A young, fiercely driven Derbyshire-based flooring contractor has its sights set on national domination. That may sound ambitious, but underestimate them at your peril…
At our second interview, I heard that Shire had been ‘lucky’ because despite soaring inflation caused partly by bottlenecking supply chains, its suppliers hadn’t exploited it by doubling their prices overnight. Yes, prices had increased but it could have been much worse, Jordan explained. And, he added, the company had been ‘lucky’ because none of its clients, primarily main contractors, had until that point gone into administration or denied it its profit.
Perhaps they have a different definition of luck in Derbyshire, but as far as I know, it’s defined as opportunity meeting preparation. Even Bruce Lee had something to say about it: ‘You have to create your own luck. Be aware of the opportunities around you and take advantage of them.’
It occurred to me that maybe Shire was ahead of the curve on Covid-19: what if, sensing that the global plague was about to reach our shores and not wanting to needlessly lose out on its big projects near London, it organised the house in order to avoid having no lodgings when hotels closed? And what if, instead of being lucky that it hasn’t been screwed over by its clients and suppliers, it’s actually been quite canny about the ones with whom it’s chosen to do business?
Having met Jordan and his team in Belper, I’m inclined to believe that the traditional description of luck (think winning the lottery thanks to a random set of numbers) is something that doesn’t apply to Shire. This company, it’s clear, makes its own luck.
I first came across the company’s name in 2019 when it was a finalist in CFJ’s inaugural installation awards. Back then, it was shortlisted for the Best Flooring in a Hotel category for an installation at the Marriott Hotel in Milton Gate, Oxford with Forbo Flooring Systems.
Late last year, with a couple of manufacturer-related appointments already booked in the surrounding counties, I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit a Midlands contractor and see how it was emerging from the lockdowns and because Shire is a CFA member, I quickly found their contact details in the CFA Members’ Handbook.
Some contractors I spoke to said they were simply too busy to spare an hour with their friendly industry hack, even if it meant loads of free publicity. Given how busy tradespeople were after the lifting of each lockdown, that came as no surprise. But it made me all the more grateful to those contractors who said they had time to chat despite being rushed off their feet.
Jordan seized on the opportunity but as he was about to embark on a long-delayed, much-deserved holiday near Alicante in Spain on the proposed dates, we scheduled a Zoom instead, with a potential site visit planned for later in the year.
A glance at Shire’s website describes an ‘established flooring contractor based in the Midlands operating UK, nationwide’ which ‘endeavoured to exceed your expectations at all times’.
As flooring contractors, Shire says it offers ‘a complete range of flooring services, including installation of vinyl, carpet, ceramics, laminate, rubber, entrance matting, commercial, and industrial hardwood flooring’. Its range included such illustrious brands as Amtico, Karndean Designflooring, Polyflor, Tarkett, Balta, Altro, Ege, and Burmatex’.
So far, so good. But it was Shire’s client list which really caught my eye, its diversity ranging from Aston Martin, Honda, Jaguar, and Mazda to the likes of Marriott Hotel & Resorts, Premier Inn, Amazon, McDonald’s, and Royal Mail – to name a few. I was interested, above all, to find out how a fledgling business had managed to amass such an impressive CV in such a short space of time.
‘We’re pretty new to the marketplace, so we’re keen to get our name out there,’ said Jordan when we connected on Zoom. ‘Making a success of Shire has been a steep learning curve – we’ve had to grow robustly but not too quickly, and that’s required a delicate balancing act.’
Jordan is exactly what I’d expected from a man in his position – straight-up with characteristic northern directness but also affable and in most respects just a regular guy on the cusp of 40. But look closer and you’ll sense a restlessness and a glint in the eye that betrays his ambition. As he answered my questions about Shire’s past, his mind seemed focused on the future – ever onwards and upwards. Here’s someone, I thought, who knows exactly where he’s going, and his foot’s not coming off the accelerator until he gets there.
A case in point: Shire has grown from only three office staff to 10 since January 2020, and now ‘more desks are going to have to be put into our offices’, says Jordan. It’s a good problem to have.
‘So,’ I said, ‘let’s hear your story from the beginning.’
II. FROM RIVALS TO PARTNERS
hire Flooring had an unlikely genesis: its co-founders, Jordan McRobie and Jonathan Pearce, weren’t exactly fans of each other the first time they met. In fact, they nearly came to blows, although I resist asking which one would’ve ended up worse for wears.
