In our latest business blog, we talk to flooring manufacturers Altro, a family-founded business that's been operating out of Letchworth since the mid 1980s.
- For the uninitiated, what is it that Altro do?
Altro is a family-founded company that manufactures floors and walls, working with architects, end customers, engineers, designers and contractors around the world. We design our products to help transform everyday spaces for the people that use them, for example, Altro Aquarius, a safety floor that was designed to prevent slips in wet rooms whether the user is wearing shoes or bare foot.
- What do you mean by safety flooring, what makes it different to regular flooring?
It only takes a contaminant, such as water, measuring just one tenth of the thickness of a human hair on a floor to cause a slip – it basically stops your foot connecting with the floor.
Our safety floors are specially engineered and designed to minimise risk and provide safe movement in areas where a slip is likely, for example, a restaurant kitchen, or an entrance hall. The aggregates that we add into our production process create a slightly rough surface – enough to break thorough the contaminant on the floor, and connect with your shoes, stopping you slip.
- What sectors does Altro provide flooring for?
We have a large number of customers in the healthcare, hospitality, education, housing and transport sectors but of course we provide flooring for anyone who will benefit from it. We have a wide range of floor and wall types, including Altro Ensemble, a new luxury vinyl tile, resins floors and decorative floors for areas where the risk of a slip is low, so whatever the building type, we will have a floor or wall product to suit.
- How long have you been in Letchworth, why did you decide to set-up shop here?
Altro moved to Letchworth Garden City in the mid-1980s. We had been based in Welwyn but as the business continued to grow, we needed a bigger site – one that could house the manufacturing as well as all of our office staff. The Works Road site was ideal and has been our global head office ever since.
- What is it like to work at Altro and how many people do you employ in Letchworth?
At our Letchworth Garden City site we have 290 employees, but it’s important to say that we have employees at Lowestoft and Maiden Newton, plus a sales team and technical support team who are generally on the road.
We are delighted to be able to say that we’ve featured in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For eleven times – we’re the only manufacturer to have appeared that often. This a based on a survey filled out voluntarily and anonymously by our employees and covers how they feel about the support they receive from the company, their training and development and their opportunities for career growth and more.
- Altro turns 100 this year, what do you think is the key to its longevity?
The world in 1919 couldn’t seem more different from today’s but our excitement at embracing and developing new technologies and ways of working with our customers is exactly the same as back then. We invented safety flooring and developed the world’s first adhesive-free safety floor and are constantly looking at ways to better the solutions that are already out there and benefit the wellbeing of the people who walk on and past our products. Add to this that we remain a family business, with family values and you have the reason why we’re here today, celebrating our centenary.
- What kind of things is Altro working on at present? Is there a big emphasis on research and development?
We have a team whose purpose is to research and develop new opportunities and solutions. They helped develop our latest product, Altro Ensemble, a luxury vinyl tile that’s easy for installers to work with while providing a stunning look for a variety of room types. Our development isn’t only about the products though, we constantly review how we work with our customers – we have a voice of the customer programme where customers spend a day with us in Letchworth and tell us all about them, their business and the best ways for us to help them. We also constantly look at the wellbeing of our employees, including projects to keep people safe in the workplace, as well as the fun stuff, like our anniversary celebrations.
- There seems to be a lot of cool investment that goes on in to the digital side of Altro, with a map app and space visualiser, are there any plans for VR or ideas of that nature?
We will always move with the times. We bought into the Internet very early, resulting in our company website, we use a variety of social media platforms and we have a lot of video content to help support our customers. As technology develops and improves, we’ll always aim to move with it, as long as the focus remains on what works best for our customers.
- Classic one to finish, where does Altro see itself in the next 100 years?
The same but different! As we’ve said, we put our success down to focussing on new technologies and ways of working with our customers and we don’t intend that to change. Where the difference will be is likely to be about where we’ll be installing flooring – perhaps on the next generation of space stations. And who knows what technology will be available to us in 100 years’ time, we might be walking on floors that talk to us while measuring our heart rate and giving us health guidance on the state of our feet!