So, Molly, how did it all start?
There were the two of us, Ian Hennell and I, we started with one saw and two masons. We went off and bought a second-hand saw from Pisanis in Matlock, which cost £12,500. It was a good saw for back then, a Gregoria saw. And I’ve still got at home the very first piece of stone we cut on it! A little tiny bit of granite, a very exciting time, that was!
And, the two of you, did you all have a background in the industry?
Ian had been associated with the stone industry for some time. I hadn’t directly, but I did have lots of contacts in Italy through the previous business I worked in, which dealt with major contracting for tiling work. I had travelled frequently to Italy to source material, meet with suppliers and to get material cut to size for projects, even coming across the mafia at one stage! What I learnt through that process, was that if we wanted to achieve quality, reliability and control for our projects, what we really needed was to produce our own stone.
So, we found two brilliant masons and started up. Back in those days, the traditional masons’ idea was that if God took 350 million years to provide the natural material, then they could take as long as they needed to craft the worktop. This idea was quickly left behind! I remember at that stage, the thinking was if we could do two kitchens a week, £30,000 turnover a month, that would be great! Twenty-five years on, we now do six to ten kitchens a day!
What was the predominant worktop material back then?
Oh most definitely granite. Marble back then wasn’t seen as a practical worktop material. Of course, everything has changed so much because of sealants we have now, which are just amazing. The nano-technology sealants we have now permeate through the top 4-5mm of stone and that’s it, it lasts forever!
And when did you move to the current premises?
So, we were at New Road around four years but outgrew it very quickly. That’s when we moved to our current yard. Extraordinarily, when we moved we had to do it over a weekend and in one day as we couldn’t afford to halt production. We bought a lot of new machinery for the new place and the factory manager and I, designed the whole layout – the drainage, the electrics etc. The offices here were used as a mess room, which we still had up until about eight years ago. And from there we just grew, and over the years it has grown and grown….
Back in 1992, we were a 5-man operation and today we have 44 staff – including 4 install teams, 4 templates and 12 office/ sales staff. 60% of our business is trade and 40% private customers. And of course, now this past March we started the distribution business for Teltos.
Manufactured quartz today is huge, when did it first appear on the market?
Manufactured stone has been on the market around 15 years and we at Landford have been working with it since it first became available. In actual fact, when it first came in, all our old-style masons, thought: “no, it’s not right, it’s not natural, it wouldn’t last, it’s just a fad!”. But we worked with it, became familiar with its properties and today 65-75% of the worktop market is now manufactured material.
It’s a look people want right now… it’s not too challenging, and it fits nicely with the ‘minimalism’ that is still on trend in kitchens of today. As a material it is predictable and that’s what people like. But, at the same time, it’s not for everyone; around 25% of our private customers will only ever have natural material.
So Molly, what was the vision?
Oh, I was determined from the word go. The previous business I had been in was major contracting and we had such a tough time being let down with poor quality material.
I decided really and truly, there is no point in doing anything unless you do it really really well. I knew, I wanted us to be the best in the UK, to produce the best quality work. And then you’ve got something to be proud of. You attract the better-quality people to work with you, to be part of your team. At the end of the day, you have much more job satisfaction because the team are proud of the work they produce.
Honestly, if ever we get a complaint, it’s like somebody has hit us. It really feels like that, you feel like you’ve been struck! We’re accustomed to getting praised, that’s what we like. Us lot, we’re just like a load of puppy dogs that want to be patted on the head for doing a good job!
And what about standout projects?
Oh I love to walk round when we’ve done a big project, and think ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and I’m so thrilled to have been able to do that countless times over the years.
Around 2 years ago we did the Daily Mail’s Headquarters in Northcliffe House in London. We were doing the entrance area and washrooms in a Portuguese limestone called Alantejo and we had the quarry manufacture the tiles bespoke. It was a very complicated and difficult install, most notably because they needed the front entrance, so we were working only at night. This final result was stunning. I was hugely proud of the work the team did.
Laying floor perfectly over massive areas is extremely hard. Back in the day, when laying these big floors, the test was always could you roll a penny across it and the penny would stay upright. Oh, I loved doing that, because my pennies would never fall over… and if they did I’d go mad, haha! I used to say to the boys: “rest assured, Granny can spot a lippy from one hundred yards, so make sure they’re all flat!”
Oh and 3 or 4 years ago we did the bathroom above the famous Cube Room at Wilton House. No pressure there then… the renowned historic ‘Cube Room’ and we had to install a bathroom, right above it! Whoa what a huge sense of responsibility, that was! It was all done in marble pallisandra classico, so so beautiful. This year we actually went back and gave it a deep clean as they didn’t want anyone else to touch it. Sadly we couldn’t photograph it, and in actual fact so much of the work that we do, unfortunately we can’t photograph for privacy reasons.
And do you get a lot of repeat customers?
Yes, most of our private business is repeat customers or recommendations.
It’s the word of mouth that’s so important…
Absolutely, 9 out of 10 customers who come here will say ‘you’ve been recommended’, which is fabulous, and every single one of our installations has got what I like to call the ‘Rolls Royce’ of worktops on the end of it, a little tiny Landford Stone badge.
Recently when browsing properties for sale online I saw a house advertised, in Sandbanks, that had written in the spec ‘Landford Stone worktops’. HA!! Amazing! Landford Stone worktops along with ‘panoramic views’ as part of the criteria for buying the house. I was SO proud! I thought -YES! I really was a ‘you know you’ve made it’ moment. They used to say things like ‘Smallbone Kitchen’. Landford Stone worktops! Yippee ????
And the vision going forward??
More of the same, more of the same…the present economic situation won’t last, it will turn around and the reality is we are desperately short of homes in this country, so the construction industry will pick up again.
The stone industry – it’s a tough one you know. It’s not always been easy, not a walk in the park, but no business ever is! To do well you have to dedicate yourself. You have to have passion. Without that, well, frankly you might as well shut the door and go home.
We’re always looking for new things…I’m getting quite into this outdoor kitchen right now.
It is definitely starting to creep in…
Yeah, I think so. I saw some amazing stuff in Italy at the Stone Show, and I saw a few of these outdoor kitchens and thought, do you know what… this could be fun! I think in January I’ll get the boys to make one solidly out of stone, granite, because you can’t keep quartz outside. They have a BBQ, gas hobs in the them, a sink. I love it, and we could do a mini version for smaller gardens. Outdoor firepits are also getting more popular, were doing a few of those at the moment. Again, same principal. So yes, as things move, you’ve got to stay on top of new opportunities!