Zach Jefferson, managing director of the family-owned Lincolnshire Flooring, talks about the many benefits of employing fitters directly.
Undertaking domestic and contract work alike, and doing so across the breadth of the UK, Lincolnshire Flooring has had to cultivate a sizeable workforce with wide-ranging skillsets. This wasn’t always the case though, md Zach Jefferson tells CFJ:
‘Lincolnshire Flooring started as a division of National Flooring. Back in the day my grandfather worked for a division of national flooring, and when it went into administration he bought the Lincolnshire brand. And took it from there basically. We were doing commercial work predominantly, and then my father and uncle joined the business and we continued to grow, setting up a retail division, and a division doing new homes. I’m the third generation to come through now, and like I say we do new build and homes, your Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and we do the commercial work, offices, hospitals, prisons all of that type of work.’
The company has long since expanded from its modest beginnings, and its continued growth could owe something to Zach’s insistence on maintaining a permanent workforce.
‘It was just my grandfather. He was branch manager of Lincolnshire flooring, so when that went, he bought it, but to start off with it was just him. Now, we employ just shy of 60 people. We employ roughly 36 fitters, and the other 24 employees are office based. We employ fitters directly because it offers greater control. I believe they’re more invested in your company, we control the calibre and the specific training needs, you can’t hide behind something and then not come back and work for us. Nine times out of ten I know when a job is complete, because they’re employed, they’re here the next day.’
Thanks to a substantial and permanently employed workforce, Zach says, Lincolnshire Flooring can divide its workload between several materials and sectors.
‘We do everything bar ceramics and resin. We service the new homes division which, at the moment, is predominantly Amtico, Karndean and carpets. Then we move onto the commercial work which is things like heat-welded vinyl, cap‘n’cove, again there’s a strong push towards the LVT market along with carpet tiles and carpets. On the retail side there’s a strong LVT presence, carpets, and an element of timber through there as well, and then again on the commercial side we do things like village halls as well. I’m quite fortunate that the labour element of my business is quite diverse, I’ve got 36 fitters who can do a multitude of things. With the fact that they’re employed, it means we control the training, so when the need is there, we can push people through certain training courses to get them up to a certain standard.’
The company’s midland location comes with some challenges, but its heritage and projected growth for the future is reason enough for Zach to dispel any notion of a move.
‘We’re based in the centre of Lincoln and from there we service an area just up past York and Harrogate, further wide than Sheffield and just down past Cambridge, but I’ll pretty much go around the whole of the UK. It’s worked well so far, we’ve been here for now 50 plus years! Lincoln is agricultural, it is rural, so you do find yourself on some back roads sometimes, but we have a large premises that we can expand on from where we are now so the plan is to stay put.
30 years ago, we came up here with the plan to expand from this location, and we treat it as a central hub, we don’t use satellite branches or anything else.’
Between Lincolnshire Flooring’s centralised location and permanent, high-skill workforce, the contractor has amassed a raft of successful projects under its belt.
‘To be honest, with the nature of what we do, we’re not the cheapest. We are considered the top tier of what we do locally, so when we get approached for work it does tend to be work that needs doing either very quickly or to a very high standard, and/or both. We also get contracted for work when something slightly intricate or different is needed. From that perspective we do have quite a lot of work that stands out. One we recently completed was a year-long project on a block of flats that was completely renovated from offices, six stories. And that came with its own challenges: getting materials, (we had to use carpet, LVT and carpet tiles), obviously it also had to be carried out to a very high standard as they were high-end flats. We’ve had a job where we had to lay 3000sq m of LVT through a new block of student accommodation in 6 weeks, which is the other side of it where you don’t have the time, you’ve got 6 weeks to get this laid.
Fortunately, because its what we do and we’ve got the fitters for it, we don’t have a problem dealing with that, and the other work that comes around as well. That wasn’t the only job we’ve had on this summer, and we handled it.’
Like many of CFJ’s readers, Zach’s biggest concern for the industry is the prevalence of cowboys and the confusion they can cause for end users deciding who to contract for their flooring installation.
‘The quality of labour is the biggest challenge to our industry to be honest. Out there, any man with a Stanley knife and a van can be considered a floorlayer, and as you and I both know that’s not the case. There is quite a lot of skill that goes into what we do and the quality of labour out there is just not present.
‘With regards to quality of labour we very much find that end users aren’t always able to discern between more reputable fitters and lower quality ones. In a situation like we’re in, we do get approached by contractors and by architects to come up with specifications. If somebody has been given some other advice, 9 times out of 10 it can contradict what we would advise because we’re being thorough. Then we’re tarnished with a reputation for being over the top when that’s not the case, and the other party just hasn’t done what’s required. A lack of knowledge and understanding is the biggest issue we face.’
One way, Zach says, companies can demonstrate authenticity above and beyond that of a less reputable competitor, is through membership of an industry body like the CFA.
‘Associations certainly do have a value and a place. They’re there to help legitimate enterprises such as ourselves, either in times of trouble or at times for reference. And they do help to set a standard. Hopefully by being accredited with CFA membership, its another string to our bow and shows we do adhere to that standard. We’ve been with the CFA a very long time.’
Despite widespread prediction of turbulent times coming for the UK’s industries, Zach sees the flooring market as a stable prospect for the future.
‘To be honest I think there’s still plenty of opportunity out there, I don’t think its going to change what I do as a subcontractor. The only thing is materials which will have taken price rises, when Brexit was initially announced we saw 9% increases in raw materials across the board, those type of things. But other than that as I say it hasn’t really affected me. There’s still a lot of opportunity, locally and further afield in the UK. There’s still a lot of construction to be done.
We’re still a lot of homes below the target that has been set for new homes for example, so that still needs addressing and Brexit isn’t going to change that.’
Zach predicts Lincolnshire Flooring’s turnover will exceed five million in 2018, an impressive figure and compelling evidence for the value of its employed workforce. While its size and fortunes have certainly changed, the company’s family-ownership and location have not. The story of Lincolnshire Flooring shows that growth and adaptability are key, but heritage should not be ignored.