Swathi Saralaya Project Manager, IAPMO India & IWSH came to the World Plumbing Conference (WPC) in Melbourne to talk about the importance of women in plumbing and the issues they face.
The way Kendal Nash puts it, he walked out of the kitchen and into a plumbing apprenticeship. Kathryn Kernohan looks a little further into the life of this tropical island plumber.
One day, Kendal Nash was working as a chef in a restaurant on the beautiful Hamilton Island, where he says the heaviest thing he ever needed to carry was a bag of flour. The next day, feeling “a bit burnt out” from the hours and pressure of his career in the kitchen, he accepted a job opportunity from a friend to try some laboring work on a building site.
It was a lightbulb moment.
“I just loved it right away - being outdoors which I’d always enjoyed, being busy with my hands and working with people in a team environment. They’re still the things I love about the job today,” he recalls.
“The guy I was working with offered me an apprenticeship, I said yes, and I’ve never looked back. Along the way I had to get fitter and stronger, because the skills you need to be a good plumber are completely different to what you need as a chef, and I’ve enjoyed every second of the journey.”
Kendal says his natural progression as a plumber led him to form his own business, KNP Plumbing and Gas, in 2005.
The business is based in the picturesque coastal town of Airlie Beach and services the neighbouring regions of the Whitsundays, Proserpine and Cannonvale.
“We provide a broad range of residential and commercial plumbing and gas fitting services, including fit-outs, repairs, maintenance and renovations,” he says.
KNP Plumbing and Gas currently has a team of three full-time plumbers and one apprentice.
“My wife Alice leads our team in the office and she’s an integral part of the business and how we’ve grown over time - running the business backend, paying bills and managing accounts and invoices.
“It’s been a learning process for me along the way to understand everything that goes into running a successful business, and we’re now in a position where we’ve become more efficient.
“Technological advancements have really transformed my business and mean we’re less reliant on old-school paper forms and invoices, and we can get things done more quickly.”
While it sounds idyllic to live and work near the beach, and enjoy the Whitsundays’ tropical climate all year round, Kendal has also been forced to confront some of Queensland’s dangerous extreme weather events.
The most notable was Cyclone Debbie in March 2017, which lashed the Whitsundays and surrounding areas, and eventually caused around $3.5 billion of damage.
Some parts of the Whitsundays, including Hamilton Island, were left without electricity or running water for days after the categoryfour storm.
“It was incredibly scary to be here for the cyclone. I’m 42 years old and I’m not scared or shaken easily but when you’ve got 200-plus kilometre winds above your head for two days straight, you can’t help but feel it,” says Kendal.
The aftermath of the disaster meant there was increased demand for plumbing services as the community began the slow rebuild.
“We dealt with blocked and silted drains, storm water and sewage drains that were blocked, drainage and septic overflows… there were plenty of homes with roofs missing so we were up there with chainsaws trying to remove trees and branches and finding make-safe solutions.
“The cyclone was almost three years ago now but there is still residual work being done across our communities. It was devastating but it was great to see how the cyclone really brought our community even closer together. We have always been really tight-knit towns, and we all came together to support each other and help each other rebuild.”
Kendal is also proud that his business has gained a reputation for quality customer service, which he says is vital in an ever-competitive market.
“When I started the business, I wanted our point of difference to be that we had clean, tidy blokes working for us and we got jobs done on time. The rest takes care of itself if you have that reliability to begin with,” he says.
“I always say, if you booked a plumber to come on a Monday and they don’t show up on time and then when they do they have their butt crack hanging out and they’re wearing ripped shorts, you’re not going to be inclined to book them again.”
“We have newer utes for our plumbers to drive, we have newer toolboxes, we have uniforms for the team. It’s really important to us that we provide quality and cost effective services to our customers but the customer service side of things is just as important.”