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Despite the fact that in the heating industry in the UK, renewables are the sexy topic of the moment, that fact hides some perhaps worrying truths that are overlooked. Firstly that the number of renewable systems being installed, whilst on the rise, is still a tiny proportion of the heating system activity taking place and secondly, that very few installers out there understand the breadth of options available and can genuinely integrate different renewable and energy saving systems to offer their customers a system that does exactly what it says on the tin – reduces energy use, reduces carbon emissions and reduces heating bills. Too many systems are simply whacking in a heat pump, or popping in a wood burning stove – without the benefit of system design.
One that can, and does, very successfully is Dave Clarke & Son in Hinckley, in the heart of Leicestershire.
A thriving business now, employing 25 people and offering probably the widest range of renewable and energy saving options of any comparably sized firm in the country, the company you find behind the interesting faÇade of its ex-chapel, ex-Co-op premises in the centre of Hinckley is a far cry from the business that started life in Dave and Anne Clarke’s tiny back bedroom in 1982!
Having attended two job interviews and not fancying either very much Dave decided to go it alone and do his own thing, with the not inconsiderable support of wife Anne and the snazzy transport offered by their bright red mini van. The business grew on the back of recommendation and a growing reputation for quality and in 1984 the company took on its first apprentice. In 1985 the second followed and in 1987, five years into the success story, it took on three qualified tradesmen and began to use sub-contractors. The company was on the move!
Not surprisingly it outgrew the small bedroom and had to move into a larger one in the house. But that was a temporary move and they were soon looking for ‘proper premises’ – and found an ex-chapel that had been a Co-op but which had been empty for two years. It was owned by an Austrian company and a rapid exchange of views and an offer saw the property pass into their ownership. The Clarkes had their own business home, although it needed significant work to turn it into their new HQ!
This was thirteen years ago and since then, two new companies have been formed under the same umbrella – Greenheat Geothermal Limited and David Clarke and Son Electrical Contractors Ltd – two new stand-alone companies that saw the business become a one stop shop for most activities they were offering to customers in the region.
The company celebrates its 30th birthday in August 2012 and now boasts 25 employees in total. Son Dale and daughter Kerry are now directors of the company so there’s a planned succession in place to guarantee the company’s long term viability. Dale was Plumbing Student of the Year at Leicester College and participated in SkillBuild 2004 – Plumbing at Stourbridge College, defeating the UK Apprentice of the Year on route to the final.
The firm has its first ever female apprentice currently working her way through her qualifications – Emily Friswell joined the company in 2011 and is now in her second year plumbing and heating course at Stephenson College in Coalville. She’s one of four apprentices currently working with the firm, another of which – James Toulouse – is building a very high level of skill in the area of geothermals having recently picked up the Building & Social Housing Foundation Award for 2011 which saw him win £1000 worth of renewables training.
A visit to the Clarke’s base in Hinckley is an impressive eye opener for anyone interested in the area of renewables and energy efficiency – and that’s not just the bacon butties dished up by son Dale – if we mention that some manufacturers use the test rigs at the premises themselves because they are actually more impressive than their own – you begin to get the picture. Dave Clarke has reached a stage in his career where he doesn’t necessarily believe everything it says on the paperwork that comes with equipment he wants to include in a system he’s designing. He likes to test the equipment himself to the level that he feels is required before he includes the piece of kit – whatever it may be – in a system design that he is devising for a customer: “I like to test the equipment myself so I can genuinely recommend a piece of kit in a design, with confidence that it will deliver what I say it will deliver – not necessarily what the paperwork says it will deliver,” he says with something of a twinkle in his eye.
“When a customer comes along and says to me ‘This is what I want’ I tell them, you can have what you want of course, but I’m here to show you – and give you – the options available to you – then you can make an informed choice.” He is a firm believer in having working kit available in his showroom to let customers see the kit he’s recommending, in action before they make a final decision.
Let’s take an example of kit he’s now recommending to his customers. Wilo pumps. For many years he used a major competitor’s pumps in every installation. Then he was encouraged to take his team to visit Wilo’s headquarters in Burton-upon-Trent for a training day. He resisted for a while, but eventually was persuaded to make the time investment. After a day of hands on training, getting to like the feel and to appreciate the energy efficiency benefits of using Wilo pumps, the team sat down for a discussion. They were all mightily impressed, not just with the products they had seen and worked with, but by the level of technical support they had had and which was on offer from Gary Wheatley, Wilo’s technical manager at Burton. They had a very sticky issue with a pump on a project they were working on and decided to put Gary to the test. He was invited out to the site to offer his advice. An hour later, they were all sold! And from that day to this every pump installed by the company has been a Wilo pump. A quick look around the showroom will confirm their conviction that Wilo pumps are the ones for them – with several of the new Wilo Yonos-PICO circulators driving systems.
David Clarke & Son Plumbing & Heating is taking major strides as it offers cutting edge integration of renewable heating options for its customers locally and farther afield. The reputation of the company has well and truly spread, and they’ve been undertaking some very complex heating system installations across the UK in recent months as a result of recommendations from happy satisfied customers: “30 years down the road, we have a business of which we’re proud and a future that looks rosey,” says Dave Clarke as he beams at you from his bright green sofas in the showroom. “And it’s on the back of quality people, using quality products in quality designs. It all needs a bit of thought. You can’t throw this kit together and hope. It’s about understanding each individual product and understanding how they can complement each other and come together to produce the most energy efficient heating system you can buy.”