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HomeFeatured ArticlesIndustry Interview – Martin Pouncey

Industry Interview – Martin Pouncey

Last year, TTA appointed Martin Pouncey as technical & training manager, the organisation’s first ever salaried employee role. The appointment represents “a major investment for TTA,” and is aimed to take the organisation’s technical and training work to a higher level. After giving Pouncey a few months to get his bearings, TSJ had to get in touch to find out what made him the right choice for the new position, what he hopes to accomplish with TTA, and how he’s been getting on so far!

Already a well-known figure within the industry, Martin Pouncey has held many different roles with diverse responsibilities throughout his tiling career. Naturally, this began with several years as a tile fixer, before he was eventually offered a postion at New College Nottingham teaching wall and floor tiling. Although he enjoyed teaching, especially where he was able to pass on his knowledge and experience to new members of the industry, he became “fed up with the red tape bureaucracy that came with education,” and decided to go back on the tools.

Shortly after that however, Pouncey was offered another teaching role at South & City College Birmingham as a lecturer and an internal verifier, which he enjoyed more, staying for six years. During this time, based on his experience in education and as a tile expert, he was approached by City and Guilds to write its tiling qualifications, eventually becoming an external verifier for the organisation.

With his bona fides well and truly established at this point, Pouncey was approached by BAL to join the company as product support technician for the Midlands. Over the course of his five years in this role, he also became technical manager for BAL’s Dunlop brand. Following this, he was approached by Instarmac to become the company’s technical site support and training manager for the North. While with Instarmac, Pouncey led many training sessions, including several in collaboration with the Tilers Community Facebook group. (He also became a valued regular contributor to TSJ’s technical advice section!)

As much as he enjoyed the technical challenge of visiting customers and problem-solving during different inspections, his work with manufacturers had been intense. It involved a huge amount of travel (around 2000 miles a week!) and dealing with the occasionally competing priorities of both customers and company was “a lot of pressure”.

In June of last year, Pouncey suffered a heart attack. Thankfully, he’s since made a full recovery, but in the wake of this terrible experience, he realised he needed to slow down – if only a little.

A new start
At this time, Pouncey was already a part of TTA as vice chair of its Training Committee, and when the organisation developed the technical & training manager role, he was an obvious choice. It may seem slightly contradictory, slowing down by taking on a newly created technical role at the nation’s official association for tilers, especially when that role will still involve travelling for technical inspections and dealing with customer disputes. Speaking with Pouncey though, it’s obvious these practical situations are where he’s most comfortable and confident. “My passion always lies with actual tile fixing,” he says, and in this respect, a desk job or quiet retirement were simply out of the question.

“It is a weird position,” he says, “because obviously it’s a completely brand new role! So it’s getting to grips with what the board members want the role to be but obviously making the role work as it should do.” Fortunately, TTA has been considerate of Pouncey’s circumstances, giving him a lot of influence over the shape of the role as it develops. “Kay (Porter, CEO of TTA) has been really, really good. Creating this role has been a big investment for TTA, and they want it to work for the benefit of members, so I’m confident I will get the support that I need. I’m moulding the role to how I think it should work, with the guidance of the board obviously.”

With that influence then, what does Pouncey want to achieve in the position? “More fixer focus,” he says. I really want to maximise the benefit that members get from their membership. Critically I think we have the opportunity to do that. He has a number of ideas and initiatives already underway to achieve this aim: for example, he will hold Technical Masterclasses up and down the country in different venues, rather than purely at TTA’s head office in Stone. “More tile fixers will have the ability to get to a Masterclass, rather than taking a four or five hour journey.” Even with the amount of travel this will entail though (including running one class at an independent training centre in Scotland) Pouncey’s overall mileage will still be lower in his new role.

Importantly, thanks to his prior experience across all parts of the industry (but especially as a fixer himself) Pouncey says he’s well positioned to engage with independents and contractors. “I’m more approachable with respect to speaking to independent fixers and contractors because I’ve actually done the role,” he explains. “I’ve been there. I feel that the day-to-day running of a business is not as easy as some people might think.”