As Jordan recalls teasingly: ‘He played dirty on the field. We were on opposing teams during a football match – me playing for Swanwick and him for Holbrook – when I noticed him, this big bruiser, charging towards me. I tried to get around him but he tried to take me out. I thought: ‘This guy’s going to break my legs!’.’
A spat followed but – this being footie – it was soon resolved when the men later found themselves playing on the same team. They discovered they had more in common than they’d initially thought, and Jonathan – who was in the flooring industry – even turned to Jordan for business advice.
‘Since then, we’ve got on quite well,’ says Jordan. So well, in fact, that they were soon sitting in a pub discussing how to set up a flooring business. At least the prelude to their collaboration had more drama than others we hear about – the one between Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google’s co-founders, for instance. We’re told they initially found each other obnoxious, and ‘argued about many topics, including urban planning’. They don’t do things that tamely up north!
It wasn’t long before Jordan and Jonathan organised the next crucial step: what to call their new endeavour. ‘The name was Jonathan’s idea,’ says Jordan. ‘It came from the fact that we wanted to operate in several counties with ‘shire’ on the end of their names – Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire etc. My only proviso had been that we didn’t tie our company down to one town, such as Derby, because it would lead people to believe we weren’t interested in nationwide projects. So ‘shire’ stuck – and I think it’s a fantastic name!’
The company was officially launched on 22 March 2016, with the first project coming in about July that year. From the start, Jordan had his sights set on increasing turnover exponentially and, six years later, he’s right on target. In its first year, Shire hit £200,000, increasing that to just under £740,000 the following year. At the end of the third year, it was just shy of £1.4m and by the end of year four it was up to £1.85m. For year five (which was being dealt with at the time of my interviews with Jordan), he’s estimating £2.48m, and next year he has his eye on £4m. That’s not so much acceleration as rocket-fuelled lift-off.
While fast growth is usually a good thing for any business, it can be dangerous for a new company. Losing track of finances, cashflow mistakes, overvaluing of sales, ineffective business operations, hiring the wrong people, neglecting customer service, management errors, and underestimating technological requirements are all common pitfalls of companies that grows too fast. A carpet tile manufacturer told me smaller businesses in the flooring industry can – and do – overstretch themselves by overheating. The problem comes when small firms, which can by their very nature rely on agility, find that their logistical infrastructure can’t keep up with their growth.
But while Jordan concedes that the first few years were ‘a steep learning curve’, he’s quick to point out ‘it’s about growing but not too quickly. It’s about having labour resources, materials, and structure within your business to be able to carry out all the additional work. The first two or three years of any business is quite slow as you try to grow your business, getting people to trust you. But now our name’s out there we seem to be turning over the work’.
When Covid-19 forced the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, Shire was as stunned as any other firm. ‘We asked ourselves, ‘Where do we go from here? Do we stick at it?’ The priority was looking after staff because that always pays dividends in the future. Their safety was paramount.’
But, adds Jordan, (and here comes that magic word again) ‘we luckily run a framework that includes Newfield Primary School in London so within a week they were coming back onboard’. Nonetheless he admits it was ‘a scary time, and nobody realised just how serious it was in April 2020’.
Fortunately, the same government now mercilessly mocked by the mainstream media owing to its lockdown-related shenanigans, came up with an unprecedently generous plan – furlough (or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, to give it its official name). Launched in March 2020, it was designed to support employers to retain and continue to pay staff while businesses were closed. Government paid up to £2,500 per month to furloughed employees.
Some amounts claimed by big corporates were eyewatering. The bookmaker Ladbrokes, for instance, claimed nearly £102m, despite sales in online bets rocketing during lockdown. When the firm was approached for a possible takeover its business was valued at a staggering £16bn, although US rival Draftkings ultimately walked away (according to The Daily Telegraph, the ceo of Ladbrokes-owner Entain has said she’s considering returning £102m of the money to taxpayers).
Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, had probably intended his financial scheme to mostly benefit smaller companies such as Shire, so I asked Jordan how helpful furlough had been. His answer was revealing: ‘We never used it, or took any other handouts. We could’ve shut the business down overnight, but we chose not to.’
