Embracing the new provides a superior service

CFJ talks to Chris Knight, commercial director at Tyrrell Flooring, about the evolution and tradition of one of London’s oldest flooring contractors by David Strydom.

IF you’re going to celebrate a significant birthday, as Tyrrell Flooring is doing, you might as well do so in a year nobody will forget. And there’s no chance anybody is going to forget 2020 in a hurry.
At 60, the company, founded in Hackney in 1960 by Ron Tyrrell, is one of the oldest flooring contractors in London. Focusing mainly on providing commercial flooring solutions, Ron grew the business over 20 years before passing it to his son, Clive, now the company’s managing director.

Some of the company’s early success derived from contracts it secured with the Property Service Agency (PSA), equipping and maintaining a range of buildings and installations for government departments. By the turn of the century, the third generation of Tyrrells – namely Joe – had joined the company. In 2016, Chris Knight was recruited to further develop the business and move into more commercial and fit-out markets. Part of his role includes helping the company evolve in a changing industry by embracing new products and technology.

‘Tyrrell Flooring’s success can be attributed to something most contractors will be able to relate to - the fact that flooring is literally in the family’s blood,’ says Chris. ‘Clive’s presence means he can pass on his knowledge and maintain the family values which still hold true today.’

Chris brings a different perspective to the company, having previously worked in the City for Ernst and Young, advising corporates in the utilities, oil and gas and real estate sectors on how to improve their businesses commercially and operationally.

‘I always wanted to grow and build up a small company and after some research discovered that there seemed to be a lot of opportunity in the flooring sector. It’s a fast-changing industry with high standards, great regulation and compliance, increased technology and a broad range of products and technical solutions. It’s fast-paced, providing an adrenaline-fueled lifestyle which keeps us all engaged.’

Being what he describes as newish to the industry, Chris says he was surprised at how close the community is. ‘It’s a much smaller network than I initially realised. I think the Contract Flooring Association (CFA) does a good job at a high level to keep the industry informed and there’s certainly potential for it to get even more involved at a local level.

‘The bulk of the industry is smaller companies and solo fitters who, I believe, would greatly benefit for a smaller community that they can be part of. At the moment - more than ever – it’s important we come together where we can, to help navigate through the fallout from Covid-19.’

With a flexible labour force of between five-20 employees fitting soft and resilient flooring and timber flooring, Tyrrell Flooring’s aforementioned ability to evolve and adopt new technology means it can offer clients’ a superior service with respect to efficiency and cost-effectiveness, according to Chris.

‘That said,’ Chris points out, ‘it’s obviously the guys on the frontline who make the business what it is. Our fitters are very skilled and experienced, and always go above-and-beyond expectations.’

The bulk of the company’s work comes from subcontracting in the commercial fit-out market, although it still boasts a close relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, meaning it provides the royal and ministerial carpets throughout the building and down to the Cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday and installs new floors in British embassies throughout the world. In fact, recent projects have taken the team from Paris to as far afield as Mongolia and the Maldives.

A few examples of Tyrrell Flooring’s showpiece installations include:

  • The Academy Hotel in Bloomsbury in London’s West End where it replaced floors throughout the hotel including carpets to bedrooms and communal areas, wood to the restaurant and vinyl to the back-of-house areas;
  • Floor replacement throughout the centuries-old retreat Monkey Island Hotel in Bray, Berkshire. The hotel nestles on an island in the River Thames and is accessible only by footbridge and boat;
  • Ripping up, removing and replacing all carpets in London’s discrete, boutique-style Threadneedle Hotel in the heart of the City, while the hotel was still occupied and open for business;
  • Ongoing maintenance in London’s Apsley House, including replacement of floorcoverings and subfloors;
  • In Eltham Palace, Greenwich Borough, the company completed a strip-out, wrap, store and refitting of 800sq m of carpet to enable the installation of underfloor heating and fitted nora rubber floors in the entrance hall & Forbo Marmoleum tiles to the common areas.
  • At Amazon distribution centre in Tilbury, Tyrrell’s supplied and installed 3,500sq m of Gradus Streetwise carpet tiles to all office areas and 6,400LM of Gradus skirtings SSTM100 and FS100B to all walls;
  • At BAE Systems in Rochester, subfloors were prepared with F Ball’s Stopgap 1200 Pro while Altro vinyl wood smooth (Mid Walnut) was supplied and fitted;
  • Amtico Spacia tiles were supplied and installed at Falcon House in London while Jack Evie engineered wood was laid in a herringbone pattern, Milliken Colours 2.0 carpet tiles with a Santushti Storm broadloom border to the perimeter were installed, as were the Jacaranda Santushti Storm broadloom carpet to the grand staircase.

As with most other flooring contractors, Tyrrell Flooring regards apprenticeships and skills training as ‘hugely important’. Says Chris: ‘There’s certainly a skills shortage in the industry and more work needs to be done to encourage young people to join. We actively encourage and subsidise training for our staff and utilise courses provided by manufacturers for technical training as well as the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) for site supervision safety training scheme (SSSTS) and management training.’

Further, Tyrrell Flooring offers ‘softer’ training for management staff to improve people skills, organisation and stress management. These skills, Chris points out, are often overlooked in the industry in general but are still vitally important.

‘We’re now looking into apprenticeships and hoping to get a new one in place this year.’

One problem Chris has faced during his four years in the flooring industry – and which is something he shares with far too many others in the sector - is late payment from the odd client.
‘This is a huge challenge,’ he says. ‘Our average customer payment received is over 100 days. Our average supplier payments are 33 days. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this isn’t sustainable and will pose huge issues with growth.

‘Typically we find direct customers and clients pay on-time, but the main challenge and delay comes through third-party contractors. Greater regulation and government support is definitely needed here but there’s also a big cultural shift required. There’s still an old mentality which needs to be shifted in order for the supply chain to work together as a cohesive unit.’

Then there’s the now-familiar issue of sustainability which has – rightfully – crept evermore into the national consciousness over the past decade or so. Tyrrell Flooring is no different in this regard. ‘Sustainability is definitely being pushed higher up the agenda especially when specifying products,’ says Chris ‘We work closely with manufacturers to select the greenest products where possible and this also helps our clients achieve BREEAM certifications where needed. We’ve also signed up for Recofloor and so far it seems like a great system.’

Chris says Tyrrell Flooring uses a range of tools and strategies to get business in the flooring sector, but he lauds ‘the power of the network’ as the ultimate trump card. ‘The old saying still holds true,’ he says. ‘It’s who you know.’