In the footsteps of a giant
Leon Nechyporuk, the founder of Kent-based flooring contractor, Giant Floors, has a story to tell. CFJ tracked him down for a chat by ADAM BERNSTEIN.
AS Leon Nechyporuk’s name suggests, he’s not a native of the UK, but instead, hails from the Ukraine, a former state in the Soviet Union. Born into a family living in a smallish village in the southwestern part of the country, set deep into land surrounded by plenty of forests, it’s no surprise he came to learn and develop his woodworking skills.
As Leon explains, ‘I always, since I was young, wanted to be connected with woodworking.’ However, he adds that while it ought to have been a natural career to follow ‘there wasn’t much personal choice in the country as I grew up… the Soviet Union limited everyone’s wishes and only gave support to those who wanted to learn those skills that were in demand or considered important at that time’.
It was for this reason Leon was ‘forced’ to study large animal veterinary science.
Winds of change
But Leon’s career and fortunes changed following the collapse of the Soviet Union when, after he finished his studies, he ‘got the opportunity to travel to the UK in 2001. Here I found work as a driver for a floor sanding company, soon after that I became a floor sander and then worked as a contractor for the same company for about seven years’.
It was during this time the Leon found his way into fitting solid and engineered flooring on his own account: ‘I liked my work, and as it happened, the more I worked the more recommendations I received.’
But with further success came greater demand and Leon found he couldn’t complete all the work on his own: ‘I found a helper, then another, and one more after that.’ He says he ran his business as a sole trader, but it wasn’t until 2012 he changed tack and formed a limited company – Giant Floors. Initially, he only offered labour services, but in time the business progressed to supply the flooring itself.
It’s all about geography
Leon’s Giant Floors aims to serve primarily London customers – those within the confines of the M25. ‘Occasionally,’ he says, ‘we go further afield to other locations, but we stay close to London.’
Much of Giant Flooring’s work is residential, but commercial, education and developers are equally important to him. That said, Leon is keen to emphasise ‘most of our work comes from customers who found our shop or who are previous – now repeat – customers’.
Overall, he says about 30% of his work is for larger contractors, insurance and building companies and ‘we specialise in wood flooring installation, repairs, restoration, sanding and finishing services… we can deal with virtually all aspects of wood flooring’.
Interestingly, and with a view to differentiating his business from others, Leon says Giant ‘was one of the first to offer skirting undercut services which avoids the need to remove skirting or beading when creating necessary expansion gaps’.
As business grew further Leon felt the need, by 2016, to open a shop with a showroom, Trendy Flooring in Orpington, where he offers more than 5,000 different wood flooring products in different sizes and finishes from most major brands available in the UK and Europe.
Says Leon: ‘We’re proud to be a very unique wood flooring shop that offers so much choice in one place.’ He says ‘most of our customers are truly amazed and very happy they found us… it gives us the enthusiasm to develop the business even more. It’s a really nice feeling when you see that what you do helps people’.
Leon clearly understands his public and corporate persona are intertwined. It doesn’t take degree level education to know staff are the shopfront for a business in terms of quality of work and how they interact with customers. It’s hardly surprising when he says all the fitters he uses came to him long ago – ‘they’re the same guys that have been working with me for the past 10 years’.
He continues: ‘The strengths of our business are our expertise and the quality of the work we do. We always stand for quality. There is virtually nothing we cannot do – we will tackle any job of any size and the (most) complicated (of) projects.’
When pressed on examples of the work Giant Floors has completed, Leon says there are too many to mention. He says ‘we’ve completed thousands of jobs and I don’t treat any job as being more or less special. But perhaps the most standout was at a London university where we restored original flooring which had been hidden for many years… it’s a truly beautifully designed flooring that is similar to Versailles panel’.
Moving to skill levels and training in the sector, Leon says he doesn’t feel he’s in a position to judge apprenticeships or other forms of learning. However, what he does say is based on his experience, ‘it’s not important how skilled workers are when they enter the trade. What’s more important is how they’re geared and how willing are they to learn.’
The point he’s making is that all of the fitters he uses had no flooring skills when they first joined him – ‘they started as helpers but now they are professional fitters.’
In terms of payment, Leon does see late payment as being a problem, and notes ‘we try to be on top on of it and will chase. It’s part of the business, you can’t avoid it’. The saving grace for him is that, as he puts it, ‘we thrive on delivering quality products and a quality service. Most customers appreciate that, and they give us no problems with payment’.
As to the future and where the sector is, Leon thinks it’s in a good place: ‘The flooring industry will always be in trend and people will always need flooring. The main task for us is to offer quality work at a competitive price. If we do that we’ll stay in business.’