In April CFJ, Andrew Biss, founder of Strippers Flooring, goes on record about everything from the challenges of flooring to the joys of touring with his son’s alternative band – and how he wants to redefine how tradespeople behave in client homes
AS soon as the interview with Andrew Biss starts, I address the elephant in the room. I’m referring to the name of his company – Strippers Flooring – which summons to mind images of people prancing around in their smalls. Maybe I’ve just got a disreputable mind, but I have a feeling it’s not the first time Andrew has had to deal with jokes about folk getting their kit off rather than the niceties of herringbone – at least by those who aren’t familiar with flooring terminology.
The world was a different place a quarter of a century ago, and while nobody would have blinked at the name in 1997, these days some might baulk at its use. Andrew smiles and without pausing says, ‘There’s no play on words, it’s just what we do. Our strapline is ‘revealing hidden beauty in wood floors’. We strip, sand and restore floors and yes, I get a few comments, but its normally from people walking past the vans not from clients.’
As a father of two grown-up children, he’s continually reminded of the correct approach and terminology used when dealing with clients but considers himself very forward thinking for his generation. When worries that the name may toe the line on the appropriation of sex work, he recently consulted with a wide spectrum of members of the younger generation who assured him they have more important things to worry about than the name of a regional flooring company.
‘In fact,’ says Andrew, ‘if anything, we pride ourselves on being particularly sensitive to women clients, as we’re aware they may not always have had the best experience with tradesmen.’
He says he and his team pride themselves on ensuring women clients feel at ease when having them in their homes.
Andrew’s concerns can’t be dismissed as snowflakey guff. In September 2021, Harriet Marsden wrote in The Times: ‘Alone with a handyman, everyday sexism can quickly escalate into something darker. Even so, it was only when I shared my experience with female friends that I had any notion of how widespread it was. The stories I heard ran the gamut from mansplaining and aggressive overcharging, to threats of assault and ongoing harassment.’
Says Andrew: ‘I still hear horror stories about how tradesmen talk to women in their own homes, how they behave. The current terminology for their actions is microaggressions which means they’re not necessarily intentional. An example would be a tradesman talking to a client while standing in a doorway, blocking it. I try to stay in tune with current thinking. For me, the best five star review I can get is from a woman client whose had one of us in the house for five days, as that shows others we take the respect of women seriously in this job.’
The ultimate measure of respect in Andrew’s eyes is when a woman client gives Jaime (Harris, Andrew’s principal guy in Cornwall) the house keys. ‘You only do that to tradespeople you completely trust, and that gives me pride.’
Most of Andrew’s clients are professionals in their forties and fifties who, he says, ‘know what they want’. ‘I was horrified to hear one story about a male contractor who, during an argument, threatened to keep his client’s keys unless they paid. Some guys will usually only make eye contact with the husband even if the wife is leading the conversation. It literally can be as bad as it was in the ‘70s, and that’s before we get to the overt racism and sexism.’
Andrew emphasises that it’s not about the quality of the work he and Jaime produce (‘I take that almost as a given’), it’s how they operate.
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