Brief in Counters: David Coster talks to Andrew Taylor of Granite Direct
David: Quartz, sintered/porcelain or natural stone?
Andrew: Natural, both as my preference and for the business. It’s a lot more unique, more interesting. For me, it’s superior. Everyone can cut and fix quartz, that’s why there are so many people doing it. Natural stone is a bit more specialist.
David: Straight off the machines or hand finished?
Andrew: It comes off the saw or waterjet, goes through the edge polisher and then its hand finished. We finish everything by hand. That way it gets checked properly. It’s part of quality control because someone is going over it by hand. You get a much nicer finish as well.
Have you made any recent investments in the business, or do you have any planned?
We have replaced a saw. I have bought an Achilli from D Zambelis. I buy my machines from them and I buy my tooling from them because I get good support from them – I get the back-up.
Hopefully, I’m looking to extend again so we can hold more stock. There’s a lot of interesting material and we bring it in ourselves. We’re branching out into terrazzo and we’re selling a lot of marble. We’re also considering stuff like solar panels and electric vans.
That brings me to my next question: climate change. Do you have a plan in place to reach Net Zero by 2050?
I have no direct plan but solar panels are probably the number one thing I have been thinking about for the past year, not only because it’s eco-friendly but it can save us money in the process. We recycle all our water.
Electric vans… I don’t feel they are at the right place yet. They’re not where they should be to make it viable.
Is most of your business local?
Predominantly within the M25. That’s one of the reasons for looking at electric vans – the congestion zones.
You guys are in what I would consider the countryside; one of the nicest areas around here. But I noticed just a quarter of a mile up the road there’s a ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone), even though it still feels like countryside to me. But moving on: have you noticed any backlog from Brexit or Covid?
Multiple things. Brexit, the Suez Canal, Covid, fuel prices – there’s a lot of reasons for getting delays with deliveries. We haven’t had any problems from Italy, probably because for the most part it comes by train and is here in a week. The prices of shipping are going up and people don’t want to do the drive from Spain, so their prices have gone up. I think a lot of people use it as an excuse to put prices up – any excuse. Someone forgets to order a slab, they blame it on Brexit or Covid or Suez. But there have been effects. You just deal with it. We have to tell people it’s going to be six weeks before you can have a kitchen worktop.
The industry has been too quick to promote itself as template and install within ‘X’ amount of time. If everyone said this is actually unworkable it would be better for everyone.
Most bespoke industries will tell you it’s six to eight weeks to fabricate something.
A kitchen manufacturer will say it takes 16 weeks but a fabricator that’s making the tops for that kitchen will sing and dance about the fact they will template and install within five days!
Are you finding it difficult to get all the staff you need?
We lost a couple of staff just after Brexit but we had two people to replace them very quickly. They are very experienced masons. We haven’t really had a problem, although I know a lot of other fabricators have, which drives up the cost of labour. For us, you know, I would like to think we look after our staff because they are proper masons and we have skilled people in the office. The majority of our staff stay with us for the long term – we don’t have a high turnover of staff. It’s important to look after them because without them we don’t have a business.
I notice you are members of the Worktop Fabricators Federation (WFF). What made you want to join and what benefits does it have?
Joining was quite an easy decision for us because historically we prefer to work with the other fabricators around us. There’s enough business for every fabricator without having to drive down prices, make compromises and work for nothing. The main benefit of the WFF is purely sharing knowledge. We are a lot stronger as fabricators sharing ideas and problems. Before, if you went to one of the big distributors and said ‘I’ve had this problem’ they said ‘well, no-one else has had it and we have sold a thousand slabs’. Now we can say ‘this person had the same problem and that person has had it, so we’re all having it’. It’s not about blame, but of identifying problems.
What would you like to see the industry doing more of, perhaps starting with the WFF?
For me, the only incentive to join the WFF is to talk to each other. But that’s a great thing to have. It’s priceless. You can say to other local companies: let’s buy something we are all using in bulk so we are not paying over the odds for it. The WFF can give you greater buying power.
You’re more protected as a group than you would be as one fabricator on your own?
What trends do you see in the market?
We are doing more and more terrazzo. People have always had this thing: natural stone and terrazzo are difficult. They say they stain, things like, but they can all be treated; they can all be repaired. There aren’t any problems with them. It’s knowing how to process the materials. We do lots of it and for me it’s great that other people don’t want to do it because that drives our business. What’s coming up? I don’t know. We do a majority in natural stone, and terrazzo is increasing. We are seeing less mirror fleck quartz, which is great for me because I’m bored with seeing it.
What do you have planned for Granite Direct?
We are content. We do 15-20 domestic jobs a week. We’re not looking to take over the world. We have got our margins, we’re happy with that.
We have reinvested and we will just naturally grow. If next year we are doing 25 jobs a week we just have to have the capacity to be ready for it. But we are content where we are. We don’t want to do 100 jobs a week or anything like that. You lose control and it becomes less about the quality and doing the bespoke work that we want to do.