INTERVIEW: From 3 to 30 Staff – Tracking the Growth of Ecotile

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucinda O’Reilly, Marketing and Exports Director at Ecotile Flooring. Lucinda has worked at Ecotile for 20 years during which time the company has grown from 3 people in a tiny unit in north London to a state of the art factory in Luton employing 30 people.

Name: Lucinda O’Reilly

Company: Ecotile Flooring Ltd

Position: Marketing Director

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I started working at Ecotile straight out of university and have never left – this is the only company I have worked for. Over the last 20 years, I have done pretty much every single role that has existed including in the warehouse picking and packing orders through to installations and one particularly memorable weekend my husband and I applied 3 coats of sealer to a 10,000m2 floor that had just been installed. One of the things I love about this company is that everyone mucks in. For the last three years, I have been Marketing Director and Head of Exports so I am effectively responsible for generating all our sales leads in the UK and globally and I manage several of our most important export territories with the help of my amazing exports team at the office and in Germany and Dubai.

Can you share an interesting exporting story that has happened to you since you became a leader or started your company?

We export to over 40 countries and like to think of ourselves as fairly knowledgeable as to what’s involved but last year we won a large contract with SIG Combibloc Obeikan Company Ltd in Saudi Arabia and I don’t think any of us in the Exports department slept for about three weeks. The complexity of the logistics and the paperwork required to get the goods through customs was phenomenal, you’re very aware that just one mistake can result in your product (17 large heavy pallets in this case) sitting in a warehouse racking up storage charges. To add to the pressure, the floor had to be installed before a visit by all the group’s most important dignitaries and for a while we didn’t think the tiles or our Installation Manager would get there in time as it took ages to sort out his visa. All our hard work paid off in the end though as the project was a huge success and SIG have placed several further orders so we’re now quite experienced in selling to Saudi Arabia…

What advice would you give to a founder or CEO who is just starting their exporting journey?

Research the market thoroughly before you start! Is there sufficient demand for your product? How much competition is there? Will your price be competitive once you include import duties and delivery? Are there any language barriers to overcome? How much will it cost to translate your website and brochures? Can you sell direct or do you need a partner/distributor? Are there any cultural issues to consider? How soon will you start seeing the return on your investment and do you need to finance the initial costs? British products are still considered to be among the best in the world and exporting can be extremely profitable if you get it right but make sure you know what you’re doing before you start – the way we dealt with our first order to Saudi Arabia is probably a template for how not to go about it!

Can you share any stories or examples of how your company is making a difference to others, or how you’re making an influence in your sector?

The time and requirement for a professional fitter can dramatically increase the cost of installing a new floor. Fortunately, as our customers across the world have discovered, Ecotile solves all these problems with its simple interlocking design that allows the tiles to be loose laid over any hard surface including uneven, damp and contaminated substrates without the need for adhesive or repairs. Here are some examples;

Mermaid Subsea Services Ltd bought 23m2 of 6mm hidden joint tiles in blue. Submarines have a very limited time in dock for repairs so they were delighted that laying the floor could be done by the submariners themselves when they were back out at sea. When you think of the heat and cramped conditions on a submarine it perfectly exemplifies how easy Ecotile is to install.

Honsen Printing Industries Pte Ltd in Singapore installed 500m2 of the 10mm heavy duty tiles in dark grey over their factory floor. Printing machines are very large and need to be perfectly calibrated so moving them to lay a new floor would have made the job extremely costly and difficult. The staff laid the tiles themselves by cutting around the feet of the machines and had a brand new floor in 3 days.

In India, Turbo Energy Pvt Ltd have laid 100m2 of 7mm dark blue smooth texture in their warehouse. Their forklift trucks were finding it difficult to traverse the damaged concrete floor but are now operating safely and smoothly again.

Benzcam Energy Efficiency Services Africa LLC are located in Cameroon and specialise in printing passports. As you can imagine they are strictly vetted by the government and their premises have to be a high standard so when their floor was deemed to be unacceptable quality they needed a quick and durable solution. Furthermore, static can be a serious issue in printing factories so the floor covering they chose had to offer ESD protection. 4 weeks later we had delivered 420m2 of ESD tiles and they installed them with no professional flooring or ESD expertise.

Bissu Cosmeticos S.A. De C.V. manufacture cosmetics for some of the most prestigious beauty houses in the world and operate 24/7 to keep up with demand for their high quality products. They couldn’t afford to stop production to lay a new floor so they bought 700m2 of 10mm thick Ecotile and laid it themselves in 3 days.

Can you share what you believe will be the “Top 4 Exporting Trends Over The Next 3 Years” (Please share a story or example for each)?

  1. I think one of the most interesting trends that is emerging at the moment is that people are becoming more open minded about where their suppliers are located. As the case studies above illustrate many of our export customers in the last 12 months are based in markets that are completely new for us and they were prepared to deal with the hassle of logistics, import duties and longer lead-times to get the best quality product.
  2. Furthermore it cuts both ways, a few years ago we would have been very hesitant selling to markets we had no experience of and would have been wary of issues around payment but it’s becoming more and more evident that companies who aren’t open to trading globally rather than just in the UK or the EU will get left behind.
  3. This will sound counterintuitive but Brexit may bring UK companies closer to their existing European customers. As an example we are entering in to partnership with our Dutch distributors to set up a large warehouse so we can hold high levels of stock to service the European market. If we end up with no deal and transport in to the EU becomes more expensive and takes longer we believe this will mitigate those problems for us.
  4. I believe Blockchain is going to revolutionise the way we do business and make it much easier and safer for companies to work together who would have reservations doing so at the moment. It also has the potential to remove a lot of fraud and corruption from the global economy which will stimulate growth for the rest of us.

What are the medium to long term objectives that you’re focusing on at your company and how will you achieve this?

Our objective is to achieve rapid growth in turnover and profitability by consolidating our position in the export markets we already operate in and expanding in to new ones. As the Marketing Director I take personal responsibility for this through capitalising on all the digital marketing opportunities available which have transformed our ability to reach new customers in untapped markets. As Head of Exports I’m also very happy to go and visit them in person to build those crucial personal relationships on trust and reputation.