As a way to introduce the team to partnering companies and the market in general, we’re starting a series of interviews with our key people. Today’s interviewee is Anthony Keen, the company’s Commercial Director, who has been spearheading a significant change in the company’s processes and the way we work, starting with remote work and quality assurance. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

  • Q: How and when did Specialist Ceramics begin? 
  • A: We started Specialist Ceramics during 2012, not long after another financial crisis was subsiding. It was a joint family venture as after 30 years of tiling, (as happens to so many other tilers) my father’s knees were beginning to suffer, and we wanted to do something less in the line of field work and transfer that knowledge to create something truly special and unique as a family.  
  • Q: What were some of the main challenges that the company overcame throughout its history and how did those challenges shape the company culture? 
  • A: Coming more from a customer service background I saw a lot within sites that I visited – that it seems to be a consistent battle between trades and site management far too often, far less than the collaboration between client and service provider that I was used to. In our company I wanted to switch that on its head, make that our primary USP and core value, make the customer the focus again. Ensure that Site Managers and Quantity Surveyors had answers when they wanted them, and given focus. That we also spent additional resources in providing more high quality finishes rather than paying less and taking low paid jobs to deliver a product we weren’t happy with. We provide incentives for both quality and service on all of our sites to ensure that this is heavily maintained along with our Contracts Managers. Quality and service has now become engrained in our culture, and we happily pass up on job opportunities due to cost if we think we can’t provide exactly that.  
  • Q: What about you, personally? What part of the company culture do you feel is most impacted by your way of doing things? 
  • A: I believe more than anything that I impact the process side of things, if ever I visit a site I look for ways we can stand out and be different, even the small details such as ensuring our the trims round our splashbacks are made out of a single piece of trim, not cut into sharp edges but neatly finished – something that the NHBC and Site Manager’s constantly provide positive comments about. I love the finer details, and finely polishing something to create something truly spectacular, and to make sure we go the extra mile to deliver that. There is always a way to make something better, and I always want to be the person asking “why not?” rather than “why?”. One major change that we made from just sending down tilers to site is ensuring each tiler is given a job sheet which specifically tells them within a plot, where things need to go, how they need to be laid, in what tile, and even includes drawings indicating this at times. As nothing frustrates Site Management more than having to waste their time unnecessarily explaining things that should be known, and it also gives them a written record to check with us directly if any mistakes do occur (which fortunately is rarely, due to this process). 
  • Q: The company has recently gone full remote when it comes to management and business support. Was this due to COVID or was it something you had already planned? 
  • A: This is something that we had thought about implementing before, to not only give our staff more freedom, but also open ourselves up to a much larger recruitment talent pool. We are no longer limited geographically. However, this In itself provides its own challenges especially within a running company. COVID did allow us to turn the machine off, so we could replace a few cogs. This was immensely easier than trying to switch operations during a period of heavy workflow.  
  • Q: Specialist Ceramics probably tracks several KPIs. What is the one KPI that you feel is most representative of the company’s performance and how does it relate with your goals and targets? 
  • A: At the risk of sounding repetitive – Quality and service more than anything. All of our tilers undergo a comprehensive sign-off process on site for their works, allowing site managers to comment and have a lot more power over whether or not the work they get handed is acceptable and to our standard. We also hold ourselves (as we believe we should) to a much higher standard than site do usually – it wouldn’t be uncommon for a Site Manager to sign off a piece of work only for one of our managers to request the tiler redo aspects of it to ensure its up to our standards. 
  • Q: What’s your vision for the company in the next 3 years? 
  • A:  My vision would be to truly embrace remote working to improve all of our values – we have started developing our own software, completely bespoke, to give us a lot of control of our own procedures and to be extremely open and honest and deliver accountability. Such as ensuring Tilers can photograph every element of their work for digital signoffs instead, something which is then viewable by the Quantity Surveyors, Management Team, Directors – Everyone. Which automatically informs everyone of deliveries arriving well in advance, even logs supervisor visits for Site Managers to view. I want to make the company as open and honest as I can to ensure that we get things right and every stakeholder in the project gets the product they expect to receive. I don’t believe that can be done unless we have true transparency in every aspect of how we conduct ourselves in site operations. We also aim to go for some truly special projects in the future, something which we can showcase our quality and help deliver some really unique projects.