III. GOING VIRAL
hen the first lockdown hit, Shire had just started work on a newbuild secondary school in Clapham, south London, its biggest project at the time (a week earlier, it had signed up for a house as accommodation for its floorlayers, thus avoiding the hassle of hotels having closed overnight).
In addition, Shire had another big job on a Premier Inn newbuild in Scarborough but, again, fate smiled on the company. ‘Because we’re based in the Midlands, our floorlayers were able to travel to and from the installation in a day, which meant we didn’t need accommodation. We had to do what we could to complete our projects in the timeframes we’d been given.’
Paradoxically, Jordan points out that in some ways the manner in which construction sites operated in the days and months after March 2020 worked in favour of floorlayers. He’s not the first contractor to tell me that, for once, floorlayers weren’t competing with other tradespeople to get their jobs done against the clock.
‘During lockdown, we had to ensure social distancing regulations were observed onsite, which meant we had the time and space to complete our jobs thoroughly and timeously. Normally, we’d be jostling with decorators and electricians for positions in rooms. But, ironically, the new way of doing things took us back to ‘old school’ days – probably before my time – where you had a programme and everybody stuck to it when they were working in certain areas.’
That, says Jordan, made things run more efficiently for contractors. ‘The guys onsite are left to fight their own corners but for a long time during lockdown working practices were ideal. I wish it had stayed that way but as society has reopened and Covid-19 regulations fall away, I fear construction sites are reverting to the way they were.’
Although lockdown favoured contractors who specialised in, for instance, hospitals and other medical facilities, Shire prides itself on its diversity, as witnessed by the aforementioned collection of client logos on its website. There’s a lot to be said for that approach, says Jordan. ‘Our ability to work in different sectors during lockdown certainly helped. If our workstreams been only in pubs or restaurants, we might’ve been in trouble during lockdown. We don’t specialise in any particular area – we’re comfortable going from newbuild distribution centres to car showrooms, and we’re open to working with all types of soft flooring. They’re generally all the same to be honest.’
Some of Shire’s biggest installations have come in the form of framework agreements – not to be confused with a contract. The difference is that a buyer (main contractor) runs mini-competitions or ‘call off’ competitions among the suppliers on the framework agreement each time it has a requirement, and the successful supplier fulfils the requirement. Frameworks are used when the contracting authority needs to develop a strategic relationship with the supply chain over a long period. These are the high-spend construction programmes often found in education, housing, and motorways.
Shire has been working with large main contractors which tend to return to subcontractors which impress them the first time around. ‘These contractors know the quality of our installations which, as you can see by our photo portfolio, is pretty high. As long as we deliver that standard of work, they’re happy and will keep moving forward with us.’
In early 2020, Shire was placed on the framework for three newbuild secondary schools in inner London for Bowmer Kirkland, a firm which describes itself as ‘one of the largest and most successful privately owned construction and development groups in the UK as a result of our commitment to client satisfaction’.
The collaboration was straightforward. ‘We don’t have to tender for this type of work and there’s no cost upfront trying to secure the project or getting the estimators to look at it; jobs are assigned based on rates,’ says Jordan.
Bowmer Kirkland provided Shire with the project details, at which point they collaborated early to prepare the flooring aspect of the installation. ‘We had input on where certain flooring types needed to go,’ says Jordan. ‘The architects looked at it too, then the design was fully signed off. There aren’t usually technical difficulties because the projects are run really well.’
The main challenge for Shire in such circumstances is resources: problems occur when two floorlayers are planned for but ultimately eight or even 12 are needed because of timeframes. Shire has to ensure it has extra subcontractors and employees to send onsite.
Another issue is temperature and advising main contractors about how it affects the laying of products. ‘Floorlaying in summer is fine,’ Jordan explains, ‘but winter brings complications. At that point, we look closely at what the manufacturers say about their products. At a certain temperature, interior heating is needed. Simply speaking, if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s guidance, you’re going to run into problems. You’ve got to follow the letter of the law in everything!’
Failure of screeds if damp-proof membranes (DPMs) aren’t put down, for instance, can lead to screeds breaking up. ‘If you remember that main contractors aren’t flooring specialists – that’s why they hire us – then you’ll understand that we have a duty to inform them about what problems could occur.’
IV. EDUCATION IN INSTALLATIONS
ast year, between 35-40% of Shire’s business, amounting to about £1m of its turnover, came from framework agreements with the likes of Bowmer Kirkland and ISG.
