Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Trading remains difficult for most industries in the UK, but flooring distributors across the country insist that the year could have been worse. Most believe that 2013 will see the beginning of an upturn:
‘It is tough out there but better than last year,’ says Richard Bailey, md of Floorwise, one of the largest independent distributors in Europe. ‘The reality is that lots of people are competing for a limited amount of business, which inevitably hits profitability.’
Many agree that the market has been slightly more buoyant than last year and report that summer was extremely promising.
‘July and August bucked the trend and were our best ever months of trading in the four years we have been established,’ reports Wayne Haslam, national sales manager from Midlands-based flooring accessories distributor, Floorstock.
‘Schools, colleges and universities had an abundance of refurbishment work available, perhaps because they are spending money on maintaining current structures as opposed to building new.’
Ian Cartledge, director at Kent Flooring Supplies, a wholesale contract flooring supplier and distributor, agrees: ‘We were concerned about the impact of Government cuts filtering through but the year has been better than the previous 12 months,’ he says. ‘May, June and August were extremely strong, although there was a dip in July.’
Others, such as Katie Cohen, director at Lewis Abbot (a London- based third generation independent flooring distributor), have seen fluctuations over the 12- months.
‘Although trade is extremely erratic, there is still good business and high value orders out there,’ she says. ‘Retailers are not holding accessories in stock but ordering as and when they need them and fortunately, Lewis Abbott has been able to offer the service, delivering ancillary products the next day – or even on the same day.’
A clear message is that prices have been driven as low as they can go – ‘margins are very tight and competition fierce’ says Malcolm Trott, md of family-run Nottingham firm, T&R Floor Covering Distributors – so the only way to add value and beat the competition is through service.
‘We are available at weekends, during evenings and at extremely short notice,’ he outlines. ‘There is only so far you can go with price.’
The picture at Ashmount Flooring Supplies in London is similar, explains director Ron Burkett: ‘Our customer base comprises mainly small organisations who respond to demand so we must follow suit whenever the order comes in. As a consequence our business has grown by 6% this year.’
Director of Kent Flooring Supplies, Ian Cartledge, agrees: ‘The only way to differentiate is to offer better service through responding quicker and delivering products when customers want.’
I Olympic Games effect:
Many sectors within the UK were concerned about the impact that
the London 2012 Olympic Games would have and while some anticipated growth, others suggested a lull.
James Kellett is contract director for the Mercado Group and found the Olympic experience was ‘a boost for morale and welcome revenue was associated with the construction of various sites around the country’.
‘We were concerned about how the Olympics were going to affect trade and were preparing for an
appalling summer,’ Katie Cohen says.
‘However, the opposite seemed to happen. The roads were deserted, which enabled easy deliveries.
‘The domestic market is usually quiet over the summer but this year we had some great orders,
going against the trend of previous years.’
Summer at T&R Floor Covering Distributors saw a fourth member of staff receiving a 25-year service award. Another warehouse was purchased that allows twice the amount of stock to be held and the company has rebranded and relaunched its website.
Product development has come to the fore of Floorwise’s year. ‘Evolving ranges allows us to remain competitive and offer great value, so we have held our own despite the tough economic times,’ Richard Bailey explains.
‘We are developing the value side of our underlay offering but at the same time the upper end of the market is expanding with more expensive ranges such as Reflections (chrome plated profiles) seeing strong growth.
‘A quality range of Diamond Gripper has also been launched. So while some of the market has moved to cheaper value items, elsewhere it has swung to the more expensive offerings.
‘Wehaveseenthecontinued development of luxury vinyl tiles and China increasingly targets the UK market with a greater range of products that now includes click- systems. European colours are coming through – greys – but have yet to take off as customers in the UK and Ireland still prefer rustic, authentic offerings.’
I LVT generates interest:
The luxury vinyl tiles market continues to gather pace at Mercado and Kent Flooring, and the latter also reports that homogenous sheet vinyl is down in the popularity stakes.
‘Engineered and solid woods are areas of growth so we have expanded our own collection of wood lines and have started stocking Haro flooring from Germany, enjoying the fact that as a European product it has all the necessary certification,’ says Ian Cartledge.
Floorstock reports a dearth of new technology that supersedes current products and systems within the wood flooring accessory arena, although Everbuild Adhesives is a new line the company has recently begun stocking.
‘The safety floor market has moved towards better performing and decorative products and we have recently taken several new products from Polyflor, Tarkett and Altro,’ says James Kellett.
I New trends spotted:
Speed is of the essence for contractors and clients alike. Ron Burkett has experienced more demand for faster setting smoothing underlayments, screeds and damp proof membranes as has Malcolm Trott, who also reports more interest in decorative safety flooring.
‘We have seen a move towards darker timbers, stained options and higher value items such as walnuts,’ he explains. ‘New lines include Medina from Polyflor, which we started buying in August and had to reorder in September.
‘We have taken on additional stock because we find if we have it on the shelf people buy it. We have experienced a five-fold increase in demand for Kahrs stock – and we hold 80% of the range.’
Lewis Abbott only delivers within the Greater London area but within that microclimate has found increasing number of wool/pp mixes coming into the marketplace particularly in solid shades of grey and taupe.
‘New lines include Unique Naturals, a flatweave material made from a stain-free polypropylene that can be used inside and outside,’ Katie Cohen says. ‘It is also bleach cleanable, anti-allergy, anti-static and anti-fade.’
I The value of shows:
The feeling about shows is mixed although most agree that Harrogate and Domotex represent a good chance to network ‘and see the latest product and installation innovations’ says James Kellett.
Harrogate is more useful for retail companies than those in the commercial sector, suggests Malcolm Trott (who used to attend the London Commercial Flooring Show). And Katie Cohen finds
Domotex useful as a ‘gauge as to what trends, textures and colours are being introduced into the market’.
‘I attend shows around the world but we choose not to exhibit as do not find it cost effective,’ says Richard Bailey.
‘A variety of suppliers and customers attend Harrogate and it is a chance to catch
up on business and come up with new ideas.
I attend Domotex for similar reasons.’ Richard visits China a few times a year to find new producers and look at trends and innovations that could provide a glimpse to the market of the future.
‘It is about continuous innovation, evolution, product development and explaining changes, trends and options to customers,’ he says.
‘We are never satisfied with the product and constantly strive to offer value. The process and materials that go into making and delivering a product are analysed so we can improve them and increase our offering.
‘Our core network of distributors gives immediate feedback when we pilot new products. ‘Then we tweak development before rolling out new and improved products nationally.’
Across the board, training takes the form of providing employees with as much information as possible about products and services that the company offers, so they are able to provide customers with solutions to any query. Time is spent with representatives from manufacturers and suppliers both at home and abroad.
A great effort from Government to kick start the economy – perhaps through the stimulation of the housing market – would be welcome. It is encouraging to note, however, that distributors agree that the year ahead will continue to be tough, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
‘While I do not think there will be a huge surge in business, I expect to see good growth over the next 12 months… a steady upward curve,’ says Wayne Haslam. ‘It is time to stay proactive, get out there in front of people and generate leads.’
For further information on any of the products mentioned, contact the suppliers directly. And please remember to tell them that you read about their companies in CFJ:
Ashmount 020 8808 2158
Floorstock 01455 848 839
Floorwise 01509 673974
Kent Flooring 01634 668 668
Lewis Abbott 020 7277 7880
Mercado 0113 380 2900
T&R 0115 925 7711
This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at www.contractflooringjournal.co.uk.