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Business done the Hard(ing) way

G Harding Flooring’s owner says his company is run according to a very design-led ethos. He explains his journey into flooring, and shares his views on terms and conditions of doing business and the future, By ADAM BERNSTEIN.

GLENN Harding, owner of Leicester-based flooring contractor, G Harding Flooring, followed an often-used route of entry into flooring – chance. He was just 16, had left a job when a friend of his asked if he could help him in the carpet shop that he was working in.

And the rest, as they say, and as we’ll see in this feature, is history.

But chance aside, Glenn notes almost everyone else he now knows who are fitters had family members or close relatives already involved in the industry; their knowledge and training had been passed down to them on leaving school and they jumped into the family business.

Back to his entrée into the world of flooring, Glenn, as he says, thought he had little to lose by making the move – ‘It’ll give me something to keep busy for now’.

Starting from the bottom
Logically, he had to start at the bottom and work his way up. ‘I was stacking up remnants and end-rolls of carpet and vinyls outside the shop, but most importantly, I was learning very quickly how to judge the distance with 2, 3, 4 and 5m remnants balancing on my shoulder’ – a trick he knows all seasoned floorlayers have learned.

The job also meant keeping the shop tidy, deciding where to stack the hundreds of sample books throughout the shop, measuring and pricing up remnants, and pre-cutting up orders for fitters.

But with time, growing experience and knowledge Glenn soon found himself dealing with customers and advising them on suitable choices and visiting homes to measure up and offer quotes. He also occasionally uplifted existing flooring prior to the fitters attending.

He says: ‘The more involved I became with everything, the more knowledge and information I wanted. I wanted to spend more time with the sales reps that visited to question them about the different ranges, the construction, the materials used and so on… I wanted to know everything.’

The time – many months – he spent shadowing various fitters and undertaking preparation work with grippering and installing underlay, fitting box rooms and cupboards served him well; he teamed up with a friend ‘who I had known for years… I was soon out fitting full time’.

That said, Glenn still carried out work for the shop through measuring and drawing up the cut plans.

But tragedy struck two years into the venture: ‘My fitting partner was involved in a motorcycle accident which made the workload difficult to cope with on my own; I had to take a step back from fitting.’ He says he then found himself running various carpet shops throughout London – ordering stock, meeting with sales reps, running fitting teams ‘and everything else involved in running a retailer’.

Plenty of connections
A few years on and Glenn had a black book full of connections with various fitters he had made; he was tempted to get back on his knees and start installing again, but his great leap forward was ‘to leave the general public and domestic sector and move into the commercial sector of flooring – and this was a whole new ball game’.

And as he says: ‘Adapting the thought process from people’s homes to a commercial and industrial scale was an eye-opener for sure.’

He points to how, for example, subfloor preparation plays a vital role in the world of contracting; this meant he had to ‘harness and improve my skills, upgrade my knowledge and understanding’ of the procedures necessary to complete work to a high standard.

Glenn explains he had to put a go-getting hat on: He ‘got in touch with professionals in that field’ and attended courses, training days and undertook online learning CPD programmes with Ardex, Mapei and F Ball & Co and others’.

With this background set, it’s easy to see why Glenn believes ‘upskilling and training is of utmost importance to us at G Harding Flooring – an old dog can always find new tricks and tips in this trade’. He continues: ‘With new products coming to the market, its vital we understand the process for installing them. And by directly working with manufacturers on how best to fit, we can ensure their products perform as they should.’

Covid-19 is an inescapable truth of the past 18 months. That aside, Glenn tells how, ‘with such an unhealthy passion for all things flooring’ he attends almost every show or conference run by the industry including Harrogate, Clerkenwell Design Week, and specific road shows that several manufacturers hold throughout the year.

He also ventures overseas to Germany and the Domotex show. As Glenn says: ‘It’s a great venue to see what’s hot, what’s new to the market, all while networking and establishing new contacts and forging stronger relationships with our current suppliers.’

Beyond the obvious, Glenn reckons that by taking the time to visit these exhibitions it gives him a valuable insight into where the market is currently, what trends are coming through and the materials that are seeing a spike in interest.

‘This,’ he says, ‘gives us the opportunity to pass over and discuss insightful ideas to our clients and this helps them keep their finger firmly on the pulse with what’s new in flooring for their future projects.’

In fact, this activity, ‘the attention to these details’, is what he thinks helps him retain his current clients. Even better, and gratefully, he feels that ‘this opens up further business for us with current clients recommending us to their network of friends and work colleagues after receiving a service that’s second-to-none’.

Risks to counter
The business has developed and grown. As Glenn describes it: ‘Having gradually built up our clients – manufacturers, contractors, interior designers, house builders and so on – we’ve always remained busy.’

He puts this down to ‘steadily building a strong reputation across a platform of sectors and being known for quality work and reliability. We’re also called on to provide small teams of fitters for larger flooring contractors that need assistance on certain projects that require experienced and skilled installers’.

On this, Glenn says the company only uses skilled, trained, and vetted installers: ‘It’s without doubt, the best way of eliminating poor work and keeping our reputation for quality high and delivering projects on time as we try to exceed expectations.’

He notes how, in his view: ‘Too many companies are interested in growing the size of their business quickly in the hope of working on (thin) margins based on volume.’

That course, he says, opens the door to failure and sacrifices standards and quality. He believes that ‘these companies jeopardise future contracts and their reputation with current clients by using fitters they have no knowledge of and it’s a risk which they burden themselves with.’

Fighting off these companies is one of the minefields he must navigate. Other risks he faces include the economy and Covid-19 where he says, ‘a surge of companies being forced into administration and are collapsing leaving colossal debts in their wake’.

