Just over two years after he first spoke with Stabroek Business, Andre Cummings, the Managing Director of the Caledonia, East Bank Demerara wood products company, Floor It, remains as focused now as he was then, on raising standards in the sector.
It is a goal that goes beyond his ambitions for his own company, and toward which he remains mindful, though not undaunted, given the challenges facing the local timber industry.
Accordingly, he has established closer ties with the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA), serving as a member of its Forestry and Wood Sector Technical Working Group. The group is charged with supporting the sector as a whole in key areas, which include training, concessions, and dialoguing with government on issues related to properly positioning the sector to play a more prominent role in generating employment, accessing international markets for Guyana and on the whole, taking the sector forward.
Simultaneously, as the proprietor of Floor It, Cummings remains grounded in his own creative and entrepreneurial goals, expanding local and international market shares for his high-quality floorings and home furnishing, and further entrenching the Guyana brand on the international market. His wooden flooring tiles have long been a leader in standards locally, and his range of wooden furnishings have attracted the considerable patronage of up market homes. The Caribbean, too, has been won over by Floor It’s high standards.
As a starting point for his lively exchange with the Stabroek Business on Monday, Cummings chose to address some of the challenges confronting the wood products sector, not least, he says, those that have to do with the access roads that enable the movement of lumber to the coastal market. The challenges do not stop there. Cummings believes that local demand for flooring and furniture is placing increasing pressure on the sector, particularly in terms of the skills required to meet that demand. “Quality is clearly a problem. It is difficult to acquire the skills to meet the requirements of the market. Many contractors lack the technical foundation necessary to meet the required standard,” he opined. It is the same, he says, with furniture as with flooring, with both disciplines requiring high standards of proficiency. An attendant problem, he says, is that “building standards are not always rigidly enforced,” a limitation that has the effect of entrenching lower than desired standards.
There are other challenges too, like those connected with value added taxes and what has become institutionalized sectoral engagements with government over the various challenges affecting the forestry and forest products sector.
Focusing momentarily on his own business pursuits, Floor It, Cummings says, has set its sights on continually aspiring to higher standards, having imposed on itself the ‘pressures’ associated with rising local, regional and international expectations.
Over time, the company has developed a high level of capability in the production of a range of products that include end matched flooring, moldings, ceiling and paneling, handrails and kiln dried lumber for custom joinery, all essential requirements in a market which, in recent years, has become increasingly discerning in its taste.
Whilst engaging the Stabroek Business, Cummings showed images of the company’s in-demand Demerara Oak Collection. Products like this Collection, Cummings says, are a reflection of Floor It’s considerable investment, over the years, in building a team of skilled and creative workers whose capabilities are complemented by a refined understanding of the absolute importance of product presentation.
As time passes, Cummings says, the need to raise standards will become increasingly apparent. He believes that while there is a surfeit of persons offering their services as tradesmen of one title or another, there is a need for the introduction of “trade tests” and some attendant form of certification. It is, he says, “a matter of being able to be sure that people can do what they say they can.”
Floor It, Cummings disclosed, is itself considering the hosting of a public workshop to provide technical instruction in flooring installation, an area in the construction sector, he says, where skills are lacking. The components of the programme will include instructions in areas that include moisture testing and sub-floor preparation. “These are important areas of the construction sector and are among the things which clients with greater disposable income are requiring. My concern is that if we cannot meet these standards locally, then people will look outside of Guyana for higher levels of craftsmanship. At Floor It we focus a lot on imparting technical knowledge. We need to be able to test and measure what we do. We also need to invest in research and development,” he stated.
With a complement of fifty-two workers, Floor It is focused on the demanding task of meeting, simultaneously, the requirements of both the local and overseas markets. The company continues to be challenged by the requirement of ever rising quality expectations at home, and increasingly tough competition on the external market; Cummings says that continued high levels of demand on both markets provide the company with a barometer with which to measure the quality of its work. “The challenge,” Cummings says, “brings out the creativity in our team. We are producing world class products to world class standards.”