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Everyone in industry is facing the same set of problems

Steve Davies, UK head of training at ARDEX UK, says things look rosy for his company and the industry but the rising cost of raw materials means demand for products isn’t being satisfied.

Steve Davies answers several questions relating to the state of the industry and of his company including challenges ahead and issues pertaining to sustainability and training

When and why did you join your company?
I joined ARDEX seven years ago in November 2014 after many years teaching floor fitting NVQ Level 2 at a college in Wrexham, North Wales which I did for 11 years. The opportunity came up at ARDEX at the right time for me, so I jumped at the chance to join. I had always used ARDEX products in the past when I was a fitter, so I always recognised the quality of the company and its range of products.

Why are your company’s products better than your competitors’ products?
I think it’s the superior quality of what we put into the products, which really go above and beyond what other competitors are doing. Here at ARDEX we can call on global technologies and market-leading research and development to produce real problem-solving systems for floor fitters and contractors.

Who, outside your company, do you most admire in the industry?
I’d have to say my dad who taught me everything in the industry. My dad was a floor-fitter for 40-plus years. He used to let me have a go on the tools in my school holidays and then when I left school, he took me on as an apprentice and taught me everything I knew.

What one piece of advice do you wish you could give all flooring contractors?
Subfloor preparation is the key to any job because most failures occur in the subfloor side of the preparation. ARDEX have the systems to take those problems away, and we can offer free training and advice. Knowledge really is power, so ensure you and all your staff are fully trained and up to speed on the latest technologies and installation best-practice.

What’s the secret to a successful flooring installation?
For me, it has to be knowledge. Knowledge is the key. Contractors have got to understand the job they’re being asked to do, what it entails, what subfloor preparation is required, what adhesive you will need. And of course, the cutting, fitting, and installing of the chosen floorcovering, because they’re all different. And if contractors are short on knowledge, that’s where training comes in, either onsite or they can come to a training provider, like ourselves, so the team is fully trained in what they need to do to ensure a successful installation.

And what’s the secret to creating a successful flooring product?
From an ARDEX point of view, it has to be teamwork. That is teamwork between technical departments, R&D, QC, the team on the road and of course, crucially, fitters and installers. We take what installers are telling us and the problems they’re having to create flooring products which are true problem-solvers.

What worries you most about the challenges facing the industry?
The big one, which is affecting everyone is the raw material issues owing to the triple whammy of Covid-19, Brexit, and the massive worldwide demand for construction materials. However, everyone is facing the same issues and it is a case of working on through and working hard to ensure you meet customer demand. Most importantly is communicating with them the issues that are being faced, so there’s mutual understanding.

What’s the worst flooring installation you’ve seen, and why?
It has to be a ‘Cap & Cove’ job which I was asked to repair in my days as a fitter. We turned up to the job and it was awful, the mitres were cut really badly, the floor wasn’t prepared, welds non-existent. The floor covering was bubbled, the floor was showing through, and it was falling off the walls. I think the previous contractors simply took on a job that was too big for them, they had a complete lack of experience and knowledge and it showed unfortunately. They made a complete mess off it!

In today’s economic climate, what’s the biggest threat to your company’s profitability?
For ARDEX and many other companies in the flooring sector, the biggest threat to profitability would have to be the rising costs of raw materials, coupled with the very real but well-publicised UK haulier problems meaning it’s very difficult to satisfy the high demand for products.

In what state is the flooring industry emerging from Covid-19, in your opinion?
Personally, I think it’s in a very good state. We’ve had a good run all the way through Covid-19, and the market is very buoyant at the moment. People are spending money on new flooring in properties: domestic and retail. A lot of companies decided to renovate when everything was closed-up, and homeowners are spending the money they saved by not going away. Every contractor I speak to is flat out at the moment, people are still spending on new flooring. The future looks bright.

What in your opinion is the most important characteristic of a successful flooring contractor?
For me they need to have the right attitude, not work at 100mph, be a problem-solver and someone who doesn’t get too stressed. Not much is it?! I’d also say they need to be approachable, knowledgeable but most importantly not afraid to ask for help and support. If they’re unsure about anything, ask a technical department at a manufacturer or an individual. Never be frightened to ask for help and support. It’s what we’re here for!

Does your company do a good job helping contractors when products go wrong?
100% – it’s what we’re here for. We have a team of training and technical managers based across the country who offer advice and support when products or projects go wrong. We can also provide moisture tests on screeds, explain the results, and recommend the best moisture control products for the installation. We can also provide BRE Screed Tests that can measure the soundness of a sand/cement screed. Our team isn’t afraid to tell contractors what’s gone wrong and help them get the job done right.

How does the industry solve the problem of no new blood coming through the ranks?
The industry needs to look at the apprentices and employer-supported apprenticeships to encourage new blood to join. I don’t think government has properly supported apprenticeships, neither have employers. I think employers really need get behind apprentices, commit to the time to train them, rather than using them as glorified labourers. Employers need to work with colleges to encourage school-leavers to go down the vocational route, then really commit to supporting them as they learn on the job. On the flooring side, new blood is desperately needed. Training has been done for years and the system is underfunded.

What would you tell a contractor who complained about sustainable products costing them more money?
It’s funny, but actually, products don’t need to cost more just because they’re sustainable. We have introduced several sustainability initiatives, such as post-consumer resin (PCR), recycled plastic bottles and tubs and it hasn’t led to an increase in price. We’ve also introduced recycled materials into our products, and this hasn’t led to a price increase either. So, it’s not an issue for us.

If you weren’t in the flooring industry, what would you be doing?
Go back to stripping! No, only joking, I’d probably go back to being an outdoor instructor. I did a lot of canoeing, kayaking, when I was younger and coached my son who canoed for GB. In fact, I still enjoy doing it now, as well as walking and other outdoor activities. I’d love to go back to teaching that again one day.

What is your favourite flooring installed in your home?
It has to be my travertine floor which I laid throughout my house 17 years ago, laid on an underfloor heating system. It really has stood the test of time, good workmanship, and great products.

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