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 Bogdan Oprea, the company’s Contracts Manager, who is well known for his attention to detail. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
- Q: Bogdan, tell us a little bit about yourself, what’s your role at Specialist Ceramics and what does your day-to-day look like?
- A: Well, shortly after I started with the company I had a good amount of sites, doing quality control and site visits, ordering materials, managing workload and scheduling for tilers, ordering materials, site meetings and so on. Currently I’m managing 18 sites myself.
- Q: What was your greatest challenge while at Specialist Ceramics?
- A: I believe a big one was wight when I started. I took up 11 sites and one was with Henry Construction, the Victoria Square project. It was 1 month behind when I arrived and within 1 month we recovered and finished in time. Personally, this was my first site in the UK. Tiling is a big challenge because tilers sometimes are not on site on an ongoing basis so we need to manage workload carefully. On top of that we are a finishing trade and the push of delays and the pressure of deadlines is on top of us despite us being perfectly on schedule.
- Q: What is it like working at one of the few companies in the construction industry that has its offices on a fully remote basis?
- A: Not a big difference, in the beginning I was a bit fearful for the communication flow and how the site could reach the office. It’s going well and having written communication has made it more time flexible because I can check everything on my own time and when I’m on site or wherever and urgent things we always take care of over the phone.
- Q: In our interview with Anthony, we talked about the Specialist Ceramic’s corporate culture and how shifting the focus towards the customer is the company’s unique value proposition. A key part of that lies in the ensuring high quality finishes, which in turn highly depends on your role. What are the key aspects of our activity that you particularly value, what makes up our standard for quality?
- A: First of all, not having snags, like drops of grout, misaligned tiles, uneven and not level tiles, window joints, trims, etc… The key is find good tilers and building a good team. Quality is guaranteed when building a team, before going on site. Then it’s just a matter of taking a look for details on site and it also depends a lot on the work from other trades being also high quality, which is something we never have full control over. Our Customer Care department also plays a big role by making sure we answer all questions and requirements.
- Q: We are currently hiring tilers and you also have a key part in onboarding new people. What do you look for in a tiler’s work and skills that is key for being aligned with our way of doing things?
- A: First comes experience, second the way of working and cultural fit with us, attention to detail, the ability to work with other trades and people on site, flexibility to take care of the work environment which is something we deeply care about. We like to make sure that after we leave, the site is clear and ready to receive other trades. We work with tilers from many places, Greece, Italy, Romania, Serbia, England etc. It’s very important that we build a company culture and environment based on inclusion so that everyone manages to work well with one another.
- Q: Bogdan, thank you for your time. Before we end this, any final thoughts you’d like to share?
- A: Sure! I would sum it up with this:
If you don’t care you don’t have quality.
We need to care about the client, the person who will live in the house we are building. You need to think “what if I was buying this house?”
I cannot think in another way!
Did we ever tell you about the time we worked at a UNESCO World Heritage site?
“The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church lie next to the River Thames in the heart of London. With their intricate silhouettes, they have symbolised monarchy, religion and power since Edward the Confessor built his palace and church on Thorney Island in the 11th century AD. Changing through the centuries together, they represent the journey from a feudal society to a modern democracy and show the intertwined history of church, monarchy and state.
(…) with the Abbey being the place where monarchs are crowned, married and buried. It is also a focus for national memorials of those who have served their country, whether prominent individuals or representatives, such as the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The Abbey, a place of worship for over 1000 years, maintains the daily cycle of worship as well as being the church where major national celebrations and cultural events are held. The Palace of Westminster continues to be the seat of Parliament.” From UNESCO’s website on Westminster Abbey
Our work at Westminster Abbey is something we take great pride in, not only for our team being part of a high quality and high responsibility job, under William Anelay and to the specifications and standards produced by the Queen’s Architect, but also for the challenges it presented!
Matching a new, clean feel and look with the Abbey’s Gothic architecture was not an easy feat technically speaking. Matching rough, irregular surfaces with the straight and flat lines we usually associate with tiles is a challenge that only highly skilled tilers could take on and succeed!
And successful we were, receiving high praise from William Anelay’s Project Manager, Gary Wilson. It is our mission to take on meaningful jobs such as this one, that give us a sense of fulfilment for contributing to the longevity of our cultural heritage!
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.
Bouygues Construction and Specialist Ceramics have signed for the supply and installation of the ceramics package at the Shared Facility Hub on Cavendish III.
Bouygues UK, a British subsidiary of Bouygues Construction, and the University of Cambridge have signed a construction contract for the university’s Cavendish III physics laboratory and a neighbouring shared facilities hub, both designed by Jestico + Whiles, an award-winning architectural and interior design practice with offices in London and Prague.
The Shared Facility Hub is 3-4 story building with about 5000m2, comprising adaptable space for teaching, study work and nourishment including kitchen facilities.
Delivering a high quality final product is one of our core values. Most companies will tell you they value quality and show you how much experience they have, but does quality correlate with experience?
We believe there’s more to quality than just experience!
Like in every trade, experience sure goes a long way and with people in our company in key roles standing from 30+ years of hands on tiling experience, we are well aware of its value. But we are also very much aware that for those that rely on experience alone, time catches up, techniques and materials evolve and experience becomes outdated.
To prevent this from happening, at Specialist Ceramics, we rely on a close relationship with our suppliers and we do our best to stay up to date with specific training that keeps us updated on new materials and techniques.
Our longstanding relationship with Porcelanosa is a great example of our commitment to be on the brink of innovation! On a recent trip to their headquarters in Spain we’ve attended training for installing their extra-slim and extra-large format tiles range, making us certified XLIGHT installers. We took this chance to increase our knowledge by learning more about Porcelanosa’s and Butech’s materials and best practices.
“In the wake of COVID-19, several companies were forced to move their daily office tasks to a remote approach. Fortunately, here at Specialist Ceramics, we had been testing remote work platforms for a while and the current situation was the final push towards us becoming a fully remote company for good. This means we have no intention to go back to the old ways of doing things!”
How many blog, social media or newsletter posts have you come across lately that start out just like this? A lot, right? But there’s one thing that most post-pandemic remote companies have in common, which is, they’re usually tech companies with a fair amount of people who are more than comfortable with Asana, Trello, Slack and many other apps that make the remote work ecosystem so fluid and efficient.
The difference here is that we work in the construction industry! At Specialist Ceramics we aim at being UK’s most progressive company on the jobsite by moving every single task that we can to a remote basis! And right now, aside from actually fixing tiles, we have gone remote!
With a mission of being our customer’s Choice of Quality, we take great pride in the detail, quality and transparency of everything we do and that is as true for our tiling jobs as it is for all interactions with our partners, from the quotation we send to Quantity Surveyors all the way to the follow up visits we do on the jobsite to ensure things are running smoothly.
What we’ve come to find is that by moving our office work out of the office, our Contracts Managers now have more freedom and time to check in with the teams on the job, ensuring the quality standards we pride ourselves in are being met. Our technical teams now have more time to attend training and visit tile suppliers, staying up to date with the most recent techniques and materials!
We are currently working on 22 projects and we have around 33 trusted, high quality tilers. The remote team is comprised of 8 people, guaranteeing a quick response on all enquiries from our customers!
Soon we will finish our 2nd project managed on a fully remote basis. This is a project that we’ve taken on when it was half way, replacing the previous tiling company, and we’ve gone the extra mile to deliver a high quality job. We’ve just been awarded Phase 2 of this project in Castle Hill.
If you’d like to have us price your project, reach out to our Business Development Manager at email@example.com and he’ll get back to you in no time, from home!