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Nothing but the best

Simon Norris, ceo and founder of Flooring Projects, talks to CFJ about a range of topics affecting the industry, including what the company is looking for in a fitter.

On Brexit and Covid-19
Brexit created a lot of uncertainty in the flooring industry but just as we were developing contingency plans for Brexit, Covid-19 then took hold, diverting business attention to the immediate impact of the pandemic. This changed the economic landscape somewhat, similarly to most businesses in the UK.

The fundamental issue with Brexit was that many manufacturers are based in Europe, therefore UK distributors are extremely reliant on their distribution and warehousing models. Add to this the additional administration and tax duties and we were looking at an increase in cost and delays to deliveries of materials to site.

At Flooring Projects, given our dynamism we were able to take stock and pivot quickly. We reviewed our operational process and distribution network, placing a focus on the issues we could immediately control. For instance, ordering materials promptly rather than waiting until they were needed onsite – this subsequently enabled us to limit longer waiting periods and work more effectively in the interest of our clients.

Being proactive rather than reactive when issues arose certainly stood us in good stead with the pandemic, as well as Brexit. There’s no doubt the economic shock from Covid-19 was significantly larger than any immediate impact that came from Brexit. In particular the impact on demand. For us, we had to proactively change our scope and adapt plans in order to facilitate consumer behaviour, which again was constantly shifting owing to the ramifications of the pandemic.

Given the showroom we intended to open couldn’t be visited in lockdown, we opted to place a larger emphasis on digitisation and successfully now have our digital and showroom in Trafford Park both available to suit all client requirements.

On material supply issues
The flooring industry can better deal with material supply issues by planning – it’s that simple. Ordering materials ahead of time and planning in advance would transform the industry. When it becomes last minute, then this in turn costs the sub-contractors money, and it subsequently ends up being a vicious cycle. Time is of the essence for supply.

On labour shortages
This is not a new issue. Good labour has always been a problem and the past two years have only shone more of a bright light on this fact. At Flooring Projects, we only want to work with the best and are constantly on the lookout for quality, reliable floor fitters. Nothing else will do.

Communication is key. We communicate constantly with our fitters to ensure they’re fully informed about what we’re doing as a business. We work with them very closely to benefit all parties. Moving forward, our plan is to look at ways to retain our existing labour force and improve performance, rather than focus solely on recruitment.

On inflation
We haven’t experienced issues with inflation for several years. The more posing threat now is interest rates, utilities, and materials. We need to look at ways we can be cost-effective without compromising on service, which is paramount to us. One way to achieve this is to reduce waste materials, reduce the number of deliveries to the same site, and improve project management to achieve completion more efficiently.

On supply and demand
Twelve months ago – albeit hard to believe – we were coming out of lockdown and facing a far different outlook to today. Now we’re thriving and are very much operating at business as usual levels.

On cradle-to-cradle in sustainability
This is very difficult with LVT products. The next big challenge we face is recycling. The backing of vinyl is currently non-recyclable. However, one way to change this is to replace the backing with an acoustic product that can be recycled, certainly something that is in the pipeline for the future.

On emerging trends
Of course I’m going to say it but the evidence speaks for itself – it’s luxury vinyl flooring. There is still an education process to be done here but more and more consumers are starting to realise the benefits of LVT, and beginning to hear more about it/become familiar with it. The resounding benefits are of course the upkeep, the longevity of the material, and the fact that is still achieves the look the consumer is after.

On the influence building information modelling (BIM) has on flooring, installation and maintenance
We’ve always been very conscious about (BIM) as we undertake many projects on the high street with an emphasis on branding. It’s important for us to keep accurate information – on current and completed projects – up-to-date and easily recoverable. You just never know when a client will need some remedials and doesn’t remember or indeed know what flooring we installed three years ago for instance. We’ve found this to be crucial to our customer journey and offering.

On apprenticeships
We’re not seeing many young fitters coming through these days and it’s something we’ll rectify in the coming years as it’s one we take very seriously.

On training
A poor job significantly affects our reputation and chances of gaining repeat and referral business.
Therefore, we have always closely monitored the quality of the installation we undertake, offering support and guidance along the way. We aim to work with our sub-contractor workforce on a daily basis to ensure issues are kept to a minimum. Bad days happen, we understand that, but it’s about dealing with those and ensuring it’s not a repeat occurrence, as well as being proactive and finding solutions.

On diversity in flooring
As an industry we have a long way to go and we face a challenge in recruitment; a lot of young people don’t necessarily understand the wide range of employment opportunities available, so many recruits join the industry only because a family member is already involved in construction. It seems we’re making some waves though. What was once an industry long dominated by men has now become more of an opportunity for women.

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