PHPI speaks to Mike Joy, Owner of Grakob and inventor of Plumb Thumbs – a product set to raise the bar when it comes to best practice and efficient radiator removal.
What’s your background in the industry?
I initially started my plumbing apprenticeship back in January 1997 at H Pickup M&E Services Scarborough. I mainly worked on commercial installations but the company also carries out work in large domestic properties. After seven years with the company, I moved on to qualify as a plumbing assessor for a local college, delivering NVQs to local apprentices.
After setting up as a self-employed engineer for a while, I returned last February to the company to take on the role as Mechanical Contracts Manager. I have such fond memories of working with some really ‘old-school’ fitters there who make installing pipework and setting out plant rooms an art form, and it’s great to be back.
How did you first come up with the idea for Plumb Thumbs?
How many people out there have been guilty of lifting off a radiator and spilling the murky water on a floor? Or you lift a radiator off and, as you’re carrying it out, a door shuts in your face and you’re left doing a ridiculous dance trying to push down a door handle with your knee?
I first started using a cap end on 15mm tailpieces and always struggled to find something for the 22mm tailpieces. In the end, I flattened a piece of copper tube and soldered on a cap for the 15mm ones and the face of an old radiator valve for the 22mm ones, and these seemed to work a treat – particularly on larger units.
I realised I had found a mechanical replacement for using fingers and thumbs over the connections – hence the name Plumb Thumbs. These little gadgets assisted in removing the radiators full of water if desired, giving a 100% watertight seal that would allow you to take the radiator off the wall and spin it in any orientation or placing it directly onto the floor without the risk of damaging any floor coverings or trailing water/sludge through a customers’ property.
There was no purpose-built tool to do this job, so I set about trying to change that. I gathered some funds together and we set up Grakob – a mixture of my children’s names Gracie and Jakob – in September 2013. Our patent was granted shortly after in 2014.
How has the product changed from the initial prototype?
The initial prototypes were flattened pieces of copper with soldered on connections to connect to the radiators but these did not look very professional. I then decided to take my idea to an engineering company and we switched to diecast aluminium tools – but these were only available with a 15mm connection.
We had a great response to the 15mm tools but we received lots of feedback regarding the fact we did not have a 22mm variation. We had met and talked with other tool manufacturers and had been advised to go down the plastic route. I must say I was not sold on this idea initially, as I had reservations regarding the strength of the tools. But we approached an injection moulding/plastic specialist and talked at length regarding material selection and decided to go with the glass filled nylon tools. I was surprised at how strong these bad boys are now! I have literally swung on them in a vice and couldn’t snap them.
We now have a tool to offer that is fit for purpose and looks professional, and I would say is a must not just for plumbers, but also anyone associated with radiator removal, to protect your customers’ property. They also reduce the risk of back injury when having to bend down to remove radiators from the wall.
What’s the marketing plan going forward?
We visited a tool trade show earlier in the year, and actually won a ‘Highly Commended Award’ for the product, which was fantastic! I also think social media has a massive impact on business these days – we can be found on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In addition, we have a web page (www.grakob.com) which has a demo video of the tools being used on a live working heating system.
I am a big fan of installer reviews, at the end of the day it’s the end users’ thoughts on the product that counts, so we’ll be pushing those as well.
Where do you see the product being in five years?
I would like to see Plumb Thumbs sit amongst a small, unique product range dedicated to making the working day easier for tradespeople.
What do you do outside of plumbing?
Outside of my day job, I love spending time with my kids and family. I’m also constantly tinkering in the garage at home developing other ideas. We have some other construction industry related plans that hopefully we can develop and bring to the market in the not so distant future.
I also love sea, coarse and match fishing in the spare time I do manage to get. If I can, I try to sneak the odd day fishing on the River Severn for Barbel – stunning part of the country!