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Celebrating 40 years of Altro Whiterock

‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results’ – Fun Boy Three and Bananarama, 1982.

The beginning

As Altro left the 1970s and entered its seventh decade, the company had a number of milestones under its belt: our invention of safety flooring had led to installations across the world, including America, New Zealand and Sweden. Our flooring technology was in continuous development, leading to more ranges, including flooring developed specifically for transport.

Then in 1980, Brian Spiers, part of our industrial and commercial sales team, who had seen installations in the USA, suggested Altro also market white sheet wall cladding.

The opportunity was clear: a floors and walls offering for customers, making it easier to kit out a space using one company. While we were able to supply customers with slip-resistant, impervious flooring, walls were an issue. Cracking, peeling paint and poor grouting did little for hygiene, not what you want to see in food production or hospitals, to name just two examples.

Material was available from Huils Troisdorf in Germany, part of the Mipolam company with whom we already worked. And so the Altro team carried out installation trials with R W Plastics. This was a Lowestoft-based company, specialising in equipment for food processing industry, including bins and chutes, and owned by Richard Wright. He knew the risks of potential food contamination from broken and flaking walls, and immediately looked at ways to develop this new concept.

Richard had the idea of using sheets of polypropylene to clad the walls, fixed with rivets and sealant, and an H section of PVC was used as a joint strip. The concept was sound but using polypropylene would prevent its use in certain areas – it wouldn’t meet the required building standards for fire. The sheet manufacturer also produced sheets made from PVC foils. These were cut to size and placed in a giant press, laminating and fusing them. It took eight hours to produce a batch of 250 sheets. The surface finish was produced using highly polished stainless steel sheets place between each panel whilst the process took place. It was expensive and labour intensive, but the only sheet at that time that would meet the necessary standards.

1982

By 1982, RW Plastics had gone through a number of challenges and changes but continued to work on the wall sheet concept. One of the team, David Challis, had worked with Altro on some flooring projects, and felt the two could complement each other. He took the idea to David Kahn, Managing Director of Altro, who saw the potential and acquired the company, employing the staff.

Richard Kahn, CEO Floors and Managing Direct, Altro Group said: “Sometimes in business you just have to gamble and take a risk, rather like when we invented safety flooring - there was no evidence in the 1950s that a slip-resistant sheet floor covering, or in the 1980s that hygienic wall cladding would become a real need in the market - just a gut instinct from the leaders in the business at the time, and look at how that instinct has been realised!”

And now it was time to take the new concept to market: Altro Whiterock was launched, initially as a sister company to Altro Floors, merging fully some years later. The conversation around naming this new wall sheet was quite straight-forward: It was white and ‘hard as rock’. If only naming new products was always so easy…

In the world of music, 1982 was anthemic – if you ever needed to excite a sales team and potential customers, this year had the soundtrack for it. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor pumped out of the radio as Rocky Balboa fought his way to the top. Then there was Fame by Irene Cara – the sales team decided for forego the legwarmers, but we’re assured that the hair was suitably big.

As the sales and contractor team began to take orders and manage the installations, during the rest of the 1980s the Altro product development team worked on honing Altro Whiterock, specifically looking at compliance, and time and cost reduction. They worked with a number of suppliers to deliver the walls system needed and Altro Whiterock became an extruded PVC sheet, becoming known as a tough, hygienic answer to the problems associated with tiles and painted surfaces.

The 1990s

Tim Walker, now Area Manager, Middle East, India and Ireland has worked at Altro for 30 years, joining in 1991. “I was working as a ceilings, partitions and dry-lining manager when a customer handed me a piece of Altro Whiterock and asked if I’d seen it, saying he thought it had a real future. Coincidentally, two weeks later, I had a call from a recruitment company looking for a specification consultant for Altro Whiterock.

“The potential of the product excited me – the concept was so good; it was very easy to get passionate about it. And as I started taking it out to more customers, when you demonstrated it and showed the benefits, it was sold: we were successful really quickly.

“Projects were predominantly commercial kitchens, replacing ceramic tiles – there was nothing else on the market that looked as good. As popularity grew, we started to develop coloured sheets - what became Altro Whiterock Satins. Later, as we were visiting customers we noticed a trend towards using coloured glass in construction, so the demand for a high gloss product was clear and that gave us Altro Whiterock Chameleon.”

Partnerships

While the types of Altro Whiterock and the number of shades available grew, there was a huge focus not only on customer service, but improving installation methods to ensure the sheet performed in the environments it was being used in.

Tim continued: “We had the best contractors in the market and were working with more and more installers, which, in the late 1990s, became the premier installer network that exists today. It was the first professionally run manufacturing-contracting partnership in the UK, and we had a lot of interest in our model from other companies. Many of those early premier installers still work with us today and they’re a hugely valued part of our story.”

Joe Richardson of Richardson Cladding said: “We were asked to be a Premier Installer partner of Altro’s 14 years ago, based on the success we were having with Altro Whiterock, and our commitment to it. Over the years we’ve worked on a huge variety of projects but one that really stands out is the bathroom refurbishment at Terminal 2, Manchester Airport. We installed over 1500 sheets in this highly trafficked area, with over a million visitors each year hopefully admiring the installation. It was a great one to show friends and family what we’d achieved!”

On what the partnership means for his business, Joe said: “Having the “Premier’ status gives us the platform to be able to compete in the competitive hygienic cladding market and also puts our business on a pedestal for being recognised as a company who values and performs to a high level of quality with a brand leader. Being partner with the market leader gives you confidence that you are always moving forward with innovative wall designs and techniques.”

