Woodun Limited is a UK based installer of wood flooring, including in its remit everything from residential (‘no job is too small’, the website claims) to large hospitality contracts. Recently, CFJ spoke with managing director at Woodun Limited, Terry Fitch, a man whose wealth of experience and level-headed approach to flooring speak to the ongoing success of the company itself.
WHILE Woodun Limited itself was incorporated in 2003, Terry’s personal flooring journey began some time before then, the story of which he assured he would ‘keep brief!’
‘I think it was 1995 or 1996 that I got a call from a friend of mine to come and work for a flooring company based in Fullham. That’s really where we learnt the trade. Then after a few years the company started to encounter some disputes because they weren’t fulfilling all of their financial obligations. One of the main suppliers, who knew us because we used to go down there and purchase the goods from them on behalf of the company I was working for, said to us: ‘If you set up on your own we’ll provide you with work to be getting on with’, which we did. They stuck to their word and started supplying work, and we started cracking on with it. After a few years, my partner who I was working with at the time had been leaving me to do most of the work while he was jetting off around the world. So, we went our separate ways and that’s when I stepped things up a notch!’
Today, Terry has built the company in both size and reputation to a major player in the UK wood flooring market.
‘We started doing residential work in about 2010, we got called in to do a job for a designer named Amanda Levete, a high profile architect who worked on projects like the Oval in London. She asked us if we’d be interested in pricing up on the Victoria and Albert museum, which we spent about 2 years working on with her, but also learning the ropes on looking at schedules and bills of quantity and things like that.
Unfortunately we didn’t get the job in the end because the contractors when it came down to it had their own choice, but we learnt a lot from that process. At the same time we were doing that job, we got friendly with a firm called Powells, who are shopfitters, and since then we’ve been doing a lot of shopfitting with them. We’re currently working on a big project with Cartier, and Powells are keeping us well oiled with work.’
Unsurprisingly, wood is Woodun Limited’s primary area of expertise. Rather than a disadvantage though, Terry considers the company’s specificity a mark of assurance it’s not spread too thin, and that what it does, it does to the highest standard.
‘Wood is our specialty. We don’t touch rubber or carpet, we only install wood. I think it pays out in the long run though because the contractors who employ us know that’s all that we do. We’re good at what we do.’
He admits though, as with any specific type of product, using wood does come with its own set of challenges.
‘With regards to products, obviously a lot of the contract jobs are pre-determined and quite often free-issue, so we lay what’s provided. The products we use are limited to what’s available really. These days with forestry, the banning of a lot of woods, you can mainly only use oaks and walnuts, but that’s not such a bad thing necessarily. It gives the trees a chance to grow back. In terms of adhesives, we primarily use Wakol, I’ve been using it for years and they’ve never given me any problems.’
Difficulties arising from material selection aren’t the only obstacles Woodun Limited faces though. Terry describes some issues more common to flooring contractors across the industry, and his approaches for dealing with them.
‘Normally the biggest challenge we face is just getting the design pinned down. For example, in the Cartier project we’ve been working on over the past months, we haven’t actually started fitting it yet. Over the past two months we’ve been pricing it and working with the contractors and the architects as to what suppliers we’re going to use, but then the designer might throw in a complete change of design on the ground floor, which means we have to scrap all of our planning and start again. Generally, a common issue is being asked to do something where you know it doesn’t necessarily work with regards to wood, what can be done and what can’t be done necessarily. In a design world anything can be done, but in the practical world it’s not always possible. Don’t get me wrong though, quite often I raise a concern and the designers will take it on board, but other times it may just be a case of ‘do what you can.’
In spite of both specific and general challenges, Woodun Limited is thriving. Terry notes some examples of jobs he’s particularly proud of.
‘In a nutshell, we do bespoke hardwood flooring. But off the back of that we’ve done quite a few architectural features. For example, we did a job for Jigsaw in Westfield in Shepherds Bush called ‘The Eye’, a massive metal framework with 40mm batons all along, and as it came to the door, they lifted up like an eyelash, up to about 20 meters, which involved working at height, which we needed licences for.
‘Last year we ended up doing a massive project for the Four Seasons hotel down in Surrey. That was all done in a reclaimed-effect parquet. We were all very happy with it. We’ve done shops, like the Ralph Lauren in York, along with a restaurant which was a full restoration and refurbishment job. Restoration involves a lot of sanding which can present a challenge. In some situations if you encounter a Georgian floor, it may be a criminal offence to put a big belt sander on it! So we almost have to tickle the dirt off, and just leave it with as much patina as possible. Soak it in oil afterwards and you get some amazing effects from the old wood.’
One factor Terry believes plays a significant part in Woodun Limited’s continued success is its reputation, bolstered by membership in a number of industry bodies.
‘I think membership of the associations is a very valuable thing. We’re members of the CFA and the BWFA, and have been with the Guild of Master Craftsman for many years. From my experience I’ve found many customers prefer it if you’re the member of a body of some kind. They feel like they’re getting a proper job. Also, if you do experience any problems, which thankfully I have not, you do have the resource there and the help that all the bodies offer in that situation. If an end user looks at a company that is accredited with bodies like that versus one that isn’t, they’re going to automatically feel a lot more secure with the registered company I think. I have a lot of people coming to me through the associations we’re a member of for business.’
Woodun Limited is approaching the future with cautious optimism, although Terry stresses the company plans to remain dynamic to whatever turbulence the coming years brings.
‘Since Brexit I’ve actually found business has been steadily improving. Not as a result of Brexit, rather just that the company has been growing generally. I think with regards to Brexit itself it’s hard to make a judgement because no one has provided any real answers as to what’s going to happen. I’m very much in the camp of ‘wait-and-see’. At the moment things are good, but I can’t plan for it all to go wrong and I can’t plan for it all to double as of yet.’
Having built his company from the ground up based on specific expertise and hard work, Terry’s story is not an uncommon one in the industry. His success (Woodun Limited employs 5 permanent fitters, has carried out jobs as far afield as Moscow, Russia, and turns over close to half a million), is testament to the value of persistence and being great at what you do. The potential from here is unlimited.