Last month, CFJ spoke with Re-Born Flooring’s director, Ashley Thulborn about his experiences on Forbo Flooring UK’s entrance matting training course. This month, we’re taking a closer look at Re-Born itself: its history, specialties, and goals for the future.
Like many in the industry, Ashley’s career began straight after leaving full-time education, learning the trade on the job.
’I started working in flooring when I left school, initially working for a company in Cambridge. I went in to assist with installations on some disabled adapted toilets and shower rooms, doing cap and cove up the wall in restrooms. And it kind of grew from there, I never left. Continued working in flooring and then started working for myself in fitting. Commercial, domestic and large school jobs, universities. Which I did for 11 years until 2012.’
While floorlaying was his initial passion, developing knowledge and expertise in the industry opened up new opportunities for Ashley, opportunities which he was keen to take advantage of.
‘I then joined Forbo, as an entrance matting specialist, an area that I wanted to go into, into the manufacturing side of things, from there, I worked as a key account manager for big end users such as Asda, Jaguar Landrover, which were two of my biggest accounts id say, but I also did a lot of work for the airports like Heathrow. Now, after Forbo, I’ve reignited my passion for floorlaying and started up Re-Born Flooring. I work with Michael Reed and we are co-directors of Re-Born Flooring.’
With a wealth of experience in both floorlaying and the wider industry, Ashley was uniquely positioned to return to the practical side of business.
‘Re-Born flooring has really been running now for just over a year. Obviously I was with Forbo for a lot of that so a lot of it was part time, just getting things set up, deciding what direction to take the business in.
Entrance systems is very much the route we’re planning on taking. We’re going to specialise in the planning and applying of entrance systems, and that will be to all sectors. Public sector, private sector retail.
But not just from a perspective of turning up and fitting, it will also be a design and assistance, with the knowledge I’ve gained over the 5 and half, 6 years with Forbo, working with architects and designers, I can have an input to ensure that they get the best product at the optimum size, shape that works for their building.
Reborn is based in Cambridge here. We are going to be a national company, going up and down the country doing what we need to do and where we need to do it. We will be laying carpets and vinyls, we specialise in LVT. Resin is something we don’t do and ceramic. More resilient floorcoverings we don’t do. We specialise overall in entrance matting in LVT, LVT is something I’ve done for a long time and again from a design perspective we can help out.’
As a fledgling business, Re-Born Flooring is smaller, in both personnel and operations, than a lot of its competition, however Ashley doesn’t see this is a problem. Instead, he believes his experience in the industry will afford him a valuable starting point for Re-Born.
‘At the moment its just me and Michael Reed. We do have a bank of very reliable people I can employ, people I’ve met through my time working in flooring. What I’ve recognised through my key account days is that there’s a lot of high value end users. If you take Jaguar Landrover as an example, they have multiple site opportunities, but you don’t often get the best service if you go here, there and everywhere for your installers, so the emphasis with Re-Born Flooring will be focusing on end user clients that require a certain level of service, and offering that.
If you take it back to entrance matting, one of the key things for people is to make sure their entrance matting is safe, that their door can open over a day’s traffic, if they’ve got any issues, generally when someones been in to fit it, it tends to be up to them (end user) to fix it. But with us, if I get a phone call that says Ashley we have a problem, someone’s damaged something, then we’ll be back to help them.’
With his particular desire to provide high standards and a high quality of service with Re-Born, Ashley admits that there are challenges inherent in entering the flooring industry as a new business.
‘In terms of setting a business up it’s the usual challenges everyone faces, its gaining a level of business. You’re taking a big step into – well I’d say the unknown but its not, it’s very much known – we’ve been very methodical to get where we are with the contact base we have. The challenge is always to ensure that when you do start, the business is there, and you have the resources to back up and do what you say you’re gong to do. Having the tools is very important, like I say, the tools to do entrance matting are very different from what you need for regular flooring installations, so it was a challenge to ensure we had all of that ready to go, and that we could respond to and resolve any issues on site. To make sure that the product is installed correctly. I would say that’s probablythe key thing in terms of challenges.’
Over a lengthy career in the industry, Ashley recalls a number of interesting cases from his experiences both before and during his invovement with Forbo.