So, how exactly does the process work?
For schools, Shire’s name is placed next to a project around Christmas and over the next month or two, it liaises with the site teams,’ explains Jordan. ‘A month later, it holds a ‘pre-start’ meeting, looking to be onsite a month later. So, from the start of the year the contractor is usually onsite by April or May with early September as a finish date; Covid-19 has messed with these dates because of the effect it’s had on school opening times.
‘When taking on a new project, I attend the ‘pre-start’ with Jonathan in his role as operations director before handing it over to the team. From then on, I run the project from the Belper office while Jonathan oversees the installation from a fitting point-of-view. It gets tough onsite sometimes, usually around ensuring we’re given the areas we need. When you’re working on a floor, you need the entire floor in a room – not part of it.’
July and August are, in any event, just like the pre-Christmas rush in terms of workload, adds Jordan, so ‘we’re under the cosh constantly with respect to schools and universities – and that’s before you factor in labour shortages’.
Having just finished its sixth school in two years, Shire now takes to school installations like a duck to water. And just as Bowmer Kirkland has a framework agreement in place to use Shire, Shire for its part has an agreement to use specified flooring suppliers. In the case of the school in Maidstone, Kent, it used Bostik for DPMs, latex, primers, and adhesives; Burmatex for carpet tiles and barrier matting; and Gerflor for all vinyls.
When Shire bids for work, it can afford to be cheaper than its bigger competitors, and often that’s how it managed to beat them. But Jordan is at pains to point out that it’s not just about the money, which would equate to an unsavoury ‘race to the bottom’.
‘As much as price – if not even more – it’s about quality. It’s about how we price and, crucially, look to manage the projects. Companies return for repeat business, not only because they haven’t spent a fortune on us, but because we offer quality. We’re scored ‘behind the scenes’ by key performance indicators (KPIs) and if the project teams take a liking to you, they’ll want you on their next flooring installation.’
Jordan admits to a thrill when Shire is chosen over its more illustrious competitors. ‘It’s a great feeling. We started small but our aim is to be one of the best.’
As a relatively young company, Shire has had to focus most of its energy on its growth strategy, but that doesn’t mean its unaware of other pressing issues facing the industry. The most glaring one at the moment – skilled labour (or rather, the lack of it) – isn’t going away, and Shire is as concerned about the unfolding crisis as larger contractors.
‘We’re trying to employ more floorlayers directly but we have several subcontractors on our accounts at the moment. Currently, we’re using between ten-and 15 subcontractors but we have up to 30 who work for us on-and-off depending on the project size and location.’
In its early days, Shire found subcontractors were the only option, the reason being there were gaps between projects, meaning there were periods when a fully employed floorlayer wouldn’t be working, which didn’t make financial sense. In addition, when it hired full-time contractors, it had to be cognisant that they often had families so it was impractical to regularly send them to far-flung parts of the UK. Nonetheless, now the company is growing, Jordan says it’s looking to change gear.
When it comes to apprenticeships, Jordan admits this was a ‘no-go area’ when Shire started but that changed as installations started to increase. ‘One guy in his late 20s left another industry to become a floorlayer because his brother works for us – we’re now putting him through his college course. We’ve also got a lad of 19 who started with us in 2021 and is currently completing his course.’
Unfortunately, not everyone the company invests in works out. ‘One guy, a waiter before he started working for us, was actually very good. But then he decided it wasn’t for him and returned to pub work. Okay, that might’ve earned him a few more pounds an hour to start with, but in the long run flooring pays you back – and then some – if you stick with it. We try people out when we can but youngsters aren’t showing interest in the construction industry across the board.’
Part of the problem, Jordan says, is that most people don’t know someone who’s a floorlayer, unlike brickies and electricians. ‘How do you attract young people into the industry when they aren’t hearing about its benefits first-hand from friends, acquaintances, and family?’
Is industry doing enough to improve the situation? Jordan sighs. ‘It’s difficult enough to attract young people but I also think it’s youngsters’ attitudes. We’re currently looking for apprentices for office jobs including administrators and estimators, but we’re not getting uptake. We’ve tried for months but they’re just not there – and that’s before we even get to the physical part of floorlaying.’
But as Jordan’s own journey into the world of flooring illustrates, that path is seldom straightforward.