With that first-hand experience then, he also understands some of the negative perceptions fixers have had about TTA in the past, and wants to help shift those perceptions. “There’s been a stigma from a fixers’ point of view that it’s a boys’ club – but that was a number of years ago, well before Kay was appointed CEO. Things have changed massively. If I was back fixing again, I would be a member, definitely, because of the benefits for the tile fixers.” Of course, Pouncey’s appointment in itself is testament to that commitment from the organisation, and increasingly high member retention and the recent recruitment of a number of new members seem to demonstrate it’s a well-received one.

Working for the members
One of Pouncey’s hopes is that, in addition to the support he is now providing current members, he can encourage more tilers who currently don’t engage with TTA to consider the organisation and potentially join. As the organisation stated in its initial announcement, the appointment is in line with its first strategic pillar to “Raise tile and tiling standards and enhance installation expertise and craftsmanship” as well as the second pillar, which aims to “Improve the value of membership, attract, engage and retain more members”.

This is a challenge, and unlike many of his other responsibilities, it’s not one Pouncey is used to yet. “There is that little bit of apprehension there,” he says, “regarding speaking about money with contractors. Obviously, I’m more than comfortable with the actual delivery of the masterclasses and the technical inspections aren’t an issue because I dealt with complaints and issues when was with Instarmac and BAL.”

Surprisingly enough then, it’s only communicating all of the benefits he brings to TTA membership that Pouncey finds himself feeling somewhat anxious about. In fact, it’s evident in conversation with him that he’s most comfortable simply doing the job – whether that’s educating tilers, inspecting jobs or mediating disputes – rather than endlessly talking about it.

While that may be a cause of slight friction for the man himself, it’s undeniably better for members to have a true technical expert in the role, rather than a natural born salesman.
Fortunately for Pouncey, the independence and value of TTA is obvious, which makes advocating for it much easier. At site inspections, for example, there’s not even the slightest concern over his integrity now he’s no longer associated with any specific brands in the industry. “With The Tile Association, I’m taking everything in black and white. They’ve not done it to the standard, or they have done it to the standard.”

The deep knowledge and practical understanding of those standards is one of the main benefits Pouncey brings to the organisation, meaning he will be able to provide truly independent best-practice advice and guidance to members and non-members alike. “A lot of tile fixers don’t really understand what the standards are or why they’re there. There is a tendency to think they are written by bureaucrats who are detached from reality. But actually that is not the case. The standards are written by people like myself. People from industry to improve the industry.”

Indeed, although he didn’t work on them directly, Pouncey has studied the upcoming changes to BS-5385, the British Standard for wall and floor tiling, which makes him an invaluable resource for any tilers who aren’t able to purchase or fully study the official document in the short term. Just prior to our interview, for example, Pouncey had spoken to a contractor who needed to know the standard for lipping. “I got him out of a sticky situation where a customer wasn’t going to pay him. I gave him all the information required over the phone – the customer was listening and he’d done everything within the standards.”

When it can mean the difference between getting paid or not, Pouncey’s advocacy is a powerful tool for TTA members to take advantage of. Of course, he admits, not every dispute will be as straightforward or unambiguous as the above example, but the goal is to ensure tilers aren’t ever penalised when they’ve followed standards correctly. “A lot of my job is fighting fires for people,” he says. Even in less dramatic situations though, his encyclopaedic knowledge of best practices will be an enormous asset for TTA members moving forward. As the organisation’s CEO, Kay Porter says: “We would struggle to think of a better qualified candidate.”

Characteristically, Pouncey himself puts it a bit more humbly. “I’m still finding my feet with the role. There’s nothing so far I’d say that’s stumped me, but don’t get me wrong, I don’t know absolutely everything about the industry. That’s what I say to contractors though: every day’s a school day!” And it’s that constant desire to maintain and update his knowledge that most inspires confidence when speaking to Pouncey. It remains to be seen exactly how he’ll work with the organisation in the coming months and years, but judging by our conversation, he’s gotten off to a flying start.

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