CFJ speaks to Sam Wilson, general manager of Cambridge-based Art of Flooring, about how the company was founded in 2017 and what it has been up to since then By ADAM BERNSTEIN.
IT’s interesting to see where business ideas spring from. For some, it’s a yearning for a career in a chosen field, a desire that’s been long held since childhood. For others it’s a function of happenstance. But there are cases where one business opportunity leads quite neatly to another.
And so it is with Cambridge-based Art of Flooring.
From the beginning
As Sam Wilson, general manager explains, Art of Flooring was founded in 2017 by Pierre and Laurence De Wet who set up and run a sister company, Art of Clean back in 2005. With more than 15 years of training and experience in the floor care and restoration industry, Pierre spotted an opening for another part of the business – supplying flooring.
As the story goes, Pierre founded Art of Flooring partly to offer ‘quality customer service,’ partly to ‘educate customers’, but also because Art of Clean was wasting an opportunity by passing on floorlaying business to third parties.
Sam is very new to the flooring industry, having come from the tools sector where he ran IT and marketing for the firm he worked for – but, as he says, ‘that hasn’t held me back.’ He tells how he was bought in to setup Art of Flooring back in June 2017.
Since joining he’s had to learn quickly – he has taken a number of courses at the FloorSkills Training Centre and has spent time with Pallmann and craftsmen from Europe at Workcamp Parquet in Germany. His training, as he sees it, was central to putting the firm on the right footing: ‘Even though I’m not installing floors I feel it is important to know the industry and where better than to learn from the experts.’ For him, training is everything, else ‘you’ll never know what to do correctly.’
The business has now grown and although Sam says the company is happy to travel anywhere, it aims to serve areas close to Cambridge. It’s strengths, he says, lie in ‘focussing on offering flooring solutions to match designs… and we work very closely with interior designers to achieve this.’
He continues: ‘We have really excelled in bringing classic wooden flooring designs such as herringbone to the forefront of our offering; this is installed and finished in the traditional method on site by our Pallmann Parkett Profi contractors at Art of Clean.’ It’s clear, then, that each side of the business – Art of Clean and Art of Flooring – closely work in tandem.
It’s impossible to disregard the effect of modern media and technologies on business promotion. For Sam, social media is key ‘when it comes to showing what we can do, but also how we do it. Our social media is a great place to see a gallery of completed work but also the story behind the work.’ He says that before, during and after photos are often used to give customers an idea of what can be achieved in many situations.
‘But, as he comments, social media is also used ‘to show our personalities and who is doing the work; this really helps build a relationship with our customer before we even meet.’
Twitter has been used to, among things, feature short videos that highlight the showroom’s layout as well as a ‘welcome back’ message post summer lockdown. But there’s more – also featured, both on the Art of Flooring’s website and on social media – are ‘how-to’ guides on, for example, how to cope with an escape of water or removing sticky tape residue from wood flooring.
On top of that, the company also uses website Houzz to showcase its work. Its efforts are so well regarded that Art of Flooring has won a number of awards including Best Service 2019 and 2020 and Best Design 2020.
And on the subject of the website, visitors are shown case studies of sites where the company has installed new flooring. This includes the laying of six colours of Bolon Woven Vinyl tiles at the offices of Cambridge Intelligence. The tiles were laid in a herringbone pattern to create a very modern design taking a cue from the client’s desire to have ‘more than a standard office space.’
Citing another contract example, Sam says he’s had the privilege to work with a local Arts and Crafts Museum – the David Parr House Visitors Centre in Cambridge.
‘From the first consultation the trustees fell in love with our showroom floor. They now have the exact same product and design in their visitor’s centre.’ He details how his showroom floor was an experiment, where ‘we took a mixture of rustic oak blocks all smoked for different periods of time and installed as a herringbone… it has to be one of the easiest sales to date.’
It’s notable this installation was well illustrated through a time-lapse video of the fitter’s progress. This and the case studies have become a very effective way to highlight Art of Floor’s capabilities.
It makes no odds how large or small a business – or a job – is, good management is central to growth. To keep Art of Floor on track, Sam says service management software is used ‘to track all parts of the business from initial enquiry to survey, to ordering, to scheduling all the way through to invoicing.’ This, he says, ensures that the company is fully aware of every detail about the job and can see it through to completion.
By the very nature of working alongside a restoration company Sam gets many tricky jobs. He points out that many cases of flooring failures may be repaired and restored using the expert installers and technicians from both Art of Flooring and Art of Clean. But that’s not always the case and so a new installation may be necessary.
Skills are essential
We’ve already noted that Sam thinks training to be vital. We’ve also seen that he has attended training courses at FloorSkills when some might say he didn’t need to. But just as he has learned, so have his colleagues in the sales teams and he thinks this give them the edge over rivals who employ staff that haven’t.
He says that, worryingly, ‘we find there are no end of installers who have never attended training courses and have simply learnt on the job. I’m not saying they are bad installers, but I think there should be a certain standard or qualification before you can complete work on site or in someone’s home.’
It’s all part, as he sees it, of ‘independent and small firms focussing on providing the personal service customers want to receive – something that the giants cannot.’
On sustainability, in his opinion, and no doubt experience, ‘clients are willing to pay the extra to ensure that products are coming from the best source.’ He adds that ‘it should not be the case of a sustainable sticker – there needs to be proof to where it is actually coming from.’ As a result, Art of Flooring only works with a small number of suppliers for its sustainably sourced European Oak ‘where it doesn’t swap hands with too many companies along the way.’
That said, Sam believes that most suppliers are doing the right thing when it comes to sustainability, ‘but you have to be picky and really question their policies though; more customers are aware of sustainability now and it’s important to do the right thing.’
And he looks at the bigger picture – ‘that it’s not just sustainability for us – we must do our own little bit to contribute to our community and the environment.’ Art of Flooring recognises that it’s important to make commitments to sustainability and to improving the quality of the environment for staff, customers, the local community, and the planet.
To this end he says ‘the company plants trees, supports local charities and our waste is handled by a company which is working towards ‘zero waste to landfill’.’
Fundamentally, Sam says Art of Flooring chooses to works with just a selected few companies: ‘We feel relationships are important in business and we want to know if we need support they will be there to support us. I’m not sure this can be said for all suppliers in the industry.’
We’ve seen before with other profiles, that coronavirus took the wind out of the sails of many in flooring. But fortunately, Sam reports that Art of Flooring has, overall, been busy. ‘Obviously the first lockdown was hard to deal with, what with not being able to work at all and putting all employees on furlough. However, since we reopened the doors we have been swamped with new enquiries.’
But to keep all involved safe, Sam’s introduced guidelines for installers and provided them with relevant PPE. The company has also introduced a notification system so that customers can call if anyone at the site has symptoms; jobs can be postponed at short notice.
Sam’s sure what’s been put in place has been done by others in the industry. Nevertheless, he does think that ‘we have to do what can now – we must not however forget what might be round the corner.’
It’s entirely clear to any onlooker that Art of Flooring has a very defined view on how to conduct business and it’s all about service and presentation. It’s not lost sight of where the company came from or where it’s going to.