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After facing difficulties getting jobs as a female plumber, Tammy Buchanan launched her own business, Small Jobs Plumbing, in Halifax. Now she feels her biggest challenge is finding other qualified female plumbers to join her. (Scott Munn for The Globe and Mail)
After facing difficulties getting jobs as a female plumber, Tammy Buchanan launched her own business, Small Jobs Plumbing, in Halifax. Now she feels her biggest challenge is finding other qualified female plumbers to join her. (Scott Munn for The Globe and Mail)

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Female plumber can’t find enough women to hire Add to ...

The #Takeoff series is about crowdsourcing issues important to Canadian small businesses. They tell us about their defining moments and we write about their stories, the issues, and strategies for success or how to overcome obstacles.

As a woman with eight years of experience in the plumbing trade, Tammy Buchanan faced challenges getting job placements and fair pay in a male-dominated industry. So the 44-year-old launched Small Jobs Plumbing in Halifax this past December. Now her gender – the logo is a pink faucet – along with her certified plumbing skills, customer service and partner’s social media savvy are really helping this business take off. Small Jobs Plumbing is the first female owned and operated plumbing company in Nova Scotia, as well as the only local plumbing business in Halifax with a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter.

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Currently a sole proprietorship, Ms. Buchanan plans to register as a limited company next year and possibly franchise down the road. The business specializes in small renovations, appliance and fixture installation, and repairs at reasonable rates, filling a niche in the market because bigger outfits aren’t generally interested in going to a house for an hour’s job. About 25 per cent of the company’s work comes through QuickContractors.com Inc., an Ontario-based company that partners with big box stores such as Home Depot and Future Shop across Canada. Much of the rest comes through social media.

So far, being a female plumber has been an advantage, attracting local press and generating positive feedback. Often clients tell Ms. Buchanan they prefer a female plumber, even men who may be at work while their wife is home.

“Trust is certainly part of it,” says Ms. Buchanan. “You’re one-on-one with the client who’s having a stranger enter their home. There’s a comfort level that I seem to be able to offer right from the start.”

Ms. Buchanan wants to hire another female plumber to take advantage of the busy spring and summer renovation season, but says finding one who is qualified and experienced is “difficult, if not impossible.” She is not against hiring a man, but is concerned how that would affect the branding the company has built up, particularly on social media.

“Some day I’d like to be an all-female plumbing company,” Ms. Buchanan says. “We really want to advocate for women and give them an opportunity. That’s my goal.”

Brian Miske, chief marketing officer based in New York at KPMG LLP, a global accounting and management consulting firm, says Ms. Buchanan’s difficulty finding female employees is an opportunity to train women.

“An all-women team of plumbers would be fantastic as a point of differentiation, but there needs to be a defined approach to marketing this differentiation. The experience of the brand is paramount to consistency and the brand promise – how you advertise, what you say on social media, how you answer the phone, the service and the follow-up.”

Ms. Buchanan “needs to have a pipeline of women. She has an opportunity here to develop an apprenticeship program to help women working toward their journeyman certification in the plumbing trade, possibly partnering with local community college programs or by implementing an apprenticeship program in her workplace through Nova Scotia’s Provincial Training Division. She should also check out what the government provides in tax or financial incentives for initiating or funding programs such as this. Regardless of whether the team is female or male, the quality needs to be the constant.”

Jennifer Evans, co-founder and CEO of SqueezeCMM, a Toronto-based content marketing performance measuring platform, suggests Ms. Buchanan try to find qualified employees through a social media campaign.

“She can be a company of women and still have male employees without compromising brand or impacting her ability to hire. It’s great to make an effort to hire women wherever possible, but not if it severely hampers hiring qualified staff. I don’t think having a guy or two will hurt the brand, and could even enhance it, as long as they hire the right guys.

“That could be a really interesting social media opportunity. Launch a campaign to find the best female plumber in Canada or the best man for the job in Halifax. I’d address the issue of hiring a guy by being proactive about it and introducing him or her via social channels. She could also ask her customers for feedback in advance.”

Toronto-based Pamela Jeffery, founder of Women’s Executive Network (WXN) and Canadian Board Diversity Council, says it is not necessary for a female-oriented company to hire only women.

“Companies shouldn’t make decisions based on gender. I think it’s the best person for the job. That may sound strange as founder of the WXN, but I’m also the mother of sons. But there’s nothing wrong with advertising that this business is founded by a woman. I love that her logo is a pink faucet because she’s really differentiated herself from her competitors. It’s brilliant from a marketing standpoint, particularly with the record number of women buying their own homes.

“How many times did women walk into car dealerships 25 years ago and feel diminished? That fortunately changed as women gained more economic power. What she wants to deliver is a good customer experience with an emphasis on providing plumbing services that meet the needs of women. It doesn't matter whether that’s delivered by a man or a woman. It’s just someone who is trained to work well with a female customer. At the end of the day, if a male plumber comes to do the job, what matters is that the male plumber treats the customer in an appropriate way.

“Tammy has a tremendous opportunity to be a role model for other women because we need more women, and men, in the trades. If she continues down this road, she has the opportunity to really shake up this industry.”

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