Challenging stereotypes and building trust
Being made redundant in 2009 was the push Anne Timpany needed to get her business started. Her husband Raff had been working as a plumber for a firm in north London but decided it was time to go out on his own.
Combining his plumbing skills with Anne’s strengths in sales and marketing they set out to create their own business and On Tap Plumbers was born.
Anne wanted to change the way people thought about plumbers and worked hard to create a business that was young, fresh and contemporary.
“There’s an impression that plumbers are unreliable or are cowboys, so we wanted to create a company that was trustworthy and reliable,” says Anne.
And with a well-maintained website and with Anne as the face of the business, they were sure people saw them as more trustworthy than rival businesses.
“When Raff did house calls it was more often than not a woman at home to let him in,” says Anne. “And it was usually a woman making decisions about new bathroom fit outs, so when they spoke to me on the phone they felt they could trust me.”
In the first two years of business, Anne had two little boys and worked exceptionally hard to drum up business, attending as many networking events as she could and spreading the word.
At the time, they were focused on the north London domestic market, which meant doing everything from installing bathrooms and boilers to unblocking drains. But they soon started getting opportunities to tender for commercial projects and got their first one in 2011 – an industrial warehouse at Heathrow Terminal 4.
“From there we got more opportunities with the same contractor and then we went into the luxury residential market,” says Anne.
Making the decision to step away from domestic jobs and focus solely on the commercial market meant Raff was able to go from working seven days a week at all hours of the day to working normal working hours Monday to Friday.
“It also meant we could scale the business a lot quicker,” says Anne. “Rather than going around networking events and getting £70 call out charges, we can have six client projects at an average value of £500,000.”
Growing the business
Now in their tenth year, the business has grown exponentially. Instead of house calls, Raff employs a team of plumbers and they’ve worked on projects like Facebook’s London HQ and the Leadenhall building. And to reflect how far the business has come, Anne and Raff have recently rebranded.
“We’re now ATRA Living. When we started out the business was very consumer related,” says Anne. “But we do more than just plumbing, we’re expanding and delivering other services. We think the branding and the name of the company needs to move with the times as well.”
Part of the growth and success of ATRA Living is down to the great working relationship that Anne and Raff have.
“We both totally respect each other’s opinions,” says Anne. “I don’t stand on his toes and tell him how to manage the team and he doesn’t tell me how to do a tax return. We stay well away from each other’s detailed responsibilities.”
And the great work their doing is being recognised. In 2017, Anne won a NatWest everywoman award, which recognises the achievements of female entrepreneurs, and was given the Freedom of the City of London in The Worshipful Company of Plumbers.
Driving business forward with Xero
Getting on board with Xero five years ago gave Anne a much needed overview and insight into how the business was performing. Besides, being a Kiwi herself it was a no-brainer to use a business that started in her home country.
“My bookkeeper recommended Xero,” she says. “She told me they were a Kiwi company and I immediately said, ‘Done!’ – I really want to support Kiwi businesses.”
And luckily for Anne, her accounting software is also really good at supporting her small business.
“I’m not a qualified financial individual, but Xero made it so easy for me to be able to manage my company’s finances,” she says. “It’s very visual, it’s very straightforward. Everything we do for the business financially is driven through Xero.”
As a mechanical building services company, using the Xero Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) feature is vital. It makes managing ATRA Living’s CIS obligations easy and means calculations and deductions are handled automatically. And from Anne’s point of view, it’s not even something she has to think about.
“My bookkeeper does it all and it’s really easy for her to do,” says Anne. “We support our CIS & VAT returns through it and my accountant has access to it all for our end of year tax returns.”
With a large number of jobs running at the same time, using Xero Projects has been integral for keeping track of ATRA Living, and has also helped save time and money.
“If you got an individual to do the job that Xero does it would cost a fortune, so it definitely saves time and money,” says Anne. “It gives a really accurate picture of what’s going on on a day-to-day basis.”
Understanding where your strengths lie and playing to them has been a big part of the success of ATRA Living and Anne advises new business owners to get help in the areas that they need it.
“If finances aren’t your strength, then give it over to someone or something like Xero that can manage it for you,” she says. “Xero helps you keep focused on what you should be focused on: whether you’re making any money or not.”