. We’ve just had our busiest July on record for boiler replacements which is great news for not just us but our customers as well, clearly we must be doing something right. It shows that all the hard work we’ve put in over the past couple of years is bearing fruit as they would say, with lots and lots of happy customers.
Throughout the past 18 months or so there’s been quite a bit of negativity among many gas engineers / businesses, many reporting boiler replacement losses to online boiler companies. On one hand, the online companies are offering a very convenient and quick way to receive an estimate, normally no visit or photo’s required. They can also normally offer a very quick installation date, in some cases within 48 hours. Financially, their estimate is again and in many cases incredibly competitive as well. From the outside looking in, this all appears to be a superb offering but In reality, what are you really getting. Well they can provide an estimate for when your simply swapping your existing combi boiler for another combi boiler but when it gets more complicated it becomes tricky in some cases.
The other question you have to ask is why can you get someone to install a boiler within 48 hours who isn’t employed by that company? Surely, if that engineer is of a high standard then they should already be booked up right? Or at least for the next week, no one can afford to sit around and hope and pray that the call comes in for a job tomorrow. Now I’ve seen some very good installs done by online companies but then again I’ve seen some bad ones as well so there isn’t that much consistency. You could say this about any local independent business, but in reality, the good installs far outweigh the poor installs and most work comes via word of mouth. My other concern is what is their customer service going to be like further down the line? It’s not like you can go and bang on their front door and what if they’ve gone bust. Where do you go then?
The online companies have been under cutting the industry by and large, making a loss on the sale in order to establish themselves in the hope that volumes will be large enough in the coming years.
This has got me thinking, why have we been doing so well, especially considering all the Brexit talk? Are we starting to now see online companies prices creeping up? Could it now be that there’s more track record with customer experiences that result in reviews of how it’s actually panned out, and I’m not just talking about immediately after installation but 1 or 2 years down the line when their customer service is starting to be tested? I’m not sure, but maybe now we are starting to see some similarities to what has happened in the housing market with the well-known online estate agents.
There was a boom period with online estate agents popping up everywhere 5 years ago. In the past 12 month’s we’ve seen online agents closing down with even the mighty Connells Group openly admitting that their venture into the online agency business model was now a bust. In their defence, they bought an established business called Hatched to ensure that they had their foot in the online market if things really started to go south on the high street but none the less, it hasn’t worked. The general consensus is that not only are customers becoming wise to the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is but also these companies have now run out of money as they were selling at a loss with the hope that volumes would become large enough to work with such small margins. The model hasn’t worked so now they are shutting up shop.
What the online agents have done is make the high street agents a lot more competitive and really concentrate on offering an exceptional customer service. So now going back to online boiler replacements, are we seeing the successful engineers and businesses really going back to basics and making sure that the customer is getting the best service as possible. From my point of view, I really hope so. Don’t get me wrong, there will be thousands of happy customers across the country but then there’s been tens of thousands of online boiler replacements carried out so is the percentage of happy customers the same levels as customers who used local businesses? I don’t have the answer to that question but it certainly intrigues me.
Ourselves certainly aren’t the cheapest but then we know that that business model doesn’t work in the long run. We concentrate on being competitively priced, but ultimately, it’s our reputation and customer service that we invest our time and effort in. In most cases, your letting a stranger into your home, not only to provide an estimate whilst your there but to also fit that boiler without the need for you to be present whilst the works are underway. You should always have total piece of mind that what you’re paying for is what you get.
Only time will tell if the online model will work long term but what it does show is that customers still value the face to face approach with expert advise and in most cases are willing to pay that little extra to have a local reputable business undertake the works.
I would like to personally thank all our customers for continuously putting your trust and faith in our team as no one likes to be left in the cold.