Hattie Hasan, winner of the Installer MERIT award, founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers and force of nature behind the Women Installers Together Conference talks to Sam Canfield - Marketing Manager - Communications, Graham, the Plumbers’ Merchant about the state of the industry, women and how merchants fit in it all.

Hattie: Our main focus at Stopcocks Women Plumbers and the WIT Conference is to get more women into the industry. I wonder what you think about that and why?

Sam: I’d say to any business, to be successful you need a diverse range of individuals no matter, race, sex, anything, age… To ensure the best customer experience we need all the different people to get involved in the industry. We all bring different abilities and skills, which is a necessity, to make it successful. And we all know that women are under-represented in this industry at the moment.

Hattie: Yes, the estimates we have say we’re still well below 3%. I was on a panel at the Installer Show a couple of weeks ago and one of the things that was brought up was that a lot of women prefer to order online because they don’t like the experience of being in a merchant. I wonder if you can fathom that, why it might be. Do you think women might have different needs particularly in relation to merchants?

Sam: Historically many merchants where an environment where people had to haggle and I don’t think that’s for everyone, male or female. We have done quite a lot of research over the last few years and found people like to know what they’re going to be paying. Like online, you click and you know the price. Earlier in the year we introduced a fixed pricing model called the Graham Trade Saver which hopefully will help with that. There’s no need to haggle any more. Also we’ve introduced Tell Graham it’s an online platform where we encourage our customers to give us some feedback. Negative or positive, we want to hear it all to make sure the customer experience, going forward is second to none and we can act quickly. They can comment from home, or where they like. They don’t have to take a phone call and they can give us their true thoughts and opinions.

Hattie: are you able to elaborate on what the feedback from women has been?

Sam: Most recently the feedback been about our new phone system, we’re working on that. It’s a work in progress, relatively new. Having it there as a tool empowers our customers to tell us how we can make their lives easier and better.

Hattie: In my years I’ve had very different experiences in merchants, from being completely ignored to being spoken down to as if I don’t know what I’m talking about, to being really looked after properly, to being treated with respect that I know what I’m talking about. One of the things we’ve been hearing stories about is to do with merchants and building sites, it’s to do with facilities. What’s happening on that front? I don’t know if there are toilet facilities on your branches?

Sam: Yeah, there are. Definitely a place to go to the loo or get a cup of tea or coffee. The last few years there’s been a lot of work to make the facilities nicer for our customers, making sure they don’t feel uncomfortable going into them. Clean, tidy and quite often a male and female option of the toilet as well. That’s always a nice thing to know

Hattie: I was in a rival merchant, we had to use the facilities and there was toilet paper and a sanitary towel machine which was a revelation to us, I’ve not seen that before but it can be an absolute godsend for women

Sam: Definitely! There are so many different needs, we’re not going discriminate against anybody.

Hattie: Do you think that implementing policies around this will benefit Grahams and the industry as a whole? In terms of making things a bit more equal for everyone to go into? Of making women more welcome?

Sam: The work that we’re doing, we don’t see it as a policy, we see it as cultural change. Everyone now knows you’ve got to be a bit more open, you’ve got to change the way that you’re thinking. We’re not in old times any more. Moving with the times and making that part of the culture in the workplace every day its better for everybody.

Hattie: Do Grahams do training with Merchant counter staff?

Sam: Yes, we do we have quite a lot of online training, it’s called The Knowledge; it trains them on principles conduct, and action and attitude, That’s part of Saint-Gobain. Everyone understands that the business expects you to treat people properly. It’s not just product and we carry on doing that throughout the duration of anyone working with us. There’s always new modules. It’s always evolving, as the world is really.

Hattie: There was a discussion panel at the Installer Show last week, one of the things was particularly about what’s the female experience and how do we make it a good experience. We were a little bit worried about how it would be received and actually it was REALLY well received, so personally I think that there’s so many things happening at the moment. The industry’s opening up. I had so many guys coming over because they recognised me from social media, really it was great. And I think that, that seems to be spreading across the industry. There needs to be joined up thinking between manufacturers, merchants, installers, everyone.

Sam: I think, having done shows myself, you notice, it’s not so male dominated any more. There’s a lot more women in the industry as a whole. And I don’t think it’s that the industry doesn’t want females any more, it’s about women coming into it. I’ve been in the industry 12 years, at Graham and somewhere else and always felt quite welcome. It’s just getting out there.

Hattie: I think the chalkface is where more challenges are but even that’s changing. The landscape is totally changing, and I think that the WIT Conference has had something to do with that, and all the companies that have supported it, this is Graham’s second year and I want to say we really really grateful. For us that shows there’s a commitment, there is a change happening, and all the companies supporting us are a big part of that change. I’d like to say thank you for that but also what’s your opinion on the conference, basically the exposure of having a day women installers can get together?

Sam: Definitely, it’s a great thing to get involved with. I think if you want to come into the industry you have to go for it as women. I’ve seen it in HIP, there’s a lot more young women doing their apprenticeships and competing in the HIP Apprentice of the Year and you can feel, it’s changing. It’s for everybody.

Hattie: I couldn’t agree with you more Sam. Have you got anything you want to say to perhaps women who might feel they don’t want to go into a merchant? How would you encourage them to go into Graham’s?

Sam: Go for it! Our branch managers are great people, they’ll welcome you in, there’s tea and coffee on hand, and we will welcome you!

Hattie: Certainly at the conference there will be lots that you can talk to them about. The last thing on my list is to women who want to enter the industry, you’ve said ‘Go for it’ several times…

Sam: Definitely, I’ve been in it since I was 18 and I’m still in it.

Hattie: Tell us a bit more, was it accidental, or did you choose to work in it?

Sam: A little bit accidental, how I got into it. My family has been in the industry some years so I started at a competitor, came to Graham and I’ve been here 12 years. I’d wanted to be a social worker and now I’m a marketing manager!

I’ve been in category roles as well so for me I’ve seen a lot of merchants along the years. And I don’t feel worried when I go into a merchant. People at the branch counter are great people, they want to serve and make it as best as possible. Merchanting is a great thing to be in.

Hattie: That’s heartening, because we do hear from women that their experience in merchants isn’t always great I want to support that, even to the extent that we have our event and Grahams support it. So I think the only way is up

Sam: Definitely, we’re moving forward.

Hattie: I did hear in one of my interviews that the average age of a plumber is 57 so I’m thinking the next few years we’re heading for a big drop in the number of plumbers, the so called skills-gap, so we should welcome all kinds of people who want to come into the industry.

Sam: There’s a lot of work needs to be done there. Bringing the next generation through and that’s what we’re working on currently to try and make sure, as a merchant we’re doing everything we can to support the next generation, and working with HIP to make it a better experience. Employers out there have got to start thinking, ’can we take on an apprentice?’ Because if they’re not willing to train anybody up, there’s no hope!

Hattie: I think talking about apprenticeships is a whole other interview!

The WIT Conference is on 4 July at The Building Centre, London 10-4. Entry strictly by ticket only.