Duane McEwan

Place10: Grout expectations

Place10 logoJust over 10 years ago, after I’d been working for a significant player in the wall and floor tile industry for four years, myself and a colleague evaluated the direction the firm was heading and decided their strategy was not the way forward, writes Duane McEwan, founder and owner of Verde Ceramica.

In 2007, the industry was still very buoyant and with the support of existing clientele and contractors we managed to quickly generate new business and, more importantly, invoices. At the time, we questioned why we had not taken the bold step earlier.

By mid-2008, our hard work and efforts were rewarded, we thought even more so when our previous employer decided to apply for voluntary liquidation. All of a sudden everyone wanted to know us, as we knew the stock codes and orders were imminent and plentiful.

It was probably the first lesson we learned in business: “Never be naïve or complacent.”

As four of us in the business serviced orders that forty people had carried out before, we were in the mindset of offering a professional service, expecting repeat business to follow.

This strategy did work well for us, until mid-2009. We had been under the illusion of “recession? What recession?” But then the phones stopped ringing, which for a while we assumed was down to the holiday period. By November 2009, we realised that uncertainty was more long term.

Architects across the North were experiencing redundancy, some even leaving the UK to work overseas, or more worrying still leaving the industry all together.

Practices were doing a lot of feasibility work free of charge that never got to the stage of selecting interior finishes. Designers were under so much pressure to deliver schemes, in the hope that one might just move into project stage.

For suppliers, getting appointments with clients whom we had previously enjoyed long-term relationships became impossible, unless we were meeting after work hours, which was probably the beginning of how we all now work together.

The election of the Coalition Government in 2010, waiting for the anticipated Comprehensive Spending Review, the banks still reluctant to lend, all stagnated development in the North and from the outside looking in, it appeared that London and the South East were in their own commercial bubble, oblivious to the rest of the nation struggling. The media seemed to indulge itself in the uncertainty.

In 2012, for me personally and as a country, we said: “Enough is enough.” I had a vision of how I wanted to prosper, and decided to break ties with the company I was part of to go it alone, and formed Verde Ceramica in 2012.

At the time the nation’s mind was distracted from the recession, by a very successful London Olympics and Paralympics. As the closing ceremonies descended on the Sunday evening, I remember thinking: “Tomorrow the media will revert to the doom and gloom they have spoon-fed us for the past four years.”

But this time, the country stood strong. At Verde Ceramica, we started at home in August 2012, as a kitchen table company promoting wall and floor tiles from our suppliers, who had faith in us. However, for as much support as we received from our clients from day one, our first orders did not materialise for some nine months later. We supplied tiles first for an office reception in April 2013, and from there that snowballed into 20 Asics stores thanks to WDC Creative.

Other prestigious projects soon followed, with David Thwaites Hotels, Wren Kitchens with APSS, Barratt Developments with Tienda, and Islington Wharf Marina with JM Architects.

As an SME, one major obstacle we always faced was the feast or famine in terms of projects, and we had to adopt new strategies through which we could overcome this, and provide a more consistent level of new business and income.

Subscribing to Place North West on a regular basis notified us of appropriate networking events and seminars, and various groups to join. As a result, we got an in-depth analysis of activities in the region, and helped us establish new working relationships and also new friends. The North West construction sector is a community, and everybody tried to help each other succeed. We are finding networking groups are a perfect way to make and retain working relationships in a more relaxed atmosphere. It certainly beats the old admin days, which were set aside to will a diary with four days worth of appointments.

In order to grow the company to the next level, we also needed to establish a more permanent presence in Manchester, and in February this year, we were very excited to open our studio and networking hub in the Northern Quarter on Tib Street.

The exposure we have acquired for ourselves has been incredible. If we had not taken this step, it is certain that some of the more influential developers in the city would not have even considered us for their projects. We definitely have plenty to look forward to over the next few years.

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