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Glen Cartwright – going strong since 1981

PART ONE: Forty-three years is a long time. But as we’ll see over the next three issues, over that time Glen Cartwright has managed to create a business with a stellar reputation.

Glen Cartwright, Next Level Flooring Ltd, a Bona certified contractor – began his career in flooring in 1981 – the year of Charles and Diana’s wedding. That was also the year when when Ronald Reagan became president of the US, and when Only Fools and Horses was broadcast on BBC1 for the first time.

Yes, 43 years is a long time. But over the next three months, we’ll see that in that time Glen has managed to create a company with an excellent reputation.

From an acorn
Glen tells that his first job was as a butcher’s boy. ‘I lied about my age and got the job when I was almost 13.’ The butcher soon asked him to run the counter because, as Glen says, ‘the old boy’ who taught him was retiring.

But Glen knew he didn’t want to be in one place all the time. So, in looking to change career, he joined a local firm – A&R Porter – in 1981 as an apprentice, aged 16. The company had been going since 1946 and was reasonably local to him.

The company was owned by friends of his parents – ‘dad phoned them up, asking, and they said, ‘we’re looking for an apprentice’. I went down and interviewed, and they pretty much gave me the job there and then’.

Glen went straight to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) training college in Merton to learn the basics of floorlaying, different areas, carpets, tiles, vinyls, and so on. For two months straight he never met anyone at the company because of his college work.
Flooring was ideal for Glen as he’d always been interested in working with his hands and knew that he ‘was never going to be a brain surgeon’.

He says: ‘my dad told me to get myself a trade, and I took his advice’. But in taking that advice Glen soon saw the need for good planning too as the training college was not local, and not easy to get to. ‘I had to get the bus, a train, another bus, then walk quarter of a mile – it was quite a journey in the morning. I had to be up at six and everything had to connect otherwise I’d be late.’

Overall, he reckons it probably took two hours each way. And if it went wrong, he’d be marked down as late.

As to his father’s reasoning for a trade, Glen says he’d been in the Royal Navy, then the police. He also studied motor mechanics and was always busy. Glen later passed his father’s advice on to his daughter, Georgia; she’s now a manageress of a hairdresser in Reading. His point is that ‘if you’re good at what you do, you’ll always be busy’.

Travelling on your work
Once trained Glen went wherever A&R Porter sent him which, once it had won a contract with Unichem after buying out several pharmacists meant he travelled the country – as far as Newcastle or Scotland.

Glen recalls that A&R Porter was a large firm and probably had 12 people on the books and subcontractors that came in too. He says he was employed until 1984, aged 22. ‘I became a subcontractor for the company because I realised they got more money. That was under the old 715 subcontractors certificate system. I was quite happy as I used to do my own work outside of that.’

However, the extra work was, as he tells, ‘a nightmare’ because he had to borrow samples, go to the job, measure up, then return the samples that same night. ‘I could be out until 10 or 11 o’clock after doing a day’s work. But I was just trying to build my own business then I suppose.’

The technology of 1989 was revolutionary for Glen. He bought a mobile phone and ‘that completely changed everything along with opening up a few accounts’.

Glen stayed with A&R Porter until 1992, 11 years after he first joined. But in his time, he learned much from ‘the old boys’ who were, for example, sanding – something that wasn’t taught in college, along with the renovation of old floors, basic school halls and so on.
He also learned how to fit sports floors using penny washers. He describes the process for the uninitiated: ‘As you lay the wood, to allow for expansion you put in a penny washer and then pin it down and nail it through the top.’

But even though he learned the old ways Glen loves gadgets so invested heavily in tools over the years to make his life easier and improve his work. But that doesn’t mean he threw the old out for the new: ‘I still use the old ways, but I’ve tweaked them and improved them’ and he recalls the best advice he ever received – measure twice, cut once.’

That’s not to say he’s not made mistakes. In fact, he recalls cutting a carpet short for a large firm he was working for. But as he says, ‘everybody makes mistakes – it’s how you get out of them. It’s not about bodging, it’s doing something that looks good which you can walk away from and be happy with’. The key is to acknowledge the mistake and not repeat it.

Finding business
And this mantra – getting it right first time – has served Glen well as he doesn’t advertise for work. Rather, it all comes to him by word-of-mouth from the likes of British Airways, the Home Office and the Barbican. ‘I guess I’ve just got a good name in the trade,’ he says.
A good work ethic helps too.

Glen left A&R Porter for his own customers. ‘I was working seven days a week… I was working for Porters five days a week and then trying to keep people happy by working all weekend.’

Family life wasn’t great as he was always working to build up his business. But his hand was forced because government stopped the 715 system and A&R Porter gave him an ultimatum – ‘either come back on the cards, which I couldn’t to do because of what they were willing to pay, or go limited’.

He was young and knew little about running a company, but both he and his wife thought, why not give it a go?

His confidence was built over dinner with his wife’s former employer who he’d previously worked for and who’d offered to invest £30,000 into Glen’s business. The offer was declined but Glen’s morale was boosted. And as he says, A&R Porter would have taken him back if his leap of faith didn’t work out.

So, being in his late 20s at the start of the 90s and on his own, he needed the guarantee of more business and so spoke to a few local shops. But that, for Glen, meant he was told – as he puts it – ‘you finish that, you go here tomorrow, you do this… they kept putting more and more on me’.

At the same time, his son was diagnosed with autism which was tough on Glen as he was trying to deal with his work simultaneously.

Glen took a break from working for the shops.

Next month: Apprentices, work and memorable jobs.

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