Tracey Glew: Flooring the competition

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Having spent time living in Australia and touring New Zealand, Tracey Glew came back to the UK for a new challenge.

With family already in the floor preparation industry, she felt that it was as good a choice as any to set out on a new adventure and break into what is stereotypically a very male dominated profession.

When she arrived back, Tracey worked in marketing for another company, but the more she looked around, and with all she had learned in the marketing department for the Australian police force, she knew she could create a company that would do better.

Tracey founded The Preparation Group in 1991, which specialises in the full preparation of any flooring surface from concrete to marble on the streets or in Buckingham Palace. The company has completed jobs everywhere and, after being contracted to prepare the floors of the London Eye in 2004, the business made a lasting impression.

“We stopped Question Time when we prepared the flooring in the pods because the vibration levels and the noise we created sounded a bit like a pre-terrorist attack. The Thames made it sound ten times worse. Apparently, all the SAS came along,” Tracey laughed. “I was skiing at the time on top of a mountain, getting calls telling me we had stopped Question Time.”

However, it took a while for the company to be able to get to a level where it could work in the royal household and on key British landmarks.

“We started off as a contracting organisation, with two of us in the office and a couple of guys on the road, and then we started designing and manufacturing about eight to 10 years later. It’s just evolved from there.

“Looking at the industry at the time, we felt that we could offer more in terms of service, innovative equipment and technical support. We used our initial contracting experience to develop equipment in the mid-90s.”

Staff now travel up and down the country on a daily basis completing projects, conducting site surveys, demonstrating equipment and training the next generation of workers in the industry.

“We have worked in factories, supermarkets, airports, ships, we’ve done McClaren, we’ve done the Man United building, we’ve done hangers for multi-billion pound jets.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Taking the lead

Tracey wasn’t prepared to stop breaking boundaries when she entered into a male dominated industry. Despite throw-back comments from her competition, she ploughed forward with her ideas and plans to become the market leader in floor preparation.

She would have to seek approval on decisions she made and the responses that she had back could be quite condescending.

“There are still not that many females in the flooring preparation world and it doesn’t bother me. My father was involved in the industry many years ago.”

“As long as you know what you’re talking about, there will always be a challenge where you don’t know what to expect, but you’ve got to find a solution.”

Tracey couldn’t have been more proud than when she was elected as the first Chairwoman of FeRFA, The Resin Flooring Association, which was formed over 40 years ago and is responsible for setting standards for the flooring and surface preparation industries.

“I became the first female elected Chair earlier this year, which was a great honour and huge responsibility to support members to develop their business, encourage new membership, create guidance and technical literature, improve and develop new standards and levels of professionalism within the specialist sector.

“I expected that I would have to vote for myself to save embarrassment. It’s nice to know that my peers in the resin flooring industry voted me into that position. I’ve got a lot to do. I’m only a few months into the role and we need to see how the association develops.”

Tracey has been part of the association for many years and in 2009 she was a key player in establishing NVQ qualifications for FeRFA contractors. Today, she is still a strong believer in growing home talent.

“The Preparation Group has itself qualified 19 apprentices to date with two further candidates due to receive their qualification later this year.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Investment is key

When Tracey bought the two-acre site on Deacon Road in Lincoln, she did it with the intention of continuing to grow the business, leaving room not only for the offices they required at the time, but also the space to continue building without the need for separate locations.

In 2006, an investment of £350,000 saw a new training centre built on site, allowing The Preparation Group to exchange with different markets and industries, as well as provide an area for theory and NVQ qualifications.

“The training centre was innovative in its time because there isn’t a facility like it in the UK where we can accommodate materials, manufacturers, apprentices, various different organisations that can apply and remove materials. It is unique.

“It was essential to create something that was bespoke, that lots of people could benefit from.”

The classroom contains all different types of surfaces that the company can operate on so that trainees can learn how and how not to use the equipment.

“By having our own training facility, it has further underpinned our professionalism and expertise within our industry. The training school has provided us with greater opportunities with our larger corporate partners that we would have otherwise not seen.

“We have the best training facility of this kind in the UK and are able to offer our customers levels of support which are envied by others. In building such a centre of excellence, it has allowed the creation of more jobs (which is ongoing) and investment in the local economy as the business grows.

“The invested £350,000 will provide many millions of pounds of business over the coming years.”

Tracey has invested in her people, the company’s IT systems and further expansion. Now she has turned her attention to the growth of the manufacturing side of the business.

“In 2009, like a lot of people, we revisited what we were doing and we’re better and stronger from that particular side. A lot of things that we’ve done in the last few years, we should have done probably 10 years ago. Our systems are much more efficient, we’ve invested in IT, we’ve invested in our people. Training is paramount in the industry, especially as we get involved in construction.

“We are a very open-minded business and are working all the time to evolve and improve our products and services. Investment over the coming two to three years in infrastructure and resource is expected to be in excess of £500,000 alone.”

This feature interview was first published in issue 88 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.