British Ideas Corporation, 2016
While too many plumbers create havoc for ordinary families with Barney Bodger pipework, spur-of-the-moment joints and wedged-in 4×2 – all nefariously hidden behind a bath panel – there are some, like Pimlico Plumbers, who take the job seriously and have clearly prospered as a result. Londoners will be familiar with the distinctive red, white and blue of Pimlico Plumbers vans but they’ll probably be more aware of the fleet’s private registrations, a creative toilet humour that pulls the chains of both young and old.
Pimlico Plumbers’ Lambeth HQ feels more like an enclave of ITV than a U-bend repository. In the reception, signed photographs adorn the walls signed by the firm’s famous customers. Harry Hill, Felicity Kendall, Boy George, Chris Tarrant and Diana Rigg are a few of the faces on offer, the latter writing: “Many thanks to Pimlico Plumbers for mending my leaky loo.” Even the amazing Emma Peel suffers with cracked conveniences once in a while.
In the depot, lavatorial numberplates abound but a prominently parked Bloo Acticlean-coloured Bentley, reg C114 RLE, indicates that company founder and chairman Charlie Mullins is in residence. His office, up a flight of stairs and through a room of smartly dressed telephone operators, is grander than a newspaper editor’s. On one wall, there’s a gallery of photographs documenting Mullins’ meetings with the great and good, while there, with pride of place behind his desk, sits a framed OBE. But we’re not here to discuss national recognition or celeb-packed black-tie functions. We want to know about BOG 1 and LAV 5!
Do all Pimlico Plumbers’ vans have private registrations?
We have 200 vans and I think at the moment 140 have plumbing-related numberplates. Our plan is to get one for all the vans but we’ve already got the best ones and the ones that are left, people are wanting lots of money for them. But they’re out there and eventually we’ll have all the vans done.
When did you start putting private plates on your vans?
The business started in 1979 but the numberplates started in 1990. The first one I bought was DRA 1N and I paid £6,000 for it. I had sleepless nights buying it: “Have I done right, have I done wrong?” I bought it mainly as an advertisement.
Would you say the registrations have worked for the company?
Yes, they’ve worked. It’s been great for marketing but also a great investment.
Do registrations go up in price over time?
Yes, normally, but a numberplate is only worth as much as someone wants to pay for it. Of course, with DRA 1N, there’s loads of drain companies, it’s a drain number, so all of these companies would want to buy it. We’ve turned down £100,000 for it. It’s the ultimate numberplate in drainage. You know, it says it all.
Do you have a value of your registration collection?
Yes, £1m. That’s a rough idea. I don’t know what they cost us, maybe £250,000. It’s a tremendous investment and a great marketing tool. We get plumbers being booked by numberplates, S110 WER, B1 DET, I’ve got LOOs, BOGs. And often they say, “I didn’t get the plumber’s name but he was driving F1 USH.”
Do you have somebody looking for registrations?
Yes, perfectreg.co.uk. They look around for us. But we also get dealers and people coming to us. I’ve just been offered BAS 1N but they want £30,000 for it. We get a lot of people come to us, offering to sell, but unfortunately they’re coming in with crazy money.
Do you have a limit to what you’ll pay?
Not necessarily. We’ve got a couple of similar ones to BAS 1N, like 51 NKS, and they’re half that cost. One of them was around £10,000, so they’ve gone up a bit, but £30,000 is too much. They’ve come in top end. I mean, it’s worth £30,000 if I’m being honest, but I’ve just paid £35,000 for CA11 OUT. Personally, I think CA11 OUT is a better number. It’s got a lot more power to it and a lot more usage. BAS 1N has got to go to a plumbing company; CA11 OUT can be an emergency service, security, anything. So on that price range, I think BAS 1N is too much. We always try to buy them reasonably but some people just go sky high with them.
We saw a Pimlico Plumbers Morris Minor van at Vauxhall station last week. Do you have a heritage-vehicle collection?
