Kevin Field, commercial director ceramic & resilient lines at Mapei, reflects on 40 years in the industry, the positives post-pandemic and the importance of a strong brand.
When and why did you join your company?
I joined Mapei on 5 January 2004 and the challenge was to establish Mapei in the UK in the resilient sector. Mapei worldwide has a very strong brand and it was a challenge which I needed at that time; I’d recovered from cancer and needed something to drive me to the next level. We’ve gone from strength-to-strength owing to the quality of the products and the team we’ve built over the past 18 years. I’ve been in the industry for 40 years and remember well the first adhesive I took notice of; it wasn’t the yellow bucket but this strange plain white bucket from an Italian company. I asked, ‘Why does a large well-respected company, such as Altro, buy adhesive from this little Italian firm?’ Over the years, I realised why and when approached, I jumped at the opportunity to work for this little Italian company who were actually all over the world.
Why are your company’s products better than your competitors’ products?
I didn’t know they were? If a professional fitter chooses to use a system that’s trusted all over the world, and supports the floorcovering that they’re installing, then great. We have very strong technical support, which is why the sales side is made easier. So many installers throughout the world surely can’t be wrong.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could give all flooring contractors?
I’m sure if we asked that the other way around, it may be better for us manufacturers to understand our customer base better. But the only thing I’d say, just because you’ve done it that way for years, doesn’t make it right. We used to say: ‘black out the floor’. And now that term’s gone because the floorcoverings have changed, and the adhesives have had to evolve. We get asked: ‘Why so many different adhesives?’ but it’s because there are so many different floorcoverings. The world is changing, and so our products do too.
What’s the worst flooring installation you’ve seen, and why?
In 40 years, I’d say I’ve really only seen two. Both were domestic installations. One where the tackifier was applied directly onto an old bitumen adhesive and light cushion flooring installed. What a mess! The other was where the builder had installed vinyl tiles direct to a new slab and moisture was coming up and lifting the floorcovering. It wasn’t the point of the failure that concerned me with this one, but the very old couple that were left with a dangerous floor.
I removed it, scraped it all off and a local distributor gave me carpet tiles which I installed (badly) so they had something to walk on. The builder had taken their money and run. I was in my late twenties and it was like they were my grandparents and I needed to help. Every time I visited that area, I always called to ensure they were okay and always got a cup of tea.
Who, outside your company, do you most admire in the industry?
In terms of a company, without a doubt, F Ball and Co. I’ve been fighting against them for way too long. Mapei is fortunate though: our brand is very strong worldwide and is getting stronger in the UK. If it’s a person, then to be honest there are too many to mention. Over the years, I’ve dealt with and become friends with so many, so to pick one would be unfair. Okay, let’s be unfair and name a few that ignited my passion and drive the adhesive and screeds: David Jacques from Fitch Flooring, John Rees from Rees Flooring, and Terry Britnell from Tyndale Flooring.
All three trusted me right at the start of my journey, as a salesperson selling Colas Adhesives and that enabled me to be where I am today. Thank you. And Phil Breakspear, managing director of Mapei UK who 18 years ago gave me the opportunity and has supported me ever since.
Also, I can’t write this without mentioning Dr Giorgio Squinzi who sadly passed away in 2019. I had the great pleasure of working for Mapei and with Dr Squinzi for more than 18 years and now his son and daughter – Marco and Veronica. It’s a very hard act to follow but with the support of the Squinzi family, the group will continue to exceed the Dr’s expectations. Keep pedalling!
What is your favourite flooring installed in your home?
We turned our conservatory into a room that can be used all year round and installed LVT using Mapei’s Ultrabond Eco 4 LVT.
What’s the secret to a successful flooring installation?
Preparation is key. I’d say 95% of failures are owing to moisture. Nowadays, manufacturers don’t make poor products and, with the level of quality control in place, the market should be confident of the products they use. Testing for moisture is paramount to a successful installation.
And what’s the secret to creating a successful flooring product?
It’s not the product, it’s the brand. If Mapei launched a new product in Italy or the US, the installer would buy it because it’s Mapei. In the UK, they’ll need to try it once, twice, maybe three times. We are getting there. I believe Mapei has a strong brand, quality products, good support technically and in terms of distribution. We offer a system that’s unrivalled, from structural waterproofing to the roof, making Mapei a truly one-stop-shop for every construction site and DIY house project.
What worries you most about the challenges facing the industry?
They’re the same issues as 40 years ago and nothing will change, so we just have to get on with it. Price, price, and price. I could buy a box of gripper 40 years ago for £28. I’ve no idea what it is now but I bet it’s less. Prices are being driven down and then there are complaints that the money is going out of the industry.
The biggest improvement over the years has been training. Every manufacturer trains, and we’ve got some great independent training schools. It’s no longer a case of having a Stanley knife and knee-kicker and saying you’re a fitter; you now get proper training by professionals in addition to advice passed down through the generations.
In what state is the flooring industry emerging from Covid-19, in your opinion?
I can really only talk about our business and the one thing Covid-19 has managed to do is prioritise mental health and the wellbeing of our teams. It’s reset the button where our staff are far more important than the brand – we are the BRAND but we create the drive and enthusiasm to be successful.
What in your opinion is the most important characteristic of a successful flooring contractor?
As I’ve never been on that side, I wouldn’t have a clue. It’s bad enough trying to understand manufacturing.
In today’s economic climate, what’s the biggest threat to your company’s profitability?
Everything! We’re all aware of ongoing issues with raw materials, transport, buildings, staff – everything affects profitability and it’s difficult to keep going to the market with a price increase as we’re all suffering. We continue to get investment from our owners for bigger premises and more staff, more hours making the products, while everything becomes more difficult. Brexit and, more importantly, Covid-19 has made work-life balance much more important than profit – but profit allows us to grow.
How does the industry solve the problem of no new blood coming through the ranks?
It depends what that question actually means. There’s always new blood. I’ll hopefully retire one day and my position will be taken by someone in our business from the next generation, as I did. If by new blood you mean fitters, then that’s easy: treat them as professionals, like electricians and plumbers. How many school-leavers want to be electricians and plumbers – and how many a carpet or hard flooring fitter?
If you weren’t in the flooring industry, what would you be doing?
Very difficult, as if I wanted to be something else or in another industry, I should have tried it. I’ve been very well looked after in an industry that’s full of great people and companies – and have also had the benefit of playing golf courses I wouldn’t otherwise have played.
Does your company do a good job helping contractors when products go wrong?
Yes. That has been the easiest question to answer. I believe your future business comes from how you deal with problems and, more importantly, how you support when it’s not your fault. If you can’t be supportive then the world has gone mad.
What would you tell a contractor who complained about sustainable products costing them more money?
What, the same contractors who moaned about solvents? Everyone understands and they have a choice. To me, a customer complaining it’s costing more but striving to be more sustainable is much better than the contractor that promotes it but doesn’t buy them.