Resilients with resilience

After more than 60 years standing tall in the industry, Cumberlidge Flooring is prepared for anything – including a turbulent Brexit

STARTED in 1947 by Arnold Cumberlidge, a plastering and tiling contractor in the South Yorkshire region, Cumberlidge Flooring is today a proud team of 27 operatives, specialising in contracts between £1,000 and £250,000. CFJ recently caught up with director Tim Vaughan to try and find out how the company has maintained its success for so long!

Tim Vaughan traced the origins of the company from its familial beginnings in South Yorkshire.

‘Arnold, ostensibly, was a plastering and tiling contractor, well-known to a number of contractors. The business moved on, transformed and morphed, as industries and demands dictated.’

At the time, he says, housing estates like Wimpeys and Bramhall Construction were building massive communities in the Sheffield and Rotherham areas.

‘And so, Arnold and subsequently his son Brian, were doing an awful lot of work, what you might call ‘stock work’ in the dwellings.’

The commercial side of the business morphed from there, and the soft flooring side also, as Arnold and Brian took on jobs in the various dwellings. Products such as vinyl from Polyflor would be installed in these areas as a standard specification, Tim recalls.

‘But that’s how the business grew!’ He continues: ‘The steel industry was a large employer in the local area too, Brian did a lot of work for the steelworks at Stocksbridge and did work for British Coal too. It was a lot of heavy industry, the sort of work Brian and Arnold did in the 50s and 60s.’

Today, Cumberlidge Flooring has graduated from heavy industry to commercial flooring, largely accounted for by the organisation’s adaptability in the face of fluctuations in British industry.

‘The split of the business, at this point in time, is 90% flooring, and 10% ceramics. The dynamic has changed over the past 10-15 years.’

The explanation for this is simple, Tim says: supply and demand!

‘Access to work, opportunities over the past 8-10 years, and austerity measures from local authorities.

Funding in the ceramics industry has just been curtailed in this part of the world. We haven’t replaced retiring employees with new apprentices, because there’s not been the demand on that side!’

Despite the relative decline in ceramics and other areas, Cumberlidge Flooring’s commercial installation business has gone from strength to strength! Perhaps due to the company’s history in heavy industry, its focus now is almost entirely on contract flooring.

‘We’re not domestically orientated,’ Tim says: ‘It’s a different kind of animal. Very rarely do we get involved in residential properties.’

He suggests Cumberlidge Flooring would only get involved in residential installations as a bespoke event, which would tend to come through from one of its commercial clients who the company would be doing a favour, as a one-off.

‘Commercial is what we know. The market isn’t as crowded. Residential properties tend to be a little bit simpler. It’s not something we’ve ever chased down. We’ve always had a client base in commercial, and our client base is growing. In turn, if they grow, we grow with them, because we don’t lose clients. We like to think that we retain clients, and if they get busy we get busy.’

Tim says Cumberlidge has no desire to ‘chase the dragon’.

‘We’re small, perfectly formed, and we like it this way. We know our client base, we are loyal to our client base and they in turn are loyal to us. We’ve got a good team of personable, knowledgeable and attentive employees and staff.’

The team at Cumberlidge Flooring employs four full time office-based staff.

‘We’ve all been here for 30 years plus, and each year we get a day less holiday entitlement!’

On the installation side, Cumberlidge Flooring has 16 employees who have been with the company, ‘man and boy in many respects’, Tim says. The contractor utilises the CITB and NVQ training courses.

‘We like to take local kids, simply because it’s easier to get them from home to the work environment, as youngsters.’

Tim appreciates this approach as it gives the company an opportunity to give something back to the local community, particularly the education environments where Cumberlidge Flooring procures a lot of its work.

‘Many of our fitters have been with us for 25 or even 30 years, and we like to think that they are as loyal to us as we are to them, and they understand the ethos of the business, they understand the importance of client satisfaction, responsibility, care and attention.’

The fitters tend to be employed on a full-time basis, with the exception of one or two self-employed fitters who Tim says he’s able to call on in times of intensity, which tend to be the summer shutdown periods in education, when universities and schools carry out most of their work.

‘At those times we might need some extra hands, but we find growing organically, the team remain loyal because we are loyal to them. We take care of them, whether that be in the form of pension schemes, or simply because the benefits they get from staying with us breeds loyalty.’

The loyalty of Cumberlidge Flooring’s employees gives an assurance to its client base too, Tim believes. They understand the ethos is the same through the full depth of the business, and that’s an important criteria to meet.

‘On the basis of that,’ he suggests: ‘They can leave us to undertake some work that’s been contracted, and they won’t need to hear from us until they walk back in the room and the job has been completed.’

In addition to education environments, Cumberlidge carry out jobs in other local institutions, particularly focusing on the healthcare sector.

‘We bridge in geography between three hospitals in the region. Over the past 25 years, they have been an important client base for us. Likewise, we have become an important source of refurbishment and labour for them, simply because our knowledge of their buildings, and materials and working environments has been important to mitigate any lost time to their own staff, and disruption to facilities.’

On occasion, Tim says, the team will even work 24/7, which he says is important to establish trust, particularly in situations where critical areas are only able to undergo minimal shutdown, like A&E. ‘We understand their needs, and we’ve become very reliable over the years. They don’t have to think twice about using us as a service provider.’

CFJ initially encountered Cumberlidge at the Recofloor awards ceremony, held earlier this year at the Belfry hotel.

‘Sustainability is very important to us, and all of the lads have an understanding of it. Quite a few of the team are on the younger side, and sustainability and recycling are really important to them.’

Cumberlidge Flooring recycles on a very regular basis, Tim says, earning it one of the coveted bronze awards at the Recofloor awards this year, ‘And we have high expectations for next year!’

The contractor also recycles cardboard from the office on a weekly basis. Its aim, Tim says, is to achieve a carbon-neutral business operation.

‘The next thing we’re looking into is plastic – there’s too much plastic around! I think that’s going to be the next big thing. We have to find a way to make plastic carbon neutral.’

Working in high-pressure environments, it’s important Cumberlidge Flooring’s installers are as competent and skilled as possible.

‘We like to use a training course which gets our fitters to that point in as short a time as possible, ‘ Tim says. Fitters are trained in a purpose-built education environment for one week in four, and then the rest of the time they’re ‘thrown to the wolves, with our own men, to mould them and breed the ethos.’

Tim assures CFJ that Cumberlidge Flooring does have a Brexit strategy, but like all smart business: ‘It’s a secret!’

He points out however, in the environments Cumberlidge has made itself indispensable, there’s little likelihood of work drying up, no matter the results of the next 12 months.

‘Education and healthcare however won’t contract. Their client base won’t disappear. Even if things are problematic, and we had the worst-case scenario for Brexit, we feel we have a sustainable client base.’

Indeed, after more than 60 years standing tall in the industry, it’s difficult to see anything, even Brexit, knocking down Cumberlidge.
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