SPARKY'S CORNER : KAREN BOOM
Every month we hand the blog over to a sparky and get their views on the industry. This month it’s the turn of Karen Boom, 45.
How long have you worked as an electrician?
“For five years. At the time I had given up my career as an IT Training Manager, to start a family, and I eventually decided not to go back to it. I was a bit bored and looking for something I could really get my teeth into, when I had a light bulb moment!”
How did that 'light bulb moment' come about?
“I needed an electrician and was disillusioned by the lack of customer service I came across. A lot of tradesmen quoted me for the work with a bad attitude; they were quite derogatory and made me feel like they were doing me a favour just by turning up. I wondered if there could be a gap in the market, not just for a female electrician but for female tradespeople in general, and the answer was "yes!”.”
What do you enjoy about your job?
“The flexibility of being self-employed is great and I particularly enjoy being able to manage my own time, but the most important thing is being able to maintain my own standards and choose my own work.”
What's the most interesting project you've worked on?
“I recently overhauled the lighting at a Toni & Guy salon in Brentwood, Essex, from halogen to LED, which was fantastic. The switch to LED lighting had such a transformative effect; the end result gave the salon such a professional finish. I always think it is amazing how much good lighting can make a difference. It can really influence the mood of a space."
What challenges do you face at work?
“The most challenging thing for a lot of tradespeople is managing people’s expectations. Communication is important; a client may ask for a job that, to them, seems very simple, but there can be logistical implications that complicate that job. It’s particularly important to convey how much time the work is going to take. For instance, I could spend 5% of my time at the job, installing, and 95% of my time working to find the right solution or product for the job."
Is that where reliable, simple products like Zano are important - solutions that are easy to install and simple to explain to the customer?
“Yes, and product knowledge really is key. It frustrates me when I am called to a job because a fixture isn’t working, to find a relatively newly installed part that has been poorly fitted, or wasn’t the right part for the job, or was just the cheapest option. Often in these cases, the customer doesn’t want to call back the electrician who has installed it because the trust between them has been damaged. Given the choice between a cheap, short-term solution and a ‘fit and forget’ product, the latter is always better."
Besides forming that turst with your clients, what are you key values at work?
“I would never install anything I wouldn’t have in my own home. Knowledge is power, and supplying your client with the right information will help them to make the right choice. I never compromise on my standards; for instance, I will only install LED lighting, not halogen, because energy efficiency is really important to me.
Before I trained as an electrician, I was clueless about the cost of my electricity usage. Now, I’m staggered at how little the average person knows about their electricity fees. If you asked someone how much it costs to fill up their car, they could tell you in an instant, but ask how much it costs to light their house and they haven’t a clue. I always try to emphasise that the initial cost of installing LED lighting could be seen as expensive, but the savings in the first year alone will outweigh that initial expenditure."
What issues do you come across in the industry?
“Dangerous, illegal installations are an issue. I’m often called to jobs by a customer complaining that their halogen lights are tripping, to find that they have been installed illegally. I have found cables that have melted from being trapped under joists and it really makes me angry, as it is so dangerous and unnecessary. As an electrician, customers put their trust in you to do something that they can’t; to break that trust is unacceptable.
Possibly my biggest bugbear is with lighting designers who don’t consider the installation process. It is an issue I see particularly with cheaper mass-market manufacturers; the product is made and tested at a desk, with no thought of how difficult it’s going to be to fit it while standing at the top of a ladder. I love those rare companies who look at things from an electrician’s point of view and ask themselves, “how easy is this to install?”