He’s also troubled by 30-, 60- and even 90-day payment terms along with retentions which he describes as ‘the biggest downfall for the whole construction industry… it’s in dire need of attention and redressing to support growing companies’.

He kicks into the long grass the saying ‘that’s how it’s always been done’.

‘There are too many fundamental issues ‘deeply set’ into the process and they need weeding out.’

Being amenable
Starting with the business’s terms and conditions. Glenn tells how, understandably, they don’t always meet with instant approval from prospective new clients. But Glenn isn’t rigid or hung up on them – as he says: ‘This is where we discuss options, address the issues, explain the service provided by us, why a job needs to be undertaken in such a way, and the benefits from perhaps implementing our process.’

For him, much boils down to trust and it’s central to how he wants to do business. An extension of this is how he deals with unforeseen problems that crop up onsite. ‘It’s nice to be able to discuss problems, offer a few solutions and have the trust from your customer that your professional opinion is valid, and they give freedom to make those judgement calls.’

Key strengths
One of Glenn’s biggest strengths is, in his view, not being too big as it allows the company to maintain its business ethics and morals. Further, he knows that staying a certain size allows him to adapt and change at speed instead of having to run ideas and plans by several departments before they can be implemented.

Allied to this, Glenn thinks his clients like being able to directly contact those they need to speak to – even out of hours: ‘It’s a more personal touch where we can be approachable if clients think of something else they need – a change of design on the spur, or even they want to discuss what’s happened on the last Peaky Blinders episode they’ve just watched.’

In summary, Glenn likes his business – and those that work for it – to be ‘friendly, fun, genuine and to make it a pleasure having us onboard with their projects’.

He continues: ‘Golf days, meals out, coffee and lunches are all things we enjoy with our clients… it helps retain solid relationships and we feel puts them at ease when conducting business. A direct link to the owner, the decisionmaker and the installation team can’t be a bad thing.’

In terms of the jobs undertaken and completed, Glenn possesses a strong sense of pride.
He considers that his online presence has helped his business over the past few years in attracting new clients and in generating interest for the services the company offers.
He uses the website to introduce new products and designs from all around the world – he showcases not only his projects but, occasionally, other’s ideas and designs that he thinks highlights flooring and good design.

Glenn says: ‘We mention manufacturers and the products we’ve used. We’re regularly approached by them shortly afterwards so they can use our projects on their own websites for case studies.’ The most recent examples of this he cites involve Quantum Nosings, Paragon Carpets and Tuskbond who have all, he says, added his work to their websites.

As for types of installation he feels his company excels at – and so specialises in – he highlights ‘creating walkways and creating seamless transitions that are not only a great feature but functional too’.

To the future
One area Glenn addresses is sustainability. He, like others, is seeing environmentally friendly products growing increasingly popular – ‘the designs and materials being used now offer many choices nowadays. We love supporting this process by being involved with groups like Recofloor and the manufacturers that offer take back schemes on their old or unused products; the recycling of vinyl flooring and carpet tiles gives not only us, but the clients a real way of doing their bit towards the environment’.

Glenn’s company aims to collaborate with like-minded customers ‘where recycled products are paramount to them. We work with companies which provide reuseable or pre-fitted carpet tiles. Hopefully the steps being taken now will help towards a new way of flooring that can be used safely, cleanly and ‘greenly’ in the future.’

As for the future of Glenn’s business, he simply says: ‘We aim to continue what we set out to do from the very start. That is, to keep quality paramount to everything we do; to never sacrifice it or the integrity we’ve earned and built up with our customers and suppliers; and to offer pragmatic advice and solutions on every project we undertake.’

But of course, there’s more to Glenn. As we’ve read, design is important to him and he considers it his duty to ‘source new funky, quirky, and eye-catching flooring products to amaze clients’. He also wants to stay, as he puts it, ‘sniper-focused’ on ensuring his fitting team – termed ‘the wolf pack’ – are trained and continue to learn by attending training centres such as FloorSkills and FITA.

In essence, he sees his company’s role as assisting clients through each process they’re involved in ‘and to make and keep business fun while ensuring we’re approachable to anyone who requires help with anything flooring related’.

He makes the point that he’s ‘constantly focused on finding new and exciting designs to ‘capture the eyes’ of our audience online’.

For him, this, he reckons, shows ‘our passionate and borderline ‘nerdy’ fascination with flooring’. He also says: ‘By finding new and niche products our enthusiasm will radiate through to our customers which we hope instils confidence.’

Fundamentally, he’s of the view ‘if someone has a true interest and passion for what they do then high quality and professionalism will tend to go hand in hand with service’.

Of course, jobs may be similar but they’re never the same. It’s for this reason Glenn values having what he terms ‘a strong online presence’ in tandem with social media. The reason for this is that it gives him the ‘opportunity to engage with some great designers and refurbishment companies’ where all can share ideas and designs for their upcoming projects’.

In other words, it allows a discussion on what’s achievable, what’s practical and what his company can do. Even so, Glenn emphasises that each project must be adaptable and will expectedly evolve. This is because ‘trends are constantly changing within the workplace, even more so now with Covid-19 regulations coming in to play. Designs are having to be thought through on a more thorough scale – space allowance and zoning areas are top of the list of priorities’.

Looking to the future, he says the company ‘is making a bigger push into the personal branding element of flooring, creating hand crafted logos, emblems, drawings and even quotes and text that are set into the flooring’.

He also aims to have features that offer guidance and maps throughout an office, quirky signs for restrooms and breakout spaces – and even a welcoming message on entrance matting to a business. Where he draws a distinction between his business and rivals is that they’re ‘usually based on a large-scale order to warrant them creating this type of flooring, but not with us. We can generally create whatever is needed in almost any type of material used for flooring and bring their vision to life’.

So, it appears that with a ‘can-do’ attitude G Harding Flooring has a very bright future.

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