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Aliyah StoriesInterview with an Oleh tradesman.

Interview with an Oleh tradesman.

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Last Updated on October 18, 2021

Starting a Plumbing Business in Israel

Hebrew: הקמת עסק אינסטלציה בישראל

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Can you please tell us how you got into plumbing in Israel

I am a qualified, master plumber and had been working in my field for about 10 years before I came to Israel at the age of thirty.  I studied abroad,  did my apprenticeship and got my plumbing license in South Africa.    After completing my ulpan I worked for a large construction company so that I could learn about the local materials and plumbing and building standards.

I always wanted to be self-employed.  Working for a contractor on a building site was not my dream.  Conditions were hard and  I had nothing in common with any of my co-workers but I gained valuable experience and learned the local building codes. There is a very basic and short course for plumbers in Israel, hardly comparable to the 3 year course I did abroad.

How did you go about setting up your business?

I had almost zero capital and I had to make my business work with whatever I had. I had all these great marketing ideas and I was anxious to put them into practice. My wife and I were newly-weds, we had no children and so we felt that it was relatively safe to start a business. So with almost nothing except some specialized tools I had brought in my Aliyah shipment and  a lot of enthusiasm, I registered as an Atzmai and opened my business.  My wife knew a bit about accounting and so we did the books together.  I don’t recommend that – get an accountant straight away. If you are considering hiring a worker make sure you take all the extra costs like pension fund, severance pay, national insurance, bonuses, holiday gifts etc. into consideration. Make sure you understand the tax system and get your accountant to explain tax saving opportunities to you. I started off with an Anglo accountant but years later, I moved on and now work with an Israeli, Hebrew speaking accountant.

Did you take any business loans?

Over the years I took out a few small loans from the bank to buy new and better tools.  I took a 2,000 shekel loan out in the early ’90s and bought a fifth-hand truck. Just before my immigrant benefits expired, I bought a new truck and it served me well.  Ironically, even though my truck is the most important tool in my business, it is not fully tax deductible.

There are thousands of plumbers in Israel.  What is unique about the services you offer?

We chose to live in Haifa and as luck would have it, there were no other English speaking plumbers there at all so for starters I could offer this unique service to the local Anglo community.  I knew that I could not rely entirely on Haifa’s small Anglo community and so I continued to learn Hebrew and build and grow Hebrew speaking customer base as well.

Back in South Africa I had been the chief plumber in a commercial complex that included a 50 storey office block, a shopping mall and a hotel as well.  In this position I gained extensive experience in water system design, leak detection, troubleshooting and diagnosis.  This puts me ahead of most of the local plumbers. In comparison, residential plumbing is easy.

How did you market your business in those early days?

I had no business plan and the only market research I did was to count the number of plumbers in my local Yellow Pages – about 300 in 1990. From this I came to the conclusion that plumbing was lucrative and there would surely be enough room for me too.

I kept telling myself that I was the best in my area, if not in all Israel, and that if I did an honest job, customers would just start flooding in.

My marketing efforts were disastrous.  Every idea I had, everything that is common practice abroad and everything I had learned back home, did not work here in Israel.

There was no internet marketing in those days.  I had a listing in the Yellow Pages but for the most part I got new clients based on personal introductions and referrals.  Today, an internet presence is mandatory and fortunately my wife takes care of all of that for me. I get a lot of clients via the internet today.

Is the day-to-day running of your business any different in Israel?

Absolutely!!! I did not realize that every transaction in Israel is negotiable.  I quoted a price and expected the client to agree to it.  I had no idea that clients would haggle, dare to ask  for a discount or tell me how much they thought the job was worth. 

I assumed that debt collecting in Israel was orderly and dignified just as it had been in South Africa.  I expected to send out a statement of account at the end of the month, and then the client would mail me a check without delay.  How wrong I was. I physically had to go knocking on doors to get paid.  Fortunately there are many more payment options today especially with online banking services, smartphones and apps.

My clients trust me completely.  Some of them leave a key for me.  This saves them from taking time off work.  I go in and get on with the job.  You cannot do that in South Africa that’s for sure.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a plumbing business in Israel?

Set a standard and keep to it. Keep your expenses to an absolute minimum. Invest money in new state-of-the-art tools that will save on labor or improve the services you offer. Negotiate the price of materials and ask for discounts from suppliers.  Take advantage of smartphone technology – use it to get things done quickly and efficiently.

My advice to new immigrants or anyone thinking about starting up; work for someone for a few years to gain insight and experience and make sure you ask lots of questions too.  Learn Hebrew and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

There are times when I put in a 60 hour work week and there are times when I am fortunate enough to go home in the afternoon for a couple of hours.  I definitely work harder in my own business than I would have in a regular job. Would I do it all again?  I am not sure.  It has been tough at times.

As I get older, I realize that I physically won’t be able to maintain the demands my business makes on me.  I have no idea what I will do then.

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