Home Features Industry interview: Neil Ash from Siniat

When Etex Group acquired Siniat it was a strategic move to strengthen its position as a solutions provider in all forms of dry construction. Three years on SpecFinish went to meet Siniat’s new managing director.

“We’re about making the life of our customers easier,” says Neil Ash, managing director for Siniat UK, “and it’s a commitment to customer service that is driving Siniat.”

Before joining Siniat (it was Lafarge in those days) Neil Ash was a time served plasterer and had his own drylining business. While he still dabbles at home he sees the background as one that gives a real understanding and passion for the products his business works with.

After eight years overseas he returned to the UK as sales director and he took over the reins at the start of 2014. Mr Ash says that there are exciting times ahead for the new pink branded business: “We have an innovative product pipeline. We want to shape the way people build and to deliver we need to understand our customers’ needs and be a little bit different.”

“We’re getting the right people in the right places. Historically where we’ve come from has been based around supporting builders’ merchants (as a route to market). But now we want to develop our position in commercial construction and specification. And the requirements of these customers are very different. Not just the installer but everyone through the
supply chain.”

Innovation is very important to Siniat and it wants to develop products and systems that are adding value to the installer and to the designer. “Our latest innovation is GTEC Weather Defence. It’s an evolution of Aquaboard technology which is ideal for a
tile application but for external it was too expensive. Weather Defence is an exterior sheathing that is different. It has the advantage of being lighter, it’s a score and snap board, and it’s taking less time to install.

“Weather Defence is expanding the size of the plasterboard market for contractors. We see more and more drywall contractors carrying out SFS contracts. The growth in SFS has been an opportunity for dryliners and installing SFS has helped to expand their packages.”

Etex bought the gypsum division of Lafarge to help it achieve its ambition to be leaders in dry construction. And Siniat is at the forefront of leading the Etex Group offer around board. For example Blueclad, a direct render carrier board that currently sits in the roofing business of Etex is becoming part of the Siniat portfolio of boards.

Neil Ash explains: “The challenge is to find the right board for the right application. Our investment in training
is growing and it’s aimed at improving the understanding and capabilities of products.

“We’ve strengthened technical support to address the demands of dealing more in the specification and installer market. Etex is very pro specification and has encouraged us to invest and get more involved in innovation and development.

“We’re investigating new ways to develop products and services that support our customers. We constantly assess where we go and how we can grow within the core dry construction sector we operate in.

“Why we get excited about GTEC Weather Defence is that it’s helping drylining contractors to get on site early. They are then in a good position to pick up the internal packages. Our position is the same if we’re there early, we’re in a better position to have our products chosen for the internal packages.

“It’s all about joined up thinking. If we need something to make us more successful we will find it.”

Mr Ash continues: “There are different sides of our business. We’re working closely with our builders’ merchant customers. We’ve found general builders are concerned that if they put more complex products in their offer they will be too expensive and miss out.

“But if we can help our customers and their customers to understand a better quality of finish, better comfort and more sustainability all around then we all win.”

It’s clear from where Siniat is going that it now appreciates that different parts of the market need different propositions and this is how it’s structured the business – and there is more renewed confidence as the economy has picked up.

Neil Ash continues:“Enquiries are up and there is more of a good feel factor. Some markets and regions have recovered better than others.We’re seeing our sales are up on where they were last year.

“Sustainability is still important. Thermal regulations will play an important part in the green agenda and many are still trying to understand the Green Deal.

“Partnership working is also very important to us and having the right relationship to make the supply chain work is essential. Being a reliable partner is one who delivers on what they promise. We want to be one of them and with even more business focus.”

What does Mr Ash see as the biggest challenges facing the sector? “Perhaps the biggest challenge is who is going to install all the work? Traditional trades have always been trained but dry construction now needs that same approach.

“The pressure on brick and block suppliers, while a problem for some contractors, is an opportunity for dry construction businesses.

“Whether it’s in manufacturing or with the client using the building, safety is a top priority. We think of weight in all our products and we offer smaller board widths on some ranges. We’re ever mindful of what we’re creating, which is why safety is our
number one priority.”

So how will Siniat measure success? It will be a combination of measures says Mr Ash: “It will be profitability of our business, retention of customers and the engagement of employees. Excited and motivated employees will help us to deliver but there is no one measure and we won’t be profitable unless we do the right thing.”