V. EARLY CHOICES
oth Jordan and Jonathan were born and grew up in Belper, Derbyshire. With a population of nearly 22,000, Belper is a town and civil parish on the banks of the River Derwent in the district of Amber Valley, just north of Derby. In medieval times it was known for its nail-making and during the early Industrial Revolution, it earned fame as one of the first mill towns, boasting many textile mills, some of which can still be seen today.
Belper has produced a handful of famous sons and daughters including Jedediah Strutt, inventor and industrialist, who opened his first mill there; Samuel Slater, ‘father of the American Industrial Revolution’; Timothy Dalton, the fourth James Bond; and mountain climber, Alison Hargreaves, who scaled Mount Everest unaided.
At least Jordan didn’t have to scale Everest to end up in flooring, but there were a few peaks and troughs to navigate. Born on 12 April 1982 and after attending Waingroves Primary School and Heanor Secondary School, he decided he’d had enough of education and wanted to see how his talents would fare in the real world.
But first he had to find out what those talents were. ‘I decided quite early I didn’t want to go to university, so towards the end of my second year I started looking for a job. I was unsure about what I wanted to do although my forte has always been numbers.’
At his first job, he noted the accountant, who although he worked with numbers, spent his day at his office desk which didn’t appeal to Jordan. But quantity surveying was more to his liking, involving as it does advice on financial and contractual matters relating to construction projects.
‘I wanted to be onsite, involved in the activity, and doing something number-based – quantity surveying ticked all those boxes.’ He soon secured a position as a junior estimator at a local ceiling partitioning firm, where he wasn’t given an opportunity to learn much while taking materials to site. But, crucially, his foot was in the door.
‘I worked there for six months, then realised I needed to expand my education with a construction management HNC. The firm wasn’t forthcoming about helping me get that even though I was happy to work Saturdays. I reckoned I needed to find an employer who could support me to grow as an individual.’
The result was a move to Birse Rail which had been established in 1996 to provide a quality construction service to the newly privatised railway industry. The firm had grown from a small base of works focused largely on the Midlands to become one of the industry’s largest contractors, undertaking a range of civil engineering and building projects to railway infrastructure in the UK.
Here Jordan worked on the railways for two years as a junior quantity surveyor in Birmingham, before switching to become a client-side quantity surveyor for Franklin & Andrews. ‘I took that step to get experience and develop my expertise, and it led to me working on the biggest lab to be built in 40 years, at Rutherford Appleton Labs near Didcot, Oxfordshire. It was a real eye-opener.’
Jordan is referring to the Diamond Light Source (DLS), the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines. I can’t imagine anything more different from floorlaying, but it’s precisely the sort of job which has given Jordan an almost kaleidoscopic work background.
Meanwhile, Jordan had been working on an HNC in construction management at Derbyshire University, then followed it up with a quantity surveying degree in Birmingham because his work had been Birmingham-based. This had meant regular travel from just outside Derby to Birmingham.
‘I had two years left of my degree which, I figured, I could probably compress into less than one year, maybe even eight months.’
At that point in his life, Jordan was flirting with the idea of working in ‘up-and-coming places such as Australia or Dubai’. In fact, a quantity surveyor he met at university ended up doing very well for himself Down Under. But, while pondering his future, Jordan met his future wife Jenny who was a bit younger than him and about to embark on her university studies; their relationship put an end to any long-term travel plans. Instead, Jordan spent a summer doing manual labour, trying – not for the first time – to figure how what he was going to do with his life. Ironically, it was this very ‘time out’ from work which led to a permanent job in quantity surveying. ‘They didn’t initially realise it was my passion but when they discovered it, they let me at it.’
Over the next decade, Jordan worked his way up the career ladder, all the while further building on his expertise. His next move was to a shopfitting company called Key Property Solutions. In the meantime, he and Jenny had their first child and, in June 2012, they got married. Another tot came along in September 2013 and a third one in March 2016, just as Shire Flooring was being launched.
Even Jordan admits ‘that was a busy period in my life’.
Indeed, to many people, it might seem like a lot to take on. But, as Jordan points out, he has the right temperament to balance his work-life situation. ‘I have a magic ability to switch off when I leave work. I don’t waste time and energy worrying about what might or might not happen tomorrow. Of course, much depends on what you’ve gone through in your life and how you manage it. At the end of the day everything in a business can be sorted.’
