Turning the Corner
Oxfordshire-based Turners Flooring is a versatile contractor, deftly moving between domestic and commercial work as jobs arise.
Turners Flooring head fitter Chris Turner joined the flooring industry more than 20 years ago, and over that time has learned a huge amount about the trade. Debbie Turner, Chris’ wife, is director at Turners Flooring, overseeing day-to-day operations at the company.
Turners Flooring head fitter Chris joined the flooring industry more than 20 years ago, and over that time has both learnt a huge amount about the trade, and established himself as a respected independent contractor in the Oxfordshire area.
‘I started off as a fitter, years ago, around 1995. I started off working for a carpet company, just doing domestic carpets, and then moved onto contract flooring. I would say my passion is contract and fitting LVT, but I also enjoy fitting carpets.’
Chris then worked as a fitter for a long time, representing various companies in both domestic and commercial capacities until 2009, when he first started supplying.
‘And it’s all sort of grown from there really!’
The company remains fairly lean, with few full time employees, but Chris does have help he can call on to complete difficult jobs.
‘We’ve got one full time subcontractor, and then we’ve got three other fitters on the cards.’
Turners Flooring do a mixture of domestic and commercial, so, a lot of the domestic work is very local but, Chris says, contract work can be anywhere.
‘We’ve done a Travelodge in Lincoln, there was a Premier Inn in Dover, and one in Gravesend. We’ve done one in Southampton, I was there last year. So we go all over!’
The quality of Turners’ contracts, despite the company’s relatively small size, is testament to the level of expertise and professionalism it brings to each job.
‘We had this tender come through from the Premier Inn, in Oxford, a 63 bedroom extension, so I priced that up and when we went and did it, they were really impressed with how we worked. Power stretching carpets, and just doing it properly and efficiently and well! And ever since then all the site agents keep requesting us. I think we’ve got every one since then.’
Chris takes pride in the execution of his work, particularly enjoying the more technical aspects of floorlaying. His favoured installations are those involving cap and cove vinyls.
‘I mean there’s a lot of floorlayers that don’t do it. The welding in the corners is the tricky part. That and making sure it’s all perfect at the end.
‘That’s where my real passion is,’ he says, ‘But I’m quite happy fitting carpets, vinyl, lino, anything really! Least favourite, I would say, would be sisal.’
Chris notes that despite his personal misgivings, Turners does fit sisal carpets. The only floorcoverings Turners won’t fit are resin and ceramics.
To maintain the high standards of quality Chris sets for Turners’ work is difficult.
Particularly, he says, problems can arise when the site has been improperly prepared for the floorlaying stage.
The biggest challenge we’ve had was at a hotel in Southampton.
Chris discussed with the site management, telling them it needed to be dried. Making things even trickier however, the whole 146 bedroom hotel had no storage at all for all the floors apart from on the ground floor where the anhydrite screed was.
‘So it was absolutely rammed full of stuff, and trying to get it in and keep it dry was hard enough, but trying to get it ground off just wasn’t happening.
‘When it came to doing it, it was a case of trying to get it grinded off in areas where we could, and we used the hydrometer to damp test, and it was still reading wet when they wanted it fitted.’
Chris spoke with Uzin, and the manufacturer managed to advise a system which incorporated two coats of an epoxy primer, then three coats of a DPM, covered in kiln-dried sand, then primer then latex.
‘It was like a four-coat system we had to use to get it ready for the flooring. We had to do that to stop the moisture popping the latex. Over the top of that there was a mixture of Amtico, Altro and carpet. In the end though, it looked lovely.’
Time pressure is another key challenge for Turners Flooring, with most jobs requiring the contractor to finish within a span of days, and some not even closing off the area during the installation process.
‘We’re doing a Premier Inn extension in Dover, which is a little bit awkward for the reception area as it’s all still active. We’re laying Amtico, bit by bit.’
Quite often however, clients will close areas off for the flooring installation, Chris notes thankfully.
‘Often we’re on a time limit. We need to get things done in certain periods of time. We have a job coming up for a medical centre, and it has to be done over a weekend.’
In these situations, any complications Turners encounters have to be sorted out with the site up and running again for the Monday morning.
Echoing the feelings of many floorlayers, Chris suggests that if there’s an issue with a job, most of the time it can be traced back to the subfloor.
‘It’s especially difficult when we rip up the previous materials, and only then find out there’s an issue. Trying to get things fixed either in the same day or on the next day, that can be a headache!’
Chris says Turners have had some jobs where it has proved a challenge to lift the pre-existing floorcoverings prior to installation.
‘Even though the fitters will go out there and check every section they can, there always seems to be one area that will not come up. When that happens, we have to either work ungodly hours trying to get everything up and lifted for the next day, or we’ve had to call in numerous extra hands to get it done.’
Carpet tiles are the worst floorcovering for this problem, because some contractors will lay tiles while the tackifier is still wet, which makes it significantly more difficult to lift them when it comes time to replace.
‘When a job is hundreds and hundreds of metres you can’t check them all, so that comes up time to time, which can make it very difficult in the time we’re given.’
On some of the larger jobs with difficult to dislodge carpet tiles, Turners has had to hire grinders and uplifting machines. Debbie says:
‘Purely on the cost implications, unless you’re a massive outfit, it’s not something you can just carry around. On the bigger jobs where you’re ripping up hundreds and hundreds of metres of carpet tiles though, we get machines in to help.’
While there are a lot of challenges depending on the job site, certain environments are easier to work in than others.
‘We like building sites and hotels. Like the Premier Inns we do, because everything is organised and it’s all done according to a routine. We know how long things will take, we’ve got no uplift, it is what it is. There are no real hidden surprises, it’s quite straightforward. We just go in and get it done. That would be my favourite really, the hotel work.’
One thing Chris is particularly positive about is the prevalence and efficacy of training in the flooring industry.
‘Education is a massive thing for me. When I first started fitting there were no courses, there were no colleges for flooring. We’ve put a couple of our guys through Floorskills apprenticeships and the stuff they’ve been learning is really good. I’ve met guys who have been fitting for 30-40 years, and they think they know everything, but actually they don’t!’
There are always new methods being developed for floorlaying which are constantly improving. It’s important for contractors to move with the times, Chris says.
‘I hear people say, I’ve been fitting for 30 years you can’t teach me nothing’, well that’s not actually true. You never stop learning in flooring, ever.’
Finally, Debbie offers some words of wisdom for fellow contractors.
‘Just do it properly. And help future fitters with the next job! The problems we get when ripping up tiles, are where people haven’t done it properly in the first place.
For us, we try and think about the future of the floor. When we leave, we know we’ve done the job correctly, we know the next people laying on that floor won’t have the same problems.’