In September 2021, CFJ profiled Dale Osborne of Camox Floors. We contacted him
again recently to discuss what, if anything, has changed…
READERS may remember a profile in these pages on Dale Osborne, who, at the very start of 2021, bought Camox Floors – a firm he’d previously been working at for 34 years – from its retiring owner. In that profile, CFJ looked at the problems Dale came up against when, quite simply, he was getting the business back on its feet after years of decline.
Now, 21 months on from Dale’s purchase, it’s appropriate to see how time – and business – have treated him.
An interesting time
The first question put to Dale was how would he describe the year since we last spoke? Pleasingly, he says that it has been ‘interesting and had gone better’ than he thought.
As he says: ‘After the first year and a bit of trading it continues to be a learning curve. With all the great support we’ve received from the industry and old clients the year has gone better than expected, especially after coming out of such a difficult period.’ He’s referring to Covid-19 of course.
Streamlining for success
He notes that the relative success of his first year is as a result of the changes he made to the old ways of working.
Dale details how ‘the main focus has been to adapt the business to suit how it has to run to keep it buoyant; no staff have been hired but changes in paid services have proved fundamentally successful’.
He tells how the company’s accountants have streamlined processes to give him more time to focus on other aspects of the business. He adds that they’ve given him ‘great advice about methods and benefits of simplifying everything’.
This means that, fortunately, gone are the days of writing cheques out – ‘people reading this will think and ask, ‘they were still writing cheques in 2020?’’. Now Dale says banking and payments are done far more quickly and efficiently online.
Gone also is the expensive BT broadband and an old-fashioned Meridien phone system in favour of a more effective and cheaper cloud-based system. He also now has a specialist IT company looking after email and his website. Insurance has also seen change – ‘it’s cheaper, but not the cheapest as there are some things that you shouldn’t compromise on’. There’s also been change to what Dale calls ‘the old-fashioned looking office’ – a quick makeover and clear out is much to the approval of his visitors who distinctly remember what it was like before.
Another change Dale made was to remove credit insurance from his sales ledger. This was because the company had ‘such a reduced turnover by the time the ‘boss’ decided to retire, and having nothing in the order book, that it seemed hardly worth paying someone to insure something that wasn’t there’.
Now, and in place of insurance, Dale only works with clients that are credit-worthy and returns tenders from those that are unknown to him. Further, he declines to price jobs Camox is simply unsuited to – reasons for this may be related to the nature of the work, distance from the office or lack of faith in the specified product. In short, he says he’s ‘become far more selective than the old boss was’.
Payments have, he says, been met in full by every client over this past year; retentions, though, can be an issue if not paid when due. However, Dale inherited some retentions that are on the books which haven’t been released; he says this ‘can be frustrating’. He’s pragmatic and says: ‘It’s no good getting too forceful about it though, and putting peoples’ back up, unless you intend to have the courage of your convictions and push them into litigation.’
The market in perspective
Onto business and Dale details how the two sides of his business are faring differently. In overview, he says: ‘The domestic market has been booming during the pandemic, but the commercial sector has struggled.’ And he describes why: ‘Mid-sized projects seem fewer and fewer, and fitouts even less so. Large and essential projects are still going ahead in key places around the country, such as motorway corridors, rail links and ports.’
Dale says Camox carried out ‘a reasonable amount of business in the first year, or at least enough to pay-off the bounce-back loan that helped us start’. He says business won came as a result of faith in him and support from previous clients.
However, he comments that, at present, ‘there are very few new clients in our order book, and I’ve found it difficult to find the time to run the business as I know it and get out in search of new work’. However, Dale recognises it’s still early days and ‘as things are still settling down and as I become more familiar with how to run things, the year ahead should offer more opportunities for us to expand our client base’. But with his feet firmly on the ground he emphasises he wants to maintain control ‘and not try to run before I can walk’.
This logic follows on from Dale’s view that Camox is, and always will be, dedicated to client satisfaction ‘and that’s the strength that stood me in good stead from the beginning of last year when clients found out I was at the helm’.
He continues: ‘Many commented that they always considered Camox was run by me anyway.’ Humbled and flattered, Dale explains that despite this he had virtually no input on the business side and just ran the jobs to get them over the line. And this is a lesson for all – that good relationships with clients matter and can led to plenty of repeat business. And for that Dale is very grateful.
Working in a post-Covid-19 world
As Dale noted earlier, he’s found business has ‘been difficult, and shows little sign of improving in the foreseeable future.’ He says that as Covid-19 played out, initially, while Camox could work he couldn’t get materials. Now materials are available, they’re rising in price on an almost weekly basis – ‘excessively so’.
Worse, he says ‘the pandemic and the war in Ukraine has taken the focus off how much Brexit is costing us… but I hope government can steer us through these troubled waters by allowing hard work to be rewarded and the economy to grow.’ He adds that he ‘hasn’t got a lot of time for people who can work but choose not to or are happy to pay ‘cash’ for jobs but moan when they have to pay more tax’.
And commenting more on price inflation and product availability in the sector, Dale says that ‘not being at the coalface, I can’t say why we’ve seen such increases in the costs of our materials. But what I’m aware of is that just about every aspect of them has gone up in cost, from the raw materials to packaging and transport costs, not to mention import duties’.
He worries that this may work in favour of those who supply inferior products from countries where ‘the labour element is dreadfully underpaid, and people are forced to work in terrible conditions’.
It’s interesting that Dale feels that the practice among manufacturers and producers in relation to sustainability is to appear to be doing the right thing for the planet, which I ‘sometimes take to mean re-boxing the same thing in prettier paper… many look for an angle on how they can make their products look ‘greener’ to appease designers and specifiers.’ He thinks that this may overshadow the aspects of the products that are not so good for the environment
By way of example, Dale talks of some carpet tile manufacturers who say that they are prepared to collect and recycle their tiles at the end of their use. In reality, he considers ‘this is a relatively expensive process someone has to pay for, which invariably leads to product going into a skip and subsequently into landfill’.
Further, he says it’s a ‘sad fact many designers and specifiers do select products that have the least detrimental effect on our planet, but contractors change them for cheaper options when a client looks to make savings to compensate for unforeseen expense they encounter during the build.’
Predicting the future
The last question for Dale is about his future – where does he see the company in, say, five years.
If a week in politics is a long time, Dale’s on a different plane as his horizons reach out much further. He feels he cannot look five years ahead and cannot comment on where Camox will be.
In the short term though, he says he’s lodged plans with his planning authority to alter the office and, ‘if they’re approved that should give me a great opportunity to improve all aspects of the premises’.
He’s also hopeful the economy will pick up enough so offices, schools, hospitals, and the like ‘will have sufficient funds’ to renew their floor coverings more frequently. As he says, for the moment at least, ‘there are too many businesses that can’t justify spending on the cosmetic aspects of their premises because of the financial pressure they are feeling from things they are prioritising more… it’s also true to say many offices are changing to dwellings – something that’s accelerated during the pandemic’.
So, to finish, it’s clear the Dale has taken on the gargantuan task of turning a business around. However, he’s making headway and it’ll be interesting to see how far he’s got in a few years’ time.