VI. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
t’s just as well Jordan has a cool head given the number of issues facing most UK businesses since the end of lockdown. From problems that loomed before Covid-19 – Brexit, sustainability requirements and skilled labour being the primary ones – to those caused by the pandemic, such as the crisis in the supply chain, the lack of availability of raw materials, and escalating inflation, it’s been a challenging period of play, with no sign of let-up in the near future.
The Brexit referendum in June 2016, which reflected a majority UK desire to leave the EU, took place when Shire was a mere two-months-old. Surely that caused Jordan and Jonathan a few headaches?
‘At the start, we thought: ‘How’s this going to affect us when it actually happens?’ The inevitable pushback from the EU and the amount of work required for the changing of rules, played on my mind. We were just about to enter into contracts when Brexit was triggered and the biggest worry was: ‘How is this going to affect material supply? Are prices going to double overnight?’
Nonetheless, because we were so new and small we reckoned we could roll with the punches. Since Covid-19 emerged, Brexit seems to have faded into the background.’
Jordan points out that Brexit may have had a fortuitous escape in this regard: ‘Because Covid-19 hit only three months after Brexit went through, many people blame the pandemic for supply issues. In that respect, some problems that would’ve been attributed to Brexit are now blamed on Covid-19.’
When it comes to material supply issues and inflation, Jordan feels that while the industry (including Shire) has been adversely affected, it’s certainly avoided the material shortages and price increases in, for instance, the steel and timber sectors.
Undoubtedly, this is true: less than a year ago, the Timber Trade Federation which represents more than four-fifths of the wood supplied and traded in the UK, noted that ‘owing to pandemic-driven factors and high domestic and international demand, the formerly-abundant stock levels enjoyed by buyers in the UK haven’t been able to be rebuilt since March 2020’ and that ‘supply will tighten as 2021 progresses: sawmills in Europe normally enter a period of shutdown for repair, maintenance, and holidays in June/July. Global demand continues to be high, particularly for structural and other softwood materials, panel products and hardwoods which will exacerbate the supply situation’.
‘We see Polyflor, Forbo etc putting in their annual increases as they normally do but they’re not putting on 25%, it’s more like between 3-5%. As a business we don’t like going back to our clients cap-in-hand; instead we try to take as much as we can on the chin because it’s about building future relationships.
‘Yes, there have been supply problems, but it’s ultimately all about managing them. We know we’re going to have issues so instead of worrying about that, we’ve been working on plans to put in place as soon as possible.’
Jordan hastens to add that it’s not just about making last-minute orders, but rather about ‘getting it all programmed in for the future, then seeing how it goes’. Fortunately, he says, most flooring industry contracts are signed and sealed six months in advance so prices at that point are more-or-less fixed and ‘if you get an increase during the months leading up to the start of the installation, hopefully you’ll have the contingency plans to absorb the extra cash’.
Inflation is always a worry but if you get too het up about it, it will cause you more anxiety, says Jordan. ‘Everyday we’re pricing projects, we’re taking a view on what the current market is and potentially what it could be. So I’m adjusting prices every single day for adhesives, for instance. I’m looking at costs and figuring out: What could it increase to over the next few months? And when is this project going to be onsite? If I’m going onsite with a project within a month, then we’re probably okay on price.’
Then there’s the ever-present issue of sustainability. Like apprenticeships, though, it wasn’t something Shire could afford to prioritise when it started out. Nonetheless, now the company’s growing, it’s more aware of how being sustainably aware positively impacts a business.
‘For us, it’s about simple stuff such as car or van sharing to reduce our carbon footprint,’ says Jordan. ‘As for the materials we use, in most cases these have been procured by the architect who has already analysed the sustainable element. We try to minimise our waste, too.’
Retentions and late payments are problems Shire has chosen to deal with proactively by handpicking its clients and using a credit insurance agency to protect it against bad debts, although the agency doesn’t insure Shire against companies with poor credit records. This means Shire has had to do its homework about who it does business with.
‘One thing that really worried me about Covid-19 was that we’d have companies asking to pay late or not paying at all,’ says Jordan. ‘But that never materialised. Fingers crossed, we’ve not had a client defaulting on payments or going into administration. But because we’re growing at a substantial rate, we’re forced to take some risks.’
