No robots just yet
Gary Perry, director of Arcadia Flooring, has a clear and simple philosophy: you’re only as good as the people you work with
By CAROLINE HARDY
YOU’RE only as good as the people you work with says Gary Perry. It’s a belief he has carried with him through the years from when he left school at 16 and was taken on by a London-based company as a flooring apprentice.
Now a director at Arcadia Flooring, in Erith, Kent, Gary is also happy he took the decision to learn a trade.
‘I was simply looking for a start in the construction industry at the time, and was fortunate a flooring apprenticeship was available,’ he says.
‘In the past 15 years, technology has advanced significantly, and will continue to do so, resulting in technical and manual jobs becoming digitised and robotic.
‘Looking back, it seems my decision to learn a skilled trade was a smart move and will likely keep me a job even with technology gradually taking over. I expect robot floorlayers are many years off yet!’
However, Gary is also quick to pay credit to the people that helped him get to where he is today.
‘It has always been my view that you are only as good as the people you work with, and I was very fortunate to have worked with some great mentors during my early years as both a trainee and sub-contractor.
‘It only takes one person to give you the confidence to take that first step to go it alone and build your own empire, and it was actually a person who remains a loyal client of Arcadia Flooring that gave me that first start.
‘My wife always reminds me it is now my duty to pay it forward and I will always be happy to support and encourage both my junior staff and the more seasoned old timers that sometimes need that push or praise to keep them going - I’m referring to my dad here, still working for us at the ripe old age of 65.
‘All jokes aside, my dad has been an asset to the company and has a fantastic way with people. I often wonder if they are disappointed when I turn up to do a survey.
‘The ‘originals’ as I call us are still around and Stewart really has proven himself to be a trusted and loyal deputy who I can fully rely on.
‘In fact, if it wasn’t for him I don’t think I’d manage a two-day break let alone a proper family holiday – he’ll read this and want extra thanks for family therapy or something clever like that!’
The company’s staple business is the installation of the core flooring materials such as carpet, vinyl, wood and ceramics. In 2016 Arcadia introduced AltroWhiterock to the range and has had great results so far.
‘We expect to develop this area of the business further over the next 12 months, as there seems to be a high demand for this particular product now,’ Gary adds.
Among projects Arcadia is working on is the new London City Bloomberg building on the Mithras Temple site.
‘The early work we did here was followed by several other flooring installation projects on site. We have been back and forward fitting over 7,000sq m of Altro vinyl to date.’
Arcadia ventured into new builds in 2015 with a 6,000sqm installation of Tarkett at Green Point in Collindale, London. Further new build projects followed and the company recently began working with Galliard on several of its sites across London. ‘Strategically, this has been a good move for the company and we see significant opportunity in the new build market over the coming years.
‘Of course, we always keep an eye on political developments in relation to house building to make sure that the market trends are in line with our strategy, particularly in the London area.’
Other interesting projects the company has worked on have been at Lords Cricket Ground and the Twickenham Stadium, laying out the red carpet for the players and media at the World Cup.
‘I had to personally attend to this one and had genuinely hoped to catch some of the game, but it wasn’t to be. In fact, we were given strict orders to clear up and vacate before the match started.
‘Some of the other fitters in the firm said it was karma for taking the job myself. Lesson learned!’
Arcadia continues to work with several main contractors across sectors including the NHS, local authorities, education facilities, office blocks and private estates.
As part of the company’s continuing success, Gary believes in building lasting relationships with his flooring suppliers Culpeck of Rochester and Planners in Kings Cross, London.
‘We have been successful in winning many new projects over the last couple of years,’ he adds.
‘The project at Holly Lodge Mansions in Highgate has been particularly challenging but also lucrative. This is one where the skill of our fitters and general approach to working alongside and around other tradesman and residents has led to phase after phase being awarded to the company.
‘This is a common trend in the work we do. Often our custom is repeat and any new clients are generally introduced by word of mouth.
‘The company is growing on the back of our reputation and marketing has been minimal in the last few years. It is so important that we continue to work to the same high standard and try our best to improve so that we don’t lose sight of what has made us successful to date’.
Another challenge Arcadia faces is keeping up to date with changes and developments within the industry, as Gary acknowledges.
‘It is easy when you are busy to ignore change but it is really important to commit time to developing product knowledge in particular.
‘The monthly CFJ is a really useful guide here, and is often where I first hear about the changes that are relevant to us.
‘Our clients are ever more requesting recommendation and we pride ourselves on having a diverse and in-depth knowledge of the products available to select and recommend those suitable for each project.
‘Similarly, I recognise the importance of remaining at the forefront of health and safety regulation, which is why both myself and Stewart have completed our SMSTS safety qualification and we continually review our practices and provide relevant updates and training for the team.’
‘Another great challenge, which I’m sure the whole industry faces, is workforce. I’m lucky to have a great sales team – Seda is excellent at supporting our new and existing clients, often going over and above her job as sales manager as she feels it is her responsibility to see the jobs through end to end. She is constantly reviewing the quality of our service and driving improvements across the business.
‘Like me she is a perfectionist and together we strive for excellence on every installation from a straightforward NHS clinic fit out through to a grand hall such as that recently completed at the National Portrait Gallery.’
A skilled and committed workforce is also crucial to success, Gary says.
‘We have a highly skilled labour workforce. Our apprentice, Jack, is now well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming a fully-fledged fitter; his commitment both on the tools and at college really is commendable.
‘The bigger long-term issue we may begin to face is the aging workforce in the industry in general and lack of young people willing to get their hands dirty. Those diamonds in the rough are not so easy to find these days in an era where school leavers turn to technology instead of trades.
‘We do remain focused on offering opportunities to join the industry and think that it is important to invest in education and provide work-based training to future generations, and we are hoping to recruit a second apprentice early this year.’
The CFA is currently trying to gain support for a revised flooring standard and Arcadia has logged into the DfE portal and completed a survey in support of this standard.
‘It is a great shame that from next year the government will remove funding of these apprenticeships as it will no doubt reduce the opportunities available to young people wanting to acquire a trade if employers are expected to fund their education as well as provide them with a wage.’
As for the future, like others in the industry, Gary is unsure of the implications of Brexit.
‘We expect that Brexit is going to create some form of disruption at some point in time, whether that will be good or bad is yet to be seen. We haven’t noticed any downturn or slowing of business so far and we have work in the pipeline for 2017 already.
‘Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict, but if you were to push me on it I’d say we’re likely to see a bigger impact on the construction industry if, and when, Article 50 has been issued and more likely, closer to the date of EU exit.’
Over the years, Arcadia has gone from strength to strength and Gary is confident that the company will continue to flourish.
‘I am proud of what the company has achieved in such a short time,’ he says. This, he says, is down to teamwork.
‘Our success would not be possible without a good team of staff and a lot of hard work that has resulted in satisfied clients.’