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Industry Interview – South Coast Stone

Nominated for a TTA award in 2022, Dorset-based South Coast Stone is somewhat unusual among tiling contractors, in that its business is effectively split into two halves.

In the South West, the company undertakes retail and stone worktop installation jobs using stone imported from Europe, which is then processed at the company’s factory. In London and elsewhere, however, SCS takes on a variety of tiling jobs for commercial clients. Recently, TSJ chatted with South Coast Stone’s contract manager, Alex Peel, to find out how these two separate business strands complement each other and how the company is able to undertake such a variety of different projects.

The company was incorporated in the early 2000s by two directors who had formerly worked together in Canary Wharf and the general London area. The newly formed company moved into its first unit, bought one bridge saw and began manufacturing kitchen worktops using imported Granite. From there, South Coast Stone experienced a steady upwards trajectory of growth and business success, moving into a second facility with an additional CNC unit a few years later, before moving to its current location around eight years ago, where the company owns and operates two bridge saws, a CNC machine and an edge polisher.

The expansion in capabilities has necessitated growth in the company’s headcount too, with the team gradually moving from just two directors to a team of 15 full-time employees: five in the commercial office, five in the factory, two retail salespeople and administrative workers each, as well as the company’s current director. The company’s move into tile fitting happened organically, having already demonstrated its credentials to clients in at high profile locations like The Ivy and Jamie Oliver restaurant chains. “As we started going into London and seeing the opportunities that were out there, we decided to branch out into doing more tiling jobs.” This branching out improved the company’s reputation with main contractors, Alex says, among whom SCS is seen as a sort of “one-stop-shop” for tile and stone installation.

Other high-profile work the contractor has undertaken includes marble and stone flooring for luxury clothing brands at Harrods department store, the ground and first floor extension at Bluewater using 30mm limestone imported from Germany, as well as a 64sqm rotunda floor at the Savill Court Hotel in Windsor.

Fortunately, throughout Alex’s tenure at the company, its phone book has also filled up. “When I first started, it was just one subcontracted team. Getting extra labour used to be a complete nightmare because you only had a few numbers to call. Now we’ve got a list of about 50 guys, 15 different teams. Once you’ve made the 10th phone call, you’ve pretty much always got someone looking for work.” This increased flexibility allows SCS to deal with the growing demand for its services across both specialties – demand which takes the company all over the country and beyond.

Indeed, while it focuses primarily on the South of England, one way South Coast Stone diverges from many tiling contractors is in its willingness to travel for jobs. “We’ll go anywhere,” Alex says, listing off jobs in Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, even as far as Switzerland or Holland, where the company completed a tiling job for a well-known clothing brand. Regarding the company’s preferences for project and installation types, Alex is similarly unbiased: “We’re happy to take on projects of any size, we’re quite multifaceted. Anything from 20sq m in a shop to 1000sq m at a Westfield shopping centre.”

Alex credits the company’s wide labour pool for this diversity in the jobs its able to win. “We’ve got multiple different teams who are all very good with various types of materials,” he says. “When I first started six years ago, we had one fixing team and maybe five or six jobs on the go. Now we’ve got around 15 fixing teams and probably 30 jobs on the go.”

In 2022, South Coast Stone received industry-recognition for its work in the form of a nomination for a TTA award. Although the project wasn’t as visually exciting as some of others on show, Alex says, he was still proud of the technical skill it displayed. “When you look at some of the photos there, the marble effect porcelain some of the people are doing, they really have the wow-factor,” he says. “Ours was just grey porcelain, but a lot of work went into it, especially from a fabricating point of view. If anybody looked at the detail of what we did there I think they would’ve been quite impressed.” Certainly, the judges at the TTA awards were!

Although the jobs themselves are more than manageable for the company, external factors can still cause complications. “A lot of the issues come more from the client side. They might not be ready, which leaves you chasing answers. A classic example from earlier this year [2022] was supposed to be pretty basic, the samples have been signed off for months. We were supposed to start three months ago, but couldn’t start, then two months ago the same thing happened. We were supposed to start yesterday, three guys turned up to start working and the site was still nowhere near ready.”

Those unforeseen complications, in addition to the broader stormy economic forecast facing the country as a whole, have forced SCS to stay vigilant when it comes to finance and payment. Happily, Alex explains, this is where the company’s largely separate business tracks pay significant dividends. “The beauty is, from a cash flow point of view, all the retail and trade kitchens we do on a daily basis are constantly providing good income, which allows us to bankroll the bigger jobs which might be on 60-90 day payment terms. From a cash flow point of view, we’re very sound, because we’re getting money in every day.”

While 2021 saw a slight dip in revenue for SCS (perhaps owing to the knock-on effect of jobs cancelled during the pandemic) 2022 was the company’s best year ever. Alex recognises, however, that no matter how strong its pipeline, SCS is still subject to the circumstances of the end client. “I’m confident in what we do, the product we sell. Confident in my existing clients and confident we can deliver a good job. It’s what the general client dictates.”

Just as it expanded from worktops into tiling though, SCS has already begun looking into other avenues of bringing in revenue, Alex explains, from external landscaping to stone cleaning and maintenance. The company’s ability to expand its expertise and service offering has served it well to this point, and though the next 12 months may present challenges, South Coast Stone is well placed to handle them.

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