With a projected turnover of £25m over the next five years, County Durham-based firm 0800 Repair is going places – and with engineers driving distinctive vans complete with 7ft screwdrivers on top they will not be missed either. Kate Syers reports as the firm looks to attract 150 franchisees.

IT’S every housewife’s nightmare. Returning from a hectic holiday, you’ve just set the first load of washing away, the kids are whining and you’re madly raiding the cupboards for something to give the family for tea, when suddenly a small puddle starts forming in front of the washing machine.

Rapidly this grows larger and larger until soon, the whole kitchen floor is awash.

Luckily, help is at hand.

And it comes in the form of a bright yellow and black van with a 7ft screwdriver on the roof. The guys from 0800 Repair have arrived.

“We actually chose the colours yellow and black to look a bit like the emergency services,” says Paul Feek, managing director of County Durhambased 0800 Repair.

“We’re like the fifth emergency service.”

0800 Repair offers repair and installation services on domestic appliances, the bane of many a housewife’s (or househusband’s) life when they go wrong.

Based in Chester-le-Street, the company operates across the UK, fixing all manner of domestic appliances, from dishwashers and washing machines to cookers and vacuum cleaners.

It is part of the Pacifica Group, also based in Chester-le-Street, which also provides and sells warranties for domestic appliances.

0800 Repair was born in July this year after the company rebranded from JTM Contracts – right in the heart of the recession. But unlike some companies, the economic climate does not seem to have damaged 0800.

“The recession’s been a real leveller for us,” said Mr Feek.

“We used to get lots of work on brand new appliances through warranties, and there has been a serious decline in new sales.

“But on the flip side, the traditional customer might have thrown the appliance away if it broke, but more and more people are now getting them repaired.

There has been an increase in repairs to appliances of up to five years old.

“This section of the business has grown over the last year.

“0800 Repair does a lot of work on appliances that are outside of the manufacturer’s guarantee so it was a good time to launch in July this year.

“Also, before the recession people were not interested in buying a warranty but lots more people have been taking out warranties over the last year, afraid about machines breaking down. All in all the recession has not really affected us.”

But 0800 Repair’s success has not simply been down to luck and good timing.

Much of the reason for its swift growth is down to its inherent experience. Its founders have been in the business for decades and know their industry inside out.

The initial partnership behind the company was made in 2005. At that time, Kevin Brown and Scott Pallister had both been made redundant from Northern Electric. Mr Brown had been an engineer and had worked up the ranks to reach the level of operations director, while Mr Pallister had been the financial controller on the retail side of the business.

Together they set up the Pacifica Group in 2003, which sold and organised extended warranties for domestic appliances to retailers of white goods and electric products.

They often contracted repair work out to Mr Feek, a contact from their time at Northern Electric, who had been running his repair firm, JTM Contracts, since 1994.

“We used Paul to do the repairs on the warranties we sold,” said Mr Brown.

“I’d known Paul for many years so when we decided to set up a repair arm of the business in 2005, he was the first person we approached.

It was like ‘try before you buy’.”

In 2005, Pacifica Group bought out JTM and together the trio set up as equal partners. “It just seemed a good fit,”

continued Mr Brown.

“Where you see a warranty there’s always the opportunity to do a repair, so it just made sense.”

Mr Brown now runs the warranty division of the business under the company name CSS, while Mr Feek operates the newly established 0800 Repair.

To give some indication of how the business has grown since then, in 2005, Mr Feek’s division was responsible for about 150 repairs a week. That figure has risen to 2,500 repairs a week.

Until recently, 99 per cent of Mr Feek’s work had been business to business, working directly for retailers, manufacturers and insurers, including names such as Argos, LG Electronics, Domestic and General, Panasonic and John Lewis, as well as for manufacturers as far afield as China, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.

But now he is looking to crack the home market and bring his expertise to Mrs Bloggs at number 32 with her broken washing machine. And hence the reason for the rebrand.

“The name JTM Contracts does not mean anything to your average person on the street,” said Mr Feek.

“So we wanted to rebrand as something that would mean something to the customer.

From the brand name you know we do repairs and you know we’re a free number.”

And the brand has even been built around that number. Type in 0800 Repair to a phone keypad with letters under the numbers and you will come out with 0800 Repair’s number.

Initial research carried out by the team indicated that about 85 per cent of people remember a phone name, as opposed to only 15 per cent who remember a phone number.

Therefore, they named their company after their telephone number to help people remember how to contact them.

“It’s a popular concept in the US where nearly all the 800 numbers are used up,” said Mr Feek. “But we seem to be one of the first companies in the UK to take this up.”

The rebrand took more than a year of careful thought and planning, and the trio consulted business experts to help them develop their business plan.

The most important and influential of these was Jim Zockoll, the founder of home repair company, Dynorod.

Mr Zockoll had founded his company 25 years ago and built it up on the franchise model developing Dynorod into one of the largest and most successful franchise models in the UK at the time.

After meeting Mr Zockoll at an industry show in Birmingham, the trio developed a close rapport with him and he invited them to London for further talks, and ultimately came onboard in a permanent capacity.

“His business model had been built on the concept of one man and a van and JTM as a business had a number of similarities. Our business model and the one he had developed were very similar,”

said Mr Feek.

“Between last year and this year, we spent a whole year working with Jim, developing the business model and styling and branding of the business before launching 0800 Repair at the end of July.”

The company is built on the concept of having employees, franchisees and approved subcontractors, and the continued growth of the business will rely on all three.

0800 Repair is keen that the same rigorous standards are adhered to but wants to offer skilled engineers across the UK the opportunity to run their own franchises under the 0800 banner. The company hopes to develop a further 150 franchises over the next five years.

Currently turning over £12m, 0800 Repair hopes to grow this figure to £25m in the next five years. And this is eminently possible according to the three partners.

Mr Feek said: “In 2007, 13 million white goods appliances were sold in the UK and we know they’re all outside of guarantee now.

“Some may have extended warranties but as only six per cent of customers buy these, this leaves about 11 to 12 million appliances uncovered; all opportunities for us.

“In 2008, 11 million were sold and the same again this year.”

The firm also hopes to create several dozen jobs to help fuel this growth.

Currently employing 104 staff over its operations in Chesterle- Street, Sheffield, Leeds and London, over the next five years the company envisages creating at least 60 call centre posts and further engineering jobs.

The aim of 0800 Repair is to serve as a one-stop shop for the customer.

“We aim to look after the customer no matter what has happened to their appliance,”

said Paul.

“We will repair it if it is broken, protect it with a warranty and even supply a replacement appliance if it cannot be fixed. We want to be the business that offers all the solutions.”

So, don’t be surprised if you see a bright yellow and black striped van driving up your street any time soon. It may not have a siren but the company seems well on the way in its desire to become the fifth emergency service.