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70 years ago, an expanding plumbing business in the northeast Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg became a member of the Associated Master Plumbers of Victoria, which this year celebrates 130 years. Learn the secret to their success.
In its 86-year history, RC Urquhart has employed four generations of the Urquhart family. Now on the 70-year anniversary of becoming a Master Plumbers member, the family have taken time to reflect on the businesses’ successes.
Director Paul Urquhart, grandson of RC Urquhart founder Robert Urquhart says: “Helping my dad to prepare some information about the highlights and business changes along the way, it’s been really nice to reminisce about the different people we’ve had working with us along the way and feel proud about all we have achieved.”
While the business has undergone many changes over its decades of operation, some things remain the same, such as RC Urquhart’s strong relationships with local clients.
In the late 1930s, RC Urquhart manufactured a hot water system for nearby business PW Chains. Paul’s grandfather was to manufacture its own cylinder and install it around the exhaust pipe of a power generator, thus providing hot water at no cost for the factory.
The relationship lasted for more than 80 years even after the client moved to neighbouring suburb Bundoora.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, RC Urquhart went into partnership with major retail chains including Coles, Woolworths and KMart, often working in refurbished sites.
Above and below ground fire service work became a big focus in the 1980s, and a long-standing relationship with Network Fire Systems continues to this day.
“The fire service work is probably still my favourite thing we do, probably because my dad had me doing it during my apprenticeship. I love training guys to work in that area and although I’ve been with the business for 36 years, I still get a bounce in my step when we land a decent fire-service job,” says Paul.
Plumbing was always in Paul’s blood. His uncle, Robert Urquhart Jr, began work with the business as an apprentice at age 14. Paul’s father Donald started work in the late 1950s and took over the running of the business after Robert Snr passed away in 1966.
Paul followed in his family’s footsteps by beginning his apprenticeship in 1985, at around the same time the business relocated to a yard and office on a newly purchased block of land on Northern Road, Heidelberg.
“I actually spent two weeks doing work experience as a chippie but they turned me off by just getting me to sweep the floor,” he says with a laugh.
“So, the next week I went back to plumbing and I never looked back. Some of my earliest memories as a kid was helping my dad on the weekends and going out on jobs with him.”
Paul wasn’t the last Urquhart to join the business either - his cousin Luke started his apprenticeship in 2002, and the fourth-generation Robert Urquhart joined three years later.
There are relatives in the office too, with company accountant Ian Urquhart having been with the business since the early 1960s and Paul’s siblings Donna and Cameron having spent a decade working in administration.
In recent years RC Urquhart has downsized. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, there were about 20 plumbers employed but these days that number is closer to 15, including apprentices.
“We have taken on young and mature-aged apprentices, and I think the key is to train them into your system so they can adapt right away. I think at the moment the group is probably the strongest we’ve had since the 1980s.”
Relationships with long-standing clients continue but RC Urquhart also provides a broad range of domestic and commercial services across plumbing, gas fitting and roofing as well as fire hydrant and hose reel works.
Paul is still on the tools “every now and then” but most of his time is devoted to the day-to-day running of the business alongside fellow Director Marshall Skinner.
With RC Urquhart’s 90th anniversary not too far away, Paul reveals his hopes for a centenary celebration in the future.
“I’d love the business to get to 100 years. If it’s still running in the same name and still with the Urquharts involved, that would be a great achievement.”