Alin Cristescu, founder of London-based Fin Wood, and whose family has been in the wood industry for three generations, talks to CFJ in the first of a two-part profile.
By ADAM BERNSTEIN
SOME come to flooring by accident having had no experience or connection with the sector. But others do have a longstanding connection, whether they’ve joined the family business or have worked with some of the products used to make great floors – wood being a prime example.
And Alin Cristescu, founder of London-based Fin Wood, whose family has been in wood for three generations, fits neatly into this last category. A Romanian by birth, he came to the UK, and specifically London, in 2013.
From little acorns
As Alin starts: ‘My earliest memory of my grandfather’s workshop is the smell of the wood. He worked a lot with pine and oak, using traditional equipment, most of which he made himself; there were a number of handheld tools.’
He describes his grandfather as ‘a rare and very skilled joiner who passed the craft onto his son, my uncle, who continued on in the joinery business’. But in time, with the demand for wood floors growing, the business moved towards specialising in flooring.
Alin, who is now 38, set up his own business, Fin Wood, to specialise in offering ‘bespoke’ hardwood floor installation and restoration, stair cladding and floor sanding. And he says that this was ‘a natural choice for me to set up based on my past experience, training and skill.’
But Alin explains that he wasn’t always involved in flooring: ‘I used to be an office person,’ he says. ‘When I finished university, I worked in sales for five years and then moved to logistics, covering transport, warehousing and storage – experience that has proved very useful for running my business.’
He tells how ‘after a successful career in sales and then logistics in Romania’ he had to start looking for work in 2011 following the global financial crash. ‘My uncle,’ he says, ‘had moved to Spain and offered me the opportunity to work in his wood flooring business in Madrid.’
And through this, as a keen apprentice, he says that he learned more of the trade – beyond what he had learned with his grandfather.
In 2013 he moved to London in search of further opportunities and to set up Fin Wood. Initially – for the first four years – Alin did everything himself and bought new tools whenever he could. He says that at first, he couldn’t afford to pay anyone to work alongside him. But, in time, as the jobs became more complicated, he needed help. He tells how ‘my cousin’s brother-in-law was looking for work and even though he didn’t know anything about floors, I knew that he was dedicated. So, I trained him and he’s still with me today.’
The first project for Fin Wood was, as he describes ‘a very simple one – just a laminate floor in a council-owned building’.
But he could see the bigger picture and so ‘worked a lot for reviews’ and as he notes, made sure to build up a bit of a reputation. Along the way, as with all new businesses, he was presented with a number of knockbacks, but he says he ‘kept going because this was my opportunity, and it was the only one I had’.
Even so, Alin faced competition for his place in the market. ‘But,’ he says, ‘by drawing on my previous sales skills meant Fin Wood was soon rising high; a growing reputation afforded me the time and opportunity to showcase what I was capable of and the demand increased for us to work on more bespoke and high-end projects.’
Now, some eight years on, Fin Wood consists of three workmen and a freelance SEO (search engine optimisation) specialist who helps promote the company’s services on Google and social media. Notably, he thinks these are ‘important tools with so much business coming from online search.’
Finding the right team members has been, and remains, a challenge for Alin. He says he’ll only work with professionals and people who genuinely want to learn the trade… and prefers to work with a few happy, willing and fairly paid tradesmen than with lots of grumpy, dissatisfied and poorly paid operatives.
It’s important to Alin that Fin Wood is ‘quality focused’. This means he’s very careful who he has in his team. Essentially, he says he wants to ensure team members respect the trade, want to develop constantly, pay attention to detail and are mindful of customers.
But he notes it’s difficult to find such people nowadays, ‘especially as the young cannot see the great potential in this trade and most of them flock to more comfortable jobs’. In essence, he feels there is a big lack of investment in vocational training.
It’s all in the name
When it came to naming his company Alin decided to use the Swedish word ‘Fin’, meaning elegant, polished or fine, so as to highlight the quality of his work. While the brand was important, so are the materials. He points out that the wood he uses comes from a British based factory, supplied from a forest in his home country of Romania.
Alin explains that the quality of wooden boards can be determined by their length, the number of alterations made and the size of the bevels, the term for a diagonal or angled cut through the wood. ‘A poorly made board,’ he says, ‘will have large bevels to hide the inaccuracy of the cut in the manufacturing process. When it’s properly cut, a quality wooden floor will have very small bevels, which means the first sanding will be minimal and so the floor will have a great lifespan.’
He continues: ‘For a quality installation, there are two aspects to think about: how it looks on the surface – details of how it goes around doors and meets other floors – and how it looks underneath. The subfloor is crucial for long-lasting floors. It needs to be flat and free of moisture.’
Lastly, Alin says he and his team pride themselves on their workmanship and punctuality. ‘When I schedule a project with a customer, we’re there at 8am on the dot with our materials and everything we need to get started.’
Next month: Alin’s views on a project he loved, doing business successfully, and sustainability.