Born and raised in South Wales, A&L Tiling’s Adrian O’Clements hasn’t always had an easy ride. The Tile Association’s recently crowned Tile Fixer of the Year didn’t “grow up with a lot” (he was even made redundant early on in his career!)
Through a willingness to learn and persevere, however, O’Clements has become one of the most accomplished tilers in the UK today – and he’s determined to pass his knowledge on to the next generation.
“I’ve always been very hands on since I was little, with all sorts of things.” O’Clements tells TSJ. “I used to work in the steel industry, as a plant operator, driving 50-ton trucks. I worked in a few different roles, then I got made redundant. I looked into various different trades: electrician, plumbing, etc. Then an electrician friend of mine said: ‘Why don’t you look into tiling? You’re pretty good at that.’ So I booked onto a course in 2016 to learn the fundamentals of tiling and how to run a business. And it’s grown ever since!”
Despite what the company’s name implies, A&L Tiling is currently a one-man-band. When asked what the L stands for, Adrian explains: “My son’s name is Logan. He’s only 10, but when I created the company I thought, if we’re still running when my son is old enough to work with me, then he’s got an opportunity to take on the business.” This support extends even to his son’s hobbies, where O’Clements has sponsored the local youth football team for the past several years.
While the company is limited in personnel, however, its capabilities are as broad as any larger outfit. O’Clements is confident on jobs ranging from “mosaic splashbacks to bathrooms, to large floors and exterior work, onto pedestals”. He attributes his success in the Tile Fixer of the Year contest at least in part to this versatility. “I think that’s one of the reasons I was successful in the TTA competition – a lot of people who entered are specialists in one area, like bathrooms, or large format, whereas I do pretty much everything!” This is especially important, he points out, as different regions tend to exhibit specific preferences according to design trends. “In South Wales, the large format stuff isn’t quite as popular as it would be in places like London, but it’s getting4 there. I like to view myself as the go-to person in South Wales for large format tiling.”
To elucidate the process through which O’Clements was chosen a bit more clearly, we got in touch with the TTA itself, who described the award format as follows:
“Tile Fixer of the Year is one of 16 Award categories, and entries can be made through the Awards website at www.ttaawards.com.
“Entries are scrutinised by members of the Judging Panel, details of whom are made available on the Awards website beforehand. The judges are drawn from a cross-section of the most knowledgeable and experienced representatives of the industry.
“There is also a public vote which has a role in determining the winner of this category, although the view of the industry judges is the aspect which carries most weight.
“The entry consists of a document of up to 750 words plus a summary, along with photos or other documents which could highlight work carried out. The kind of things the judges are looking for are the quality of work carried out, which must have been within the previous year, but also other aspects such as innovation, a growing business, a commitment to training, promoting tiling and generally being an ambassador for the industry.”
That last section, which designates the winner as an “ambassador for the industry” certainly applies to O’Clements, who has spent a large proportion of his career – and even his free time – helping his fellow tilers, as well as encouraging younger people to consider the industry as a career path. “I started off as a sole trader, but I took on a lad about two years ago. He had no experience in tiling whatsoever, so I trained him up from the basics to doing large format tiles.”
Unfortunately, O’Clements says, his protégé decided to leave A&L to work for the local authority in January of this year. With characteristic humility though, O’Clements reflects on the positives. “I can’t force him to stay, but I’m glad I gave him the experience. That’s given him a trade for life, the way I see it. He can use that wherever he goes.”
O’Clements’ advocacy for his trade goes beyond his own company though. Even prior to the entire TTA Awards, he had been in touch with a local college, organising a visit to sit down with students and speak to them about the realities of a career in tiling. “Basically, I’ll just be breaking down what I do every day and showing them how real it is,” he says. “It’s a lot of manual labour, and it takes its toll on the body. You only get out what you put in, but if you give 100%, you’ll get a lot back!”
Worryingly, a lot of young people have been brought up with a very different idea of success: “They all want to be influencers on social media and YouTube,” O’Clements says with a genuine sense of concern. “They could earn a wage from that, but it’s not going to last forever. If you learn a trade though, that’s something you can always fall back on.”
The problem begins at an administrative level. “Obviously, it goes back to government funding. The government has provided money for colleges, but it’s prioritised for electricians and plumbers, for example, rather than tilers.” And while several companies in the industry have developed short-term training courses – courses which O’Clements has taken advantage of himself – it’s difficult to replace the long-term benefits of a structured education. “With college, you’re there for a year or two, every day, and you’re getting a bit more of a broad experience.”
These concerns are counterbalanced by a healthy sense of optimism with respect to both inclusion and connectivity within the profession. The industry isn’t quite as “male-dominated” as it used to be, O’Clements points out – a transition which he aims to encourage, while ensuring due diligence. As part of the ScrewFix Tradesperson of the Year competition, O’Clements was asked how he decides to take on a student, explaining: “If I go to a college and there’s 60:40 male to female students, but the female students produce better quality work, then I’d take the female students on. It’s all about quality, at the end of the day.”
Beyond education, he keenly advocates the benefits of social media for tradespeople. “I’m on a lot of forums, and I’m in touch with a lot of tilers in America and Europe, and I tend to ask them questions a lot. I’ve noticed the trends in America, in six months time or so, usually make it over to us. I wouldn’t say every day, but the majority of days I’ll have someone asking for help or advice – and I do think you can improve a lot from doing that.”
For example, a few months ago, a tiler in Bath (about an hour and a half’s drive from O’Clements) was struggling with a wet room floor. “So, I basically took off from this job, went over there with my tools and showed him how to set out this floor on the wet room tray. Then I set it up with him. A little while later he put a post up on the Tiler’s Community Facebook group saying he’d learned more in those five to ten minutes than he had in the prior couple of years, which was nice!”
Keeping abreast of the tiling world has clearly been beneficial to O’Clements. Not only has he won the Tile Fixer of the Year Award itself, he’s already experienced the boost in profile that comes along with the recognition. “I’ve been offered a place on the TTA training committee to be the voice of the tilers. We’re going to have our first meeting in November, so hopefully I can help out the best I can.” He’s even been invited to guest on manufacturer webinars to discuss how he used certain products, as well as leading Q&A sessions.
None of this has shaken the Tile Fixer of the Year’s humility, however. “To be honest, I’m still in shock about winning the award. I’ve been reminded by a couple of reps, and it surprises me every time!” He jokes, but O’Clements’ business focus is never absent for long. “I think the next 6 months is going to be a test – when people tighten their belts on the financial side. You never know what’s going to happen, but going by what’s happened in the past six months, I do think things will continue to get better. But if we could see into the future, I suppose everyone would be happy – we’d all get our lottery numbers sorted at least!”