We’ve got two vintage vehicles. One has got the registration PP 3333, which was one of our phone numbers. Pimlico Plumbers double-three double-three.
Do your top employees drive the old vans?
No, we have an old fella drives them. Old vans need old people to drive them.
How has Pimlico Plumbers become so successful?
We’ve got a good team. You’re as good as the people you employ. We don’t employ waste-of-time people. We have strict codes about the way we dress, how we present ourselves, how we conduct ourselves, and I think if you’ve got good people on board, you’ll be a good company. In the plumbing trade, if you get a scruffy, untidy plumber, you’ll often get a scruffy, untidy job.
Looking at the photographs on your wall, all these people you’ve been photographed with, which person particularly stands out for you?
There’s two, Prince Charles and David Cameron. Charles is the most important guy and Cameron is second. Cameron is easier to deal with and talk to. Prince Charles is a great guy but he’ll give you one minute, whereas David would give you five minutes. I’ve met Prince Charles three or four times but the best occasion was obviously getting the OBE last year.
How does it feel to have an OBE?
You don’t think about it most of the time but then I’ll go into a restaurant or get on an aeroplane and wonder, “Has anyone else has got one in here?” So it’s lovely. You never expect to be awarded something like that. It’s great and it helps the business.
Pimlico Plumbers, pimlicoplumbers.com
That Pimlico Plumbers registration list in full:
1 BOG, 2 BOG, 3 LOO, 6 GAS, 8 OG, 8 WC, 9 TAP, 9 WC, 10 TAP, 21 WC, 40 RAD, 44 RAD, 51 NKS, 71 LER, 80 G, 84 TH, 84 THS, 111 BOG, 111 LAV, 111 WC, 222 LAV, 701 LET, BIG 247, BOG 1, BOG 2, BOG 555, GAS 6, GAS 8, GAS 9, GAS 15, LAV 1, LAV 2, LAV 5, LOO 3, RAD 5, WC 20, WC 24, WC 40, WC 55, WC 80, WC 88
PLU 11B, PLU 111B, FEM 41E, FEM 411E, NEW 80G, PLL 1G, FLU 55H, ALE 4K, BAS 11N, BAS 111N, DRA 1N, DRA 7N, DRA 11N, DRA 111N, RAD 150N, TAP 150N, PPS 110P, TAP 570P, MET 3R, LOO 5S, PLU 6S, SLA 73S, ALL 110T, LAV 1T, TOO 11OT, PPF 1X, WEF 1X
A1 EAK, A701 LET, A801 LER, B1 DET, B4 THT, B16 LAV, B19 TAP, B101 LER, C15 TEN, C157 ENS, F1 USH, F1 XPP, F1 XWC, F10 ODD, G2 LOO, G2 TAP, G451 EAK, G452 GAS, G454 ENG, H34 TED, H451 EAK, L13 ULB, L18 END, L981 TAP, K1 BOG, P1 TAP, P111 ELC, P111 PLU, P5 HOP, P6 LOO, P77 LOO, S1 NKT, S1 NKX, S297 OGC, S596 NGF, S879 JGN, S896 JGN, S897 JGN, T561 PGP, S1 NKS, S110 WER, T11 EWC, T11 LER, T743 JGP, W2 BOG, W2 LAV, W4 TER, W8 BOG, W8 LAV, W6 TAP, W10 BOG, W10 LAV, W11 BOG, X1 EAK, X309 GMV, X801 LER
HA51 EAK, LO02 JET, LO02 LOO, LO02 OLD, LO02 RAD, LO02 ROD, LO02 TAP, LO02 WET, GA52 GAS, GA54 ENG, TE57 LOO, TE57 TAP, AK11 AZW, CA11 OUT, PM11 LCO, LD64 CWL, AC15 TEN, GJ15 NKS, TH15 LOO, LD65 RZB, LD65 RZC, LD65 RWK, LD65 SDU, LD16 CDZ.