‘There’s lots of things we’ve done in the past. Lincoln university, including student accommodation, rooms, the wetrooms, the step up showers that they had. We had to overcome an issue they had where the water was coming out all the time of the doorways, so we sorted that, that was a nice job to be involved in. More recently, a lot of automotive and motorcycle contracts. As I say I worked with Jaguar Landrover at Forbo but I did help them with the installations. Mainly from a manufacturer point of view mind you when the installations weren’t going to plan. So I almost had to don my fitting gear and help them out. You could say the JLR is something that’s very close to my heart as its something I’ve been working with for 3 years now, from when I did the specification with Forbo, to where I am now, and I will be working on them as well. I’ve been helping another matting firm, Master Matting, on Patworth Hospital which is in Newhey Grid using Forbo products.’
When asked, Ashley is cautiously optimistic about Re-Born’s prospects in a post-Brexit Britain, but he expresses concern that the markup in costs could affect the kind of service people are willing to pay for.
‘I don’t think its something that’s initially affected me, because we’re fairly new. Re-Born flooring is fairly new to it. Brexit as a whole has affected the industry across the board. If I take my account management, I’d say we’ve had to revisit certain prices because of that. Obviously we try and keep prices down but with the pound being weak, it does affect it. I’ve been working on an international scale with Jaguar Landrover, so I set up prices for Chile, Australia, Canada, you know, so that whole thing did take a bit of an effect.
Obviously, a lot of the products have been brought in from overseas, and with the pound being as weak as it is at the moment, those prices just keep creeping up, so I can certainly say I’ve seen price increases on nearly all products from all manufacturers at least once or twice a year and its not your usual 2% you’re talking 5% increases. So the impact has certainly been there, which ultimately impacts the end user, because that price goes to them eventually, but it does make it hard to be competitive, and ensuring that you’re actually still doing the same job. I would say that sometimes you don’t get that. Some of the main contractors bring in different labour to fit flooring when of course it should be a floor fitter, and obviously you can’t compete with that price. I would say there’s a little bit of corner-cutting, so the money isn’t being put into the right profession. People think, anybody can fit a carpet tile, and that may be the case, but to get a nice professional job, that’s not the case. If I take one of Forbo’s products, Westbond, it’s a different method of install and recently I’ve seen some of those which were fitted not as well as they should be, where you get a lot of fibre entrapment, purely because it’s a different way to fit than a low-level carpet tile, anyone in the industry will know that.’
Along with a multitude of other lessons, one thing Ashley learnt with Forbo, was the vital importance of sustainability in flooring.
‘Having worked for a major manufacturer, sustainability was very much at the heart of Forbo. So that’s kind of passed into me. I’ve seen the way we changed our manufacturing processes, using recycled yarns and things in carpets. Recycling waste into backings for other products, trying to streamline the manufacturing industry. And I think that’s going to pass through into the installation side of things in terms of what we use, how we use them, quantity of materials, trying to cut down on that wastage factor. You know, you see some companies now are using the random lay carpet tiles, and that’s all an enhancement to try and reduce waste on site. If you take a general assessment that there’s maybe 5% waste on site, you can actually reduce that down to 2%, so your recommendation there is if you’re looking to reduce waste, we can look at different options. From a personal side of things, it will be our own personal footprint. The main part of that will be fuel, but also what we do with our waste. I know there’s various initiatives going on at the moment that will come and collect from sites and we’ll definitely be looking at that. Certainly from the entrance matting perspective, all the waste will go and be recycled. You’ve got the aluminium, can be recycled, the rubber, can be recycled. From a personal point of view, if that means us stripping up the mats and taking the aluminium to one side and the inserts to another so that they’re dealt with correctly, that’s certainly what we’ll do.’
Overall, Ashley responds with a great deal of positivity towards the industry and the role of impartial bodies within it, including CFJ!
‘I find the CFA very good. Someone has to sit there and police [the industry], and that’s what it does.
‘One thing that’s great with CFJ is you get to see everything that’s coming out. Although I worked for Forbo, I wasn’t blinkered in terms of the other manufacturers, I wanted to see what developments were coming through from them, that sometimes you don’t hear about generally in the open market. Again, green initiatives, the kind of materials people are using in the manufacturer of their products. It’s nice to know what other people are feeling sometimes, when you get interviews, it rings true to what you’re thinking as well, especially when you get some of the bigger companies with larger installation teams, thinking about the same things that we are.’
Finally, advising based on his own wealth of experience and success, Ashley provides some words of wisdom for people starting out in the industry.
‘In terms of having a successful career in the flooring industry, my advice is to be true to yourself, and be true to your customers. Offer the best service you can, and then ensure that’s what happens. There’s many people that can come in and fit floors, but it’s going the extra mile that makes a difference. It’s what you can do to offer full service to your customer. So that when you walk away from a job and it’s nice a clean and tidy and fit for purpose, you know that you’ve done your job.’