To get around late payments, Shire ensures there’s always money in the business to avoid being dependent on incoming cash. ‘We can’t afford to have late payments affecting the day-to-day running of the business. That’s a big part of our strategy. You do get late payers and if their excuse is plausible we do let it slide, but there does come a point when we say: ‘Time to pay up!’ To be fair, they all do, in my experience.’
Likewise, retentions mean a lot of money is held back, which isn’t ideal. But it hasn’t impacted Shire ‘majorly’, according to Jordan. ‘Still, each year I analyse the figures and tell myself we need to start claiming more.’
VII. TOP OF THE POPS
f you were to make a hit parade of the issues facing contractors, health and safety would be the smash hit every time. That’s no exception for Shire.
In fact, in Jordan’s words ‘it’s paramount, top of the list. You should never cut corners with health and safety. It’s so important we have an external company to look after it while, internally, Jonathan oversees it. It’s always challenging, particularly staying updated with the rules and regulations which were turned on their head by Covid-19, of course’.
Jordan likens his and Jonathan’s roles in Shire to being mountaineers scaling a peak. ‘It’s sunny with a breeze one day, then the next you’re fighting the elements – strong winds, torrential rain. But during the tough times, I just remind myself that I have to try to enjoy every minute or it’ll become a drag. I’m constantly looking at new ways to make the business more efficient while making sure the staff are looked after.’
Another challenge for newbies in any industry is forming partnerships to take your business forward. Jordan discovered that some manufacturers kept their distance at first because ‘you’ve got no substance to start with, they don’t know you from Adam, so there’s no incentive for them to get to know you’.
But once Shire started growing, buying more products from various manufacturers, and showing industry it meant business, the more the manufacturers wanted to know about this new kid on the block.
‘I completely understand their attitude,’ says Jordan. ‘That’s how most business relationships are formed – you don’t rush into them. We’re now at the point where we’re on good terms with most of them, although some remain standoffish. Those few should be looking at us as an untapped resource and speaking to us so they can get more out of us.’
I’m curious to know who the ‘good ones’ are, and Jordan doesn’t hesitate to sing their praises. ‘We have a very good relationship with manufacturers such as IVC, Forbo Flooring Systems, Moduleo, Quantum Flooring and Bostik.’
Shire’s relationship with Tarkett evolved steadily, helped by the fact that its local rep often popped into Shire offices to discuss product ranges. ‘We found out Tarkett doesn’t do just carpet tile or vinyl – they’ve got the full range, even timber, which we put forward for an installation. They always seem to be available for a chat on the phone and they always bend over backwards to help us. In addition, they’ve got a lot of stock in this country which helps, because one problem we found with Brexit was although there was plenty of stock in other countries, it was difficult to get it here in the required timeframes owing to shipping bottlenecks.’
Then there’s the source of Shire’s subfloor preparation products. ‘Ninety-five percent of those come from Bostik, with whom we have good relations and who have chosen to partner with us. We’ve had to build those lines of communication in order to grow the business, and it’s worked out in many cases. We use them for subfloor, adhesives and tackifiers, and we’ve yet to come across a fitter who moans about their products.’
Skilled labour shortages may be the biggest obstacle facing Shire because it’s driving up the cost of labour generally, but Jordan still has a sunny outlook when it comes to the overall industry situation. ‘Current market conditions are good, there’s loads of work for everyone, we’re not in a recession or fighting for work, or slashing rates to try to win work. That’s got to be positive for business owners.’
In the early days, when manufacturer reps were sent out to meet Shire, Jordan told them: ‘We may not be a force to be reckoned with now – but we’ll get there in the not-too-distant future because our aim is to grow each year. We’ve put everything in place to get to £10m turnover by at least Year 10. I’m still young, but maybe when I’m 50 I’ll want to start slowing down. Right now though I’m doing seven days a week, 12 hours a day; I’ve got the passion and as long as I do, I’ll keep pushing.’
The masterplan is to be the biggest flooring contractor in Belper, then in Derbyshire, then in the East Midlands and ultimately, if possible, the UK. That echoes what Jordan told Jonathan when they formed Shire: ‘If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to set out to be the best we can and compete with the biggest.’
At this rate, the globe itself may not be big enough to contain Shire Flooring’s ambitions. I would wish them the best of luck but – luckily for them – I think they’ve got that bit covered.