Exclusive: Bathroom retailer beats the skills crisis by taking on own fitters

Independent bathroom retailer The Tap End in south Wales is beating the installer shortage by setting up its own in-house fitting operation.

Co-owner Justine Bullock (pictured left with co-owner Lynda Rees) has tackled the installer shortage head-on and hired a team of fitters. She believes that retailers are caught in a Catch 22 situation where they cannot get good people to install the designs but do not want to employ their own installers.

Bullock explained to kbbreview: “I think that’s why the industry is in the situation it’s in, with an installer shortage. No one wants their own installers but then complain they can’t find any good recommended ones. It isn’t Catch 22, there is something we can do about it and we are being proactive and no longer listening the negative side of having your own installation team – we just look at the positives.”

The Tap End installation team has started small and are all under 30 years old. Bullock says that the installers are all enthusiastic about their new roles and in time plans to bring in apprentices will be brought in alongside the current fitters.

Bullock added: “We have started with one installation team initially, the entire team are under 30 and are keen to progress and push the boundaries which is so refreshing as sometimes working with recommended fitters can be very frustrating when they are so stuck in their ways. We purposefully wanted a team who were full of energy and willingness and for us, in the recruitment phase, attitude was more important than craftmanship to a certain extent.

“Apprentices will now be brought in alongside the current fitters to learn and develop and then we will split the teams as the apprentices qualify and grow numerically year on year if the demand allows. So far, we have had a number of older applicants approach us about the apprenticeships, either looking for a career change, or to pursue a career that they have put off and now want to revisit. Our apprenticeships won’t be limited to people straight out of college – it’s more about their attitude and work ethic.”

Keeping up with training the staff is also imperative for the experienced fitters. The Tap End will provide training on new techniques.

A full turnkey service has been something that the customers at the Tap End has been enquiring about for years. The new venture hopefully will make them more comfortable with the service as they know the Tap End is managing everything.

Bullock said that it was a “no-brainier” when the team worked out how they could employ their own fitters. She explained: “We looked at how much business and money we were giving to a number of recommended fitters who could solely rely on our referrals.

“Once we worked out that financially we could have an installation team of our own and that we could fill their diary, it was a no-brainer. It allows us to have more control, provide better training and give clients greater peace of mind as it’s all under one roof, and ultimately it allows us to make more money.”

When the company started, Bullock did not want to directly employ installers as that was something people in the industry had told her ‘horror stories’ about. She said: “We didn’t originally think it was a good idea when we first opened The Tap End because our previous employer didn’t do it, and anyone we asked that we knew in the industry always put us off doing it as they would reel off horror stories.”

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