Stand your ground on flooring

CFJ talks to Stuart Clark, director of Peterborough-based Stanground Carpets & Flooring, about how he’s today running a thriving business
By ADAM BERNSTEIN.

STUART Clark, director of Stanground Carpets & Flooring, based in Peterborough, took an interesting and circuitous route into the world of carpets and flooring. Some might even say it was pure accident. But no matter the route, his business appears to be thriving.

By royale appointment
Having failed in his first role, back in 1986, when he didn’t do so well working in a coffee shop in a Peterborough shopping centre (he freely admits that he ‘rang in £100 instead of £10 on the till’ and they thought he was stealing… he’d only been there five days) he found himself at his local job centre in an attempt to remap his career.

Shown several positions that were available, he ended up at Royale Carpets – ‘a very prestigious carpet company in Peterborough town centre.’ He stayed with the business learning the skills needed to fit Axminster carpets, the mainstay of the shop.

But after four years he felt the time was right for a new adventure and joined up with the son one of the family members that owned Royale Carpets. As Stuart explains, ‘We worked together undertaking various works, including contract fitting all around England. But after five or six years we went our separate ways and I ended up at the shop that I bought 19 years ago - a triple-fronted site in Stanground in Peterborough.’

It’s clear, from what Stuart says, that the business needed to be yanked up by its bootstraps: ‘When I bought the business it was in a bit of a state inside. It was messy, with no heating, sample books everywhere and the whole place was generally dirty.’ It had a reasonable client base he says, ‘but was always known for cheap stuff and quick delivery and fitting.’

The early days of any business are never easy and so, as Stuart tells, ‘When I first started, I used to work in the shop from 9-5 then go out until 10pm measuring as that is all I could afford at the time.’

A family firm
However, family helped out with growth of the firm.

First, his brother Laurence came for a part-time job. A trained physiotherapist he was working part-time for Peterborough United Football Club and wanted to do more. But almost as soon as he arrived, he left - after six months with the business the club asked him to go full time as it needed an extra physiotherapist. That left Stuart back on his own at the shop ‘working stupid hours.’

But turning on a sixpence, six months later Laurence returned as the club changed direction and wanted to pay for a new striker and not an extra physiotherapist – as Stuart comments, ‘Football is a cruel sport.’

Laurence stayed with the business and Stuart has also, for the last six or seven years, employed his sister on a part-time basis. But he notes, ‘She stays longer as we are extremely busy at the moment.’

The business took a step towards the world of contracts when, in 2011 it won a deal to fit out kitchens and bathrooms for a number of social housing projects which were put out to tender. As Stuart explains, ‘At the time two of the big flooring contractors in Peterborough had gone bankrupt and this left a large gap in the market for the so called ‘new kids on the block’ to fill their shoes.’ Now, as he says, after 25 years in the trade ‘we’ve moved over to the contract side of things and we now do over 75% work as contract, 23% domestic and 2% blinds.’ Interestingly, Stuart says that he feels that he ‘can talk to contract people a lot better than I can the domestic customers.’ The domestic clients are now dealt with by his brother most of the time.

The trade in focus
As for the world of flooring, like others CFJ has spoken to, Stuart is unhappy that the trade is not at all well recognised – ‘plumbers, electricians, carpenters, builders, and mechanics are the trades which are pushed in the colleges’. On top of that he’s not impressed that when flooring wants to impart new skills to workers it ‘only has a few places to train at… we are truly lacking in skilled talent.’

It doesn’t help that ‘the old days where you’d find a labourer in your local have gone. The industry was once fuelled with good lads who worked hard and not sit on their Xbox all day long.’ On this he blames parents not propelling their offspring into the world of work.

On the subject of apprentices Stuart is equally candid. While he has no answer to how the trade can draw in more young people, he notes that his last two both left early – ‘one didn’t stay, while the next one stayed for 10 months, then got lured to another firm. It promised more money and a van in exchange for a four-hour journey each day and only £40 extra per day.’

Like some, but not all, in the trade, Stanground Carpets was able to keep working all through coronavirus lockdown as it had contracts with NHS property services, Anglian Water and two food processing plants.

It wasn’t until the end of lockdown that Stuart opened the doors to the general public, but not before he had the shop fogged and set up to safely allow the public to come in. Going forward, he has had to change the way the business runs: ‘We do our measures differently now - we go out and then ask the customer come in and choose the flooring. We have spaced out our time so that we are with the customer in their house for around 40% longer, this has really helped with putting their mind at rest on how things will proceed with their flooring purchase.’

Private time
Stuart, like everyone else, needs a good work/life balance. Having lived most of his life in Peterborough, he is a busy 51 years old. With five children between the ages of 6 and 22 he quips that he ‘should have bought a bigger TV.’ Detachment from the stresses of work comes through playing football every Tuesday night (and he ‘wouldn’t give that up for the world’) which is followed by the recovery of spent calories with his team-mates in a pub which, as he says, ‘wastes all the exercise that we have sweated for over the last hour.’

During the winter he plays team-based snooker every Thursday and boasts that his highest break was 108. He’s also just started to get back into golf but ‘this has time restrictions as my wife thinks I already do enough sport.’

So, the question ought to be… when does he have time for work?