Mark Conacher, director at installation specialist Liberty, looks back at his career and reveals the 7 pieces of advice he'd like to have been able to have passed on to his younger self.
Around the age of 18, many of us embark on an employment journey filled with uncertainty but, at the same time, boundless potential. We step into the world of work armed with dreams, aspirations, and a strong desire to carve our own path in life.
Looking back, I can see countless lessons I've learned during my own journey as an installer and then as the owner of a kitchen and bathroom installation company. If I could, I'd love to go back and whisper a few words of advice to my younger self. Here are a few pearls of wisdom that I believe every 18-year-old coming into the KBB industry should know.
1. Just How Important Mentors Are
Like most 18-year-olds who believe they can conquer the world independently, I didn't fully appreciate the immense value of the wisdom dished out by my mentors. Mentorship plays such a critical role in the development of young trade apprentices, and having experienced tradesmen as mentors during my apprenticeship offered me a learning experience that went far beyond traditional training methods. Only later did I realise just how important those relationships were. Over the years, I've learned that mentorship isn't solely about imparting technical skills; it's a perfect opportunity to teach the importance of professionalism, leading by example, and showcasing punctuality. Add to that an attention to detail and a strong work ethic, and a mentor's guidance will undoubtedly accelerate the learning curve. At 18, soaking all this up like a sponge is crucial. 'You are who you hang around with.'
2. Entrepreneurial Skills Are Crucial
Starting my own installation company was an obvious progression, but it came with a harsh reality check. I quickly learned that being an installer and being a business owner were two distinctly different roles. Understanding the fundamentals of running a business, such as knowing your numbers, marketing, and nurturing customer relationships, is essential. A solid foundation in these areas can be the difference between thriving and merely surviving in the industry. Learning when to ask for help and when to say no is vital. 'Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people.'
3. The Importance Of Niching Down
My younger self would have believed that being a jack-of-all-trades was the ultimate key to success. However, I've learned that specialisation is, more often than not, the path to more significant achievements. Focusing on a niche within an industry, whether that's kitchen installation, bathroom installation, or another specific area, can set you apart as a specialist. It allows you to hone your skills and build a reputation as an expert in your field. 'Don't try to be everything to everyone.'
4. Adaptability Is Key
The kitchen and bathroom industry is ever-evolving, with new materials, technologies, and design trends constantly emerging. It is, therefore, essential to recognise that adaptability is a cornerstone of long-term success. Learn how to embrace change and always be open to new methods. Continually educating yourself and staying up-to-date with industry trends will keep your skills relevant and your business competitive. 'If you hear: "But that's the way we've always done it", pivot. And run a mile.'
5. Relationships Matter More Than You Think
In my early years, I was primarily focused on the technical aspects of my work and at the time, I needed to grasp the profound importance of relationships. Building a network of satisfied customers, suppliers, and industry colleagues is invaluable. A strong professional network can open doors to new opportunities, provide support during challenging times, and contribute to your own growth and that of your business. 'Never burn your bridges.'
6. Don't Focus On The Money
At 18, money appears to be the only reason for working, so the focus naturally turns towards the quickest ways to accumulate as much as possible. The more you can do, the more you can earn. However, I soon realised that quality always trumps quantity. Focus on delivering exceptional work, even if it means taking on fewer jobs. Money is a by-product of quality and hard work. 'Focus on the process, and the money will follow.'
7. Never Stop Learning
Over the years, I've come to understand that learning has to be a lifelong practice. New techniques, materials, and technologies are constantly emerging, and staying curious and continually seeking knowledge will help keep you at the forefront of the kbb industry. Whether through workshops, online courses, or industry-specific events, your quest for learning should never cease.
While we can never turn back time, we can all share our experiences and insights with the next generation of installers, designers and KBB professionals, equipping them with the knowledge they will need to thrive in this ever-evolving industry.
If you're starting out on your journey, remember that your path will be paved with many challenges and occasional triumphs, and each lesson learned is a step toward your own unique success story. 'Every day is a school day.'