Richard Kahn: “I’d like to personally thank and praise our Premier Installers for having the same instinct and belief in the future growth of Altro Whiterock, for their trust in us, their perseverance and commitment in helping us develop the wall cladding market, and for the part they’ve played in developing such strong partnerships with us.”

Growing success

As time marched on, the Altro team saw projects expand from kitchens and general food production into pharmaceutical, then heath and care, stadiums, airports and education, and the list kept growing.

Tim said: “The interest from hospitals came quite quickly. The hygiene benefits of a wipe-clean wall sheet were clear, particularly for refurbishments when you think of the number of Victorian hospitals, coupled with improving hygiene standards.”

Now General Manager of Altro Whiterock, Tim spent time at Altro’s overseas offices introducing and developing Altro Whiterock.

“It was the team in America that mastered the art of best practice welding; we then brought it to the UK where no one was doing it that way, it was a great shared learning experience and brought yet another layer of quality to the finished installations”.

Back in the UK, once Altro floors and walls were one company the sales team would be talking to customers about both solutions but while floors manufacturing took place in Letchworth Garden City, walls remained in its Lowestoft heartland, and today, it’s still our offices there which handle all customer facing activities, global purchasing, distribution and supply.

Regional Technical Services Manager, David Gatfield, who celebrated 50 years at Altro in 2021 said: “I was first introduced to Altro Whiterock at the outset of our involvement 40 years ago and advised on several proposed installations across the country, but it was the team at Lowestoft who really drove it to the fabulous success story it is today.”

Richard Kahn said: “From their early days as an independent unit to the integral role that our team in Lowestoft now play in our business, their focus, expertise and exemplary customer service has been the backbone of our success in developing the wall cladding market.”

Taking Altro Whiterock into the future

Following the introduction of Altro Whiterock White, Altro Whiterock Satins and Altro Whiterock Chameleon, came Altro Whiterock Digiclad (Custom), a wall sheet that could be printed with artwork or photographic images.

“This was a big break-through,” said Tim Walker “It meant that spaces could be tailored exactly to suit the people working, living or recuperating in them. It helped businesses with branding, schools with inspiring, creative spaces, and hospitals with the creation of non-clinical, soothing spaces to move the perception of being there away from that frightening sterile white.”

And as Altro Whiterock hit its late thirties, the product innovation kept coming. Current Walls Product Manager, Kathleen Ranneck, said: “Listening to customer needs has always driven Altro product development, and the Altro Whiterock is leading the way. Just in the last few years we’ve introduced five new systems to make spaces look better – without losing sight of making installation and maintenance straight-forward. They’re very different from one another, meeting different design needs. Altro Whiterock wall designs gave us high end wood, metal, stone and linen designs. And we’re also taking the insight that developing Altro Whiterock has given us to create new ranges, including Altro Tegulis, our new tile-effect walls system, so it has had a true ripple effect.”

“A favourite development has been the Altro Whiterock Imagination wall, sheets of wall sheet featuring six designs that children can colour in, using dry-wipe pens. It’s ideal for nurseries, primary school and anywhere that children need distraction and stimulation, such as a GP waiting room. It’s an example of the focus we have on the people using a space, not just the space itself.”

Tim Walker: “It’s been an amazing experience to pioneer something new”, while David Gatfield said: “I believe Altro Whiterock has done so well for so many years because of the Altro brand. Not only is the material the same high quality of everything we make or market, but people feel safe in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, they have the backing of a first-rate company who will help resolve any issues. In addition is the fact that from plain white sheet 40 years ago we have expanded and developed our portfolio to include myriad colours, several designs and finishes, profiles and detailing strips.”

Altro Whiterock was the first tough hygienic solution to the problems associated with tiles and painted surfaces. Now this complete, proven hygienic wall cladding system can mark 40 years of no compromise performance. This premium wall sheet has been leading the market for four decades and boasts the most extensive, independently verified certifications, accreditations and tests on the market.

Richard Kahn concluded: “I’m extremely proud to have been involved in the development of Altro Whiterock over many years and believe the future is bright. In my opinion, the wall cladding market is still relatively undeveloped. There are still a lot of tile products being specified and wall cladding is still a relatively new concept in some of our overseas markets. But there are four walls to every floor and anywhere that a customer wants a piece of flooring, there is every reason to believe that they could benefit from some wall cladding as well, and with four decades of experience and innovation, we’re well placed to support that in this fast-changing market.”

“We get a lot of medical professionals visiting from around the world and they say the centre is the best of its kind they have seen anywhere. “Most importantly, the mothers who have given birth here are thrilled with it too.”

Andrew Ledger,
contracts manager for Apleona, on Hull Women and Children’s Hospital,
featuring Altro Whiterock Digiclad (Custom) and Altro Whiterock Satins.

“I couldn’t be happier with the end result and it gives me great satisfaction to look at my bathroom and lift lobby each day.”


 

Dave,
Victoria, Australia on his home adaptation,
featuring Altro Whiterock Chameleon.

“It’s great that there is no need to worry about broken tiles or dirty grout that may harbour bacterial. The new wall sheet is easy to keep clean, and the Altro Whiterock Digiclad makes the area more visually pleasant for kitchen staff. In addition, the walls sheets reduce sound".

Janne Maksimainen,
Food Service Manager,
Pielavesi Municipality care home, Finland.

“Altro Whiterock completely fulfilled our hygiene needs. The construction was completed quickly and we were able to maintain the kitchen operation during the refurbishment. The life expectancy and characteristics of the wall cladding made it the most cost-effective solution.”

Franz Sieber,
Head of Facility Management,
Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen, Germany on the installation of Altro Whiterock White.

Posted: 16/05/2022 08:00:00 by Saloni Robinson | with 0 comments