The debate: Employed vs. subcontracted installers

The pros and cons of either employing your own installers or using subcontractors is an argument as old as time. To give some insight into the situation, we asked Steven Hume, founder and director of Quarrybank Plumbers about his own experiences.

For the last couple of years, my biggest frustration has revolved around this dilemma. This was amplified in March, after we won the kbbreview award for Installation Company of the Year, leading to an even greater demand for our services. 

When I started six years ago, I had one bathroom installer who remains with the company to this day. He is not just an employee; he is a machine. His efficiency and speed set very high expectations for anyone who followed. Few installers lasted long, as no one could match the prowess of Stan, my Slovakian star.

Stan represents Quarrybank Plumbers exceptionally well. Always dressed in a clean and labelled uniform, he epitomises what the company is about: top-quality workmanship, high customer service, and years of experience. I work with Stan directly and project manage his installations. If something isn’t quite right, we fix it before it’s noticed. Between us, we have over 75 years of experience – we’ve seen it all and fixed it all.

Both sides

Finding installers who could match Stan’s level has been a significant challenge. Many of those who tried came from a self-employed background, seeking stability and a regular salary without the tax implications. That’s fine, as long as they perform efficiently and to the level expected.

Once settled in a full-time employment contract, I noticed some installers took longer on projects than necessary. Unfortunately, with every delayed completion, profit margins shrink. It was a frustrating experience, catching my employees talking to customers or taking more breaks than allowed. The trust eroded, as did my profitability. 

So, I tried the subcontractor option. I ‘hired’ a subcontractor for three months, but it was not a good experience. I had no control over his work. He was often late without informing me or the customer. Towards the end, he stopped showing up on projects altogether. He even had his own sub-contractors for tiling and wiring, damaging my company’s reputation that I worked so hard to build. Letting him go was a relief.


Reflecting on these experiences, I’m currently considering a hybrid approach: employing staff while using subcontractors through our showroom. This seems to be working  well. Our showroom now has two one-man bands to handle our installations. They’re more cost-effective for clients compared to the premium services offered by Quarrybank Plumbers and fit in well during peak times.

On one hand, employing staff like Stan ensures control and consistency. We can enforce our high standards and ensure our brand is represented correctly. Employees often develop loyalty and a deeper connection to the company’s success. They can be scheduled according to our needs without the complications of external commitments. On the other hand, subcontractors provide flexibility. They can be brought in for specific projects, which is particularly useful during peak times.

Keeping a high level of control over the quality of service provided outweighs the extra overhead costs, as long as we find the right people. 

The journey to find another Stan is ongoing, but it’s clear that the balance between employing staff and using subcontractors is crucial to our planned future success. 

The lessons learned from both approaches have shaped our current strategy, allowing us to deliver top-notch services. With every challenge and project, we strive to uphold the reputation that won us our kbbreview award, ensuring that the Quarrybank Plumbers name remains synonymous with excellence.

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