Reliability can only ever breed success

CFJ talks to Jason Stovell, founder of Berkshire Flooring which he started at 28 from his garage and spare room By ADAM BERNSTEIN.

FOR some, like 46-year-old Jason Stovell, flooring runs deep. The eldest of three brothers, he watched his parents run a flooring business in the late ‘80s while he was still at school. Helping out at weekends and during the holidays, he ‘got the bug for working in the industry’.

Unfortunately, the business was hit by the recession of the early ‘90s and it stopped trading. At that point Jason was halfway through his apprenticeship at the National Construction College in Erith, East London so he joined a large flooring company as a trainee while finishing his apprenticeship.

‘I spent the next 11 years working for them gaining practical experience which led to me to spending my last year working for them as a contracts manager.’

But by 2001, at the age of 28, he felt it was time ‘to take the plunge and go it alone’. Berkshire Flooring was started and Stovell initially worked from his garage and spare room.

Reliability is key
They say that word of mouth is the best form of advertising and Berkshire Flooring has most definitely found this to be true. As Jason explains: ‘Our first big break came from a contractor who took a chance on me at the very start. And that contractor remains our most valued customer, who after almost 20 years we still work for regularly.’

He adds: ‘The business has a core of clients who we have built up strong relationships with over many years. We’ve added to our network of clients gradually over the years, mainly because contacts that have moved on and taken us to their new businesses.’

Some believe that to succeed a business can only ever offer two of the following options - price, speed and quality. But there’s a fourth option - reliability. And as Jason believes and has found: ‘The ethos of ‘we do what we say we will, when we say we will’ has reaped rewards.’

He says he spends time working closely with contractors, building relationships through strong communication. As he notes: ‘We work on a level of trust that works both ways - and this has helped us with cashflow. Our good working relationships with clients means payment terms are mainly stuck to and this puts us in a strong position when obtaining the best prices for materials and services.’

It’s entirely clear Jason sees his strengths embedded in the philosophy of being a reliable partner to his clients. ‘We don’t want to be just another supplier,’ he says, ‘we aim for clients to be so happy with our service they wouldn’t want another contractor to complete their flooring projects.’

His perspective has been shaped by seeing others not delivering, ‘perhaps because there is always a better job coming around the corner or under-pricing to gain work’.

He says, bluntly, that: ‘If we’ve committed to a client that we’ll turn up and do the work then that’s what will happen.’ And if anything changes, he’ll be as flexible as possible. ‘We look at it from our client’s point-of-view as most of the time it isn’t their decision to move things around.’

A typical client
As might be expected for a company based in Berkshire it works across London and the southeast. Jason says Berkshire Flooring specialises in all types of contract carpet and commercial vinyl flooring. ‘This,’ he says, ‘can be anything from supplying and installing carpet tiles in offices within local council offices for two weeks, to laying vinyl flooring in new laboratories in a London university over two months.’

He adds that most of the work is refurbishment and newbuild but that he also does much lifecycle maintenance and repair work. ‘We’re very flexible and prepared to work out-of-hours which has stood us in good stead, especially in recent times where hygiene amid the current pandemic is paramount.’

His typical client is a small- to medium-sized construction company, interior fitout business and the public sector. Jason says although this is the main bulk of his work, Berkshire Flooring also works directly for several leisure facilities, schools and hospitals. And this work, he says, has been built up through the original clients he developed early on.

It’s all in the planning
Most of Berkshire Flooring’s work follows a process that is tried and tested, but Stovell points out that the larger jobs he is starting to win require more project management. And he gives an example - a job at the end of 2019 for Imperial College in London ‘which was one of the best we have done in terms of overall teamwork and collaboration’.

In essence, the bulk of the job was to lay noraplan sentica rubber sheet flooring in new offices, lab and research facilities. As Jason explains: ‘Working in an already busy location meant logistics were carefully planned and timed around the planned work schedule. This relied on good communications with our suppliers and the client, and commitment from the fitters each day to ensure the deadlines were met.’

He gives an example: ‘At one point we had to make a delivery but couldn’t get access to the loading bay at our agreed time slot as it was part of other construction work going on at the time, which we nor our client were aware of.’

The solution was to drop four pallets of materials - worth a considerable sum - under the West Way flyover ‘and hope that it didn’t rain and the builders onsite would fulfil their promise to complete the final 100 metres or so of our delivery into the building’.

In the end the delivery was early, and all was fine.

Good work requires good staff
Berkshire Flooring will only ever be as good as its staff and Jason is pleased to say he has a great team of loyal fitters – one in particular, ‘has just qualified on an apprenticeship scheme and another is about to go onto a scheme’.

Apprenticeships are the way forward for Stovell – ‘bringing in new staff and combining day to day working under a mentor with their apprenticeship… in this way we maintain our standards and the way we want our staff to work, our health and safety mantra, processes and quality of what we deliver’.

And when Berkshire Flooring gets really busy, he brings in experienced sub-contracted staff – ‘we’ve used a number of regular teams to help us out over the last couple of years.’

But while apprenticeships are the way forward for Jason, he does think ‘the schemes could be tougher in terms of a final set of practical exams… not just with a pass or fail but various levels of pass to encourage more achievement early on.’ He also feels that the link between the schemes and the apprentice’s day-to-day work could be closer so that more of the qualification is based on closer collaboration.
Jason firmly believes the whole flooring industry should ‘let youngsters know about the opportunities available, and exactly what is involved and how long the process takes’.

He’s bothered this isn’t something high up on career advisors’ lists of jobs for school or college leavers.

Coronavirus had an impact
The pandemic has had an impact on business. That said, he says: ‘We were lucky enough to be able to work through the lockdown as construction was one of the industries that was able to continue, albeit on a reduced level until clients and sites developed processes to cope.’

His clients were affected. Those in hospitality and in the travel sector were caught out adversely which had a knock on effect. But on the flipside, his customers in health and education carried him along because their work was critical, there was greater demand for more hygienic flooring, faster repairs, or in the education sector, work was brought forward from the summer holidays.

Jason emphasises he did as much as possible to help staff work, including ‘providing more and new PPE – masks and gloves – and giving guidelines and toolbox talks based on government advice for onsite working. At the same time there were updates to risk assessments and method statements’. On top of this, Jason ‘kept the same teams together throughout, where before we may have switched more often.’ This did, however, limit the type or quantity of work he could take on at once.

No one has a reliable crystal ball to read the future and so, as Jason comments: ‘What the next few months hold for us, no one really knows. We’re keeping our heads down, following up on all our estimating and getting the jobs done.’

But with a new website just launched Berkshire Flooring will have a great platform for growing business.