Business Leader recently sat down with former The Apprentice star and CEO of ImpraGas, Joseph Valente to talk about his time on the show and how his business is taking on British Gas.
CAN YOU GIVE OUR READERS AN OVERVIEW OF IMPRAGAS?
ImpraGas is the National Boiler Installer of the Year 2019. Now nationwide, covering all of England, Scotland and Wales, it provides a 48-hour sales to installation guarantee which is unrivalled in the industry. Priding itself on honesty, reliability, value for money and innovation, ImpraGas’ aim is to dominate the UK marketplace and overtake British Gas.
WHY DID YOU CREATE THE COMPANY?
Qualifying as an apprentice, I knew I wanted to have the chance to work for myself. I learnt my trade, qualified and set about founding ImpraGas. I took out a personal loan, dug out the Yellow Pages and went door to door of every estate agent in Peterborough offering my services as a qualified gas engineer. I landed my first contract that day, and ImpraGas was born.
The industry has largely stayed the same for the past 20 years. And although when I started, I functioned in the same way, over time I saw the opportunity to grow the business and work with customers in a far more strategic and efficient way.
We now offer customers the chance to purchase a new central heating system and pay monthly. We offer a 48-hour turnaround to installation and provide all customers a five-star level of customer service.
WAS THERE A GAP IN THE MARKET?
British Gas had dominated the industry for so long that customers didn’t really feel they had any other large-scale organisation to turn to. 80% of the industry was made up of one-man bands meaning there was room for another major player in the market.
We didn’t just want to be another boiler installation business though. We wanted to dominate the industry, and ultimately offer the best value on the market and a brand customers could trust.
HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCE ON THE APPRENTICE HELP YOU AS A BUSINESSMAN?
Each task was like a mini business masterclass in all areas, from sales, marketing, and pitching, to product design, research and negotiation. The experience allowed me to experience all these elements in a highly pressured environment, most importantly the boardroom environment. Plus, having Lord Sugar as a business partner allowed me to deal 1-1 with one of the world’s biggest business moguls, making me a winner in the boardroom!
It is super-fast paced; you always have to be switched on, and it is very cut-throat. It’s also very easy to see your flaws, which is a good learning experience. The word ‘team-player’ doesn’t usually come through from The Apprentice, but for me, it’s what set me apart. Yes, I knew I wanted to win, and I always knew I could win. I just didn’t want to step on everyone to get there. My merit, ability and passion were what, I feel, set me apart from the other candidates. I’d like to think I’m doing the same in the gas industry now.
WHAT DID WINNING THE APPRENTICE MEAN TO YOUR CAREER?
The Apprentice put my business career on steroids, it has given me a fast track to the top of my game and opened many doors. The publicity alone allows you to have conversations with companies and individuals who otherwise wouldn’t know you exist.
However, it isn’t a walk in the park. Don’t by any means think you win and that’s it. Without hard work, dedication and a serious amount of drive, you’ll end up nowhere. I’ve put the time in and even before The Apprentice, ImpraGas was a successful business with a team of nine. We now have over 125 staff working around the country and it’s only taken us three years to get there.
LOOKING BACK ON IT, HAS IT OPENED A LOT OF DOORS FOR YOU IN YOUR CAREER?
Absolutely. Your name is already out there and the amount of press you receive both during and after the show ultimately helps to get you, and your brand, out there.
It’s like a free publicity campaign for your company, people already know of your business locally, but now they know of you and your credentials, nationally.
HOW HAS YOUR BUSINESS GROWN SINCE 2015 – WHAT DO YOU PUT THE GROWTH DOWN TO?
ImpraGas has grown from 10 people in 2015 to now sitting at 125+ in 2019. I put the growth down to simplifying my business model – having a unique position in the marketplace – backed by a sickening 100 hour a week work commitment and an amazing team to help pull it off.
We also work to a strict growth strategy. First testing an area, then securing enquiries which turn into sales and once they reach a certain level, we employ a new installer to service that area. It allows us to know that, that installer will have ongoing work. This means our staff retention is high and we can stick to our promise of a 48-hour turnaround.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP DO YOU HAVE WITH YOUR STAFF?
I am still fairly hands-on when it comes to working with, and in, each department, knowing all staff by their first name. When it comes to training, I ensure that our staff understand these three things: where we have been, where we are now and where we are going.
I make it my job to know the company inside out. I want my team to feel as inspired to grow the business as I feel, and I also want them to enjoy the benefits and the pride that being the ‘National Boiler Installer of the Year’ brings.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR IMPRAGAS AND YOURSELF?
The sky is not the limit, the universe is. We’re gearing up for our next round of expansion in March 2020, moving into renewables ahead of the government’s 2025 deadline for all new builds to be fitted with renewable heating sources, and continuing to grow team ImpraGas and smash our targets.
Personally, my new passion is teaching small businesses how to scale. I already run a scale-up mastermind where I’m working with a small group of small business owners that are looking to take the next step to growth. It’s tremendously rewarding and a real buzz to see them putting things into place and reaping the rewards. I’m expanding on this and will be running a new project this year, Scale Up Mastermind.