Alin Cristescu, involved in wood-based products for three generations, founded London-based Fin Wood after he came to the UK in 2013. In this, the second of a two-part article, Alin gives his views on quality, business success, and sustainable products
By ADAM BERNSTEIN.
AS we saw last month, Alin Cristescu’s path in flooring wasn’t direct, but it was most certainly sure. In this, the second part of his story, we turn to his views on quality, business success, and sustainable products.
Logically, being London-based, Alin mostly works in London and the surrounding areas. He says he likes to work directly with clients ‘to ensure the information is clear and so we can have useful conversations to reach a clear understanding. This has proven to be the basis of each successful project and our happy customers’.
But apart from residential projects, Fin Wood also undertakes commercial projects. One of his favourites, last year, was, he recounts, a large seating area for an international retailer. In essence, this was an installation of Scandinavian-style end-grain cladding at a location in Greenwich, using sustainable pine, on stadium style seating that created a smart Rubik’s cube design.
‘The project,’ says Alin, ‘was a special request from a special customer for a special floor. Our client was a multinational company with a very good reputation for great design with a conscience.’
The customer apparently wanted to develop a new social hub on their premises alongside some individual workspaces. They wanted stadium style seating cladded in end-grain to encourage customers to stop and sit a while.
Alin explains how he doesn’t usually receive requests for end-grain floors in public spaces. As for why, he says that ‘here in the UK end-grain is still considered a special floor, but in Scandinavian countries it’s much more common.’
He thinks though, that the structure of end grain is highly suitable for public spaces, and it provides a stronger floor than normal planks of the same wood species: ‘Imagine how a bunch of straws bound together vertically makes it hard to crush yet bound horizontally they’re easy to bend. By using end- grain pine blocks we can make hard wood out of soft wood.’
Plenty of thought had to go into the project says Alin. In particular, he details how, for example, ‘end-grain blocks tend to be more sensitive to variations of humidity in the air and can develop small gaps. We used a flexible filler to allow some movement but still keep the floor in a pristine condition.’
Doing business successfully
It’s already been noted that Fin Wood takes
social media seriously – Alin has a dedicated person, albeit freelance, for web SEO. But what exactly is its importance to Fin Wood and what does Alin do to exploit it?
In answer, he says social media is a great channel for him to communicate his standard of work where he can focus on specific detail and new ideas that would appeal to his customers – old and new. He notes it can be good for business: ‘We recently had an old customer who contacted us for more work in her home after she saw our built-in furniture on Instagram.’
Beyond that, he says it provides an easy opportunity to network with his peers in the industry and helps him to develop useful trade relationships. Of course, getting publicity and business is one thing, but it’s a futile exercise in keeping a business running if customers don’t pay – on time.
So how does Alin counter payment issues that arise?
The first thing to note is that Alin applies common-sense. He says experience has taught him that ‘most payment related issues stem from misunderstanding and miscommunication’. Because of this he insists on having at least one meeting in person with the homeowner during which he goes through all the aesthetic aspects of the floor but also the technical side of the project. He says ‘all these details are included in the quote which is very detailed – this way expectations are managed’.
Next, he ensures the quote is very clear on the payment schedule as ‘this helps avoid potential problems’.
Interestingly, he’s keen to emphasise debt isn’t really much of a problem to Fin Wood: ‘For a while now we’ve been in a fortunate position of having no overdue payments. We believe our pricing is fair and transparent and our work is costed. The price is thoroughly calculated, and this provides great protection.’ Fundamentally, he takes the view that ‘we work with customers who appreciate craftsmanship and are willing to invest in it’.
Brexit, as a process, may be done-and-dusted, but that doesn’t mean Alin doesn’t have a view. He considers the full impact of Brexit still remains to be seen. However, during the transition period Fin Wood experienced much disruption because of all the uncertainty. In outline, he says ‘there’s been an increase in the price of products that are imported; most of our materials and wood are manufactured in Germany and other parts of Europe’.
But the matter goes more deeply to the people at Fin Wood. ‘But thankfully,’ says Alin, ‘all those in the team from the EU have been able to achieve settled status and I recently became a British citizen.’ He’s glad they’re all secure in that sense and able to focus on their work.
But profile, payment and cashflow, and Brexit aside, Fin Wood has had to navigate the problem of testing customers, something Alin has always expected – ‘we couldn’t be in the trade if we didn’t have our fair share of difficult customers’.
As we’ve seen, Alin believes careful preparation of quotes and insistence on upfront face-to-face meetings saves him from the worst situations. But he gives an example where a difficult situation became a positive learning experience.
‘A few years ago,’ says Alin, ‘we had a project with s-shaped curved borders using herringbone parquet. It was a technical challenge for us. We had to pool our experience and skills and be innovative as there was no standard approach. In the end the floor was stunning, and we learnt so much from overcoming the technical challenges in that job.’
Products are key
Anyone can work to the lowest common denominator – price. But to succeed, to have longevity, requires much more than that; it needs quality products that can be installed properly and to a high standard.
On this Alin is clear in what he chooses to use. He says ‘there are two main categories of product for us – the wood itself and the materials used for installation, fitting and finishing. Our motto is ‘crafted for life’ meaning we aim to deliver the highest standard of quality through good workmanship and using quality materials and tools. The longevity of our work makes our floors sustainable’.
He outlines his belief that good quality is at the heart of sustainability. He explains Fin Wood ‘only works with reputable quality focused manufacturers that are FSC certified such as the Natural Wood Floor Company in Wandsworth. They don’t waste wood in the manufacturing process. They supply long-lasting wooden floors that won’t have to be replaced in a decade.’
Further, he only uses quality products that support sustainability. For example, he uses ‘a reputable industry standard of adhesive which is less toxic and harmful for the environment, and it performs better’.
But beyond the desire to be sustainable, Alin says it’s cheaper for the customer in the long-term to invest in quality and he tries to encourage his customers to see it this way – ‘most of our customers do view our floors as a lifelong investment and one that intrinsically adds value to a property’.
It’s actually quite telling Fin Wood’s website has a whole page on sustainability – why wood can be sustainable, how to check on ethical sourcing, how long it should last, and what type of flooring is the most eco-friendly.
When Alin is asked about the secret of his success, his response – advice to anyone wanting to start a company – ‘is to get organised and prepare for hard work.’ He adds: ‘You have to make sacrifices – your time, energy, thoughts – to make it work.’
The result of this effort is that he’s ‘been providing beautiful flooring across the southeast since 2013 and has been blessed to have had the opportunity to be taught by such experienced professionals’.
In his mind, his in-depth knowledge of wood as well as trade secrets and experience ensures his work is always to a high standard.