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John Tuck is retiring from the business he created 50 years ago. His business is so successful it will continue with his name. Kathryn Kernohan chats to John about plumbing, business and retirement.
After almost 50 years in the plumbing industry, John Tuck recently swapped the tools for a caravan. The former Director of Melbourne’s fourth-generation family business, Tuck Plumbing, described his impending retirement as “a bit surreal” when he spoke to Master Plumbers during his final weeks.
“I’m actually finding it really hard because there is a finality to it after talking about it for a while. Particularly when I am emailing and calling people to let them know [I am retiring], it is quite difficult,” he said. “My wife is a teacher and she is retiring too, so we have talked about travelling around Australia in a caravan. When we are able to travel overseas again, we will be keen to do that too. We are both the sort of people who don’t like to sit still, so we will certainly have a lot of plans.”
Tuck Plumbing will continue to live on, with John having sold the business to a long-term employee.
“Mitchell, who will own the business, has been with us for 13 years and he is definitely part of the Tuck Plumbing family. I think he will build on the business, we used to be bigger but in the past few years we’ve cut back to just a couple of guys.”
With a laugh, John described himself as “a bit of a control freak” - one of the reasons it was so hard for him to say goodbye. “I really like to be hands-on with the business - we offer a high standard of service and I like to be across all aspects of what we are doing.
I am still on the tools myself but not as much as I used to be.” John’s grandfather founded his plumbing business in the 1930s, and his father, uncle and other relatives all worked together at various points. “When my dad was about 40, he decided that he would leave the plumbing industry and become a dairy farmer, as we lived on a farm near Shepparton. So I decided to move to Melbourne and pursue plumbing,” he said.
John entered the industry in 1973, two years later won Master Plumbers’ prestigious Andrew Letten Gold Medal, the highest industry award given to plumbing apprentices in Victoria, and has not looked back since.
Tuck Plumbing performs an even split of residential and commercial services. Residential services include hot water service supply and installations, water service repair and renewals, gutter and roofing repairs, maintenance and replacements and gas fitting installations.
Commercial clients include schools, aged care facilities, shops, hotels, council buildings and commercial real estate agencies. Tuck Plumbing works with commercial clients both on an ‘on call’ basis and via annual contracts.
John said the majority of the business’ work comes from word of mouth recommendations, and that customer service is key to its longevity.
“Customer service drives the business. It is all about communication, like letting the customer know if you’re running late and returning phone calls and e-mails quickly, as well as providing a high standard of work.
“One of the main things I have is connections with the community. A lot of our residential clients are grandchildren of clients my grandfather used to work with, and to build that trust and those personal relationships over many years are really important. People know that when they call the business they’ll speak directly to me, and that I am personally on hand to chat about anything along the way.”
And as for whether John’s son felt any pressure to follow his father, grandfather and great-grandfather into the plumbing trade? “There was never any pressure from us and in the end, because he saw me working all hours of the day and night, he decided to become a chartered accountant.”