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Meet our members – Alastair Munro

Meet our members – Alastair Munro Posted on 28 June 2021

V&A Dundee

We talk to Alastair Munro, Director of Decorous Painting Contractors Ltd.

What’s your background?

When I was in fifth year at school, the chance came up to attend a Painting & Decorating Module at Cambuslang College. It was just a half day a week, so I did it just to get out of school. I liked the practical aspect, so I decided to seek a job opportunity in that field. Through the CITB, I attended Cambuslang College Annexe in Hamilton which was convenient as I lived there. Transport to and from college was by foot or by bike as Apprentice wages were so low at that time. My starting wage was £27.50 per week. I was allocated to Collins and Bell (as it was then), now Bell Group UK. The company was only three years old or so on commencing my Apprenticeship in 1987. Throughout my 28 years with the company, my journey was Apprentice, Tradesman, Working Foreman, Supervisor, Surveyor seeing me working from Lossiemouth to Cornwall. My final position was a Senior Manager responsible for six staff and 75 Operatives in Fife. In all of my management time, I reported to Colin Cochrane who is currently Director for Scotland. He was a 3rd Year Apprentice when I was a 1st Year. When he got moved up the management ladder, I was moved up as well. The company was good at promoting from within. 

My colleague at Bell Group, John Fraser and I, bought the established decorating business Decorous from its founder David Reat in 2017.

What’s your speciality?

I am part of a team at Decorous, so I prefer to focus on team speciality. Decorous specialise in large scale new build/refurb projects such as museums (V&A Dundee, pictured above), schools and sports centres. Many folk would look at Building Projects and think you paint the ceilings and walls and that’s that. Using the Jedburgh Intergenerational Community Campus Project we worked on for BAM Construction as an example, there were so many different aspects to the decoration and quirky finishes specified which resulted in it being quite a challenge. 

The architect had agreed on a steelwork finish with a less than five per cent sheen level, while being compatible with the existing intumescent coatings. The blackened mild steel staircases required an acetone wash with lint-free cloth before applying a rust inhibitor and metal varnish. We had to melt and mix different coloured wax sticks to come up with a filler for nail holes that matched the grain of the ash wood. We were required to set out and paint demarcation lines as per exact measurements stipulated on the architect’s drawings along with setting out of numerous feature shapes throughout classroom and corridor walls – and then pick them out in contrasting colours.

There’s so much more to these projects than standard decoration and our workforce are continually developing the skillset required.

When did you join the Scottish Decorators’ Federation?


What motivated you?

Although I was aware of the SDF – Bell Group was a member – it wasn’t until David Reat at Decorous encouraged me to get involved that I started to find out more. He had been a President, and gave me a flavour of what to expect when I went along to my first meeting.
Now I will be President, and that gives me immense pride. 

What’s the best thing about the Federation?

As business owners, it’s only natural to fight to get ahead and leave the competition behind. But at SDF meetings, everyone comes together for the greater good. We try to look after the industry across the nation, and for Council Members to give up their own time voluntarily is very refreshing.

How has the Federation changed?

I am seeing many of the older committee members stepping aside to make way for the younger generation. This will lead to a shift in priorities and ideas as the Federation moves forward. There has been a fresh approach to our magazine, Decorating Matters and our website will be reconstructed in line with developing our social media platforms.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Without a doubt it has to be when I took the plunge and bought into Decorous to become my own boss. It was a huge leap of faith, as I was putting everything I had, emotionally and financially, into the company. It really was sink or swim.

Although I had learned a lot over my career, the one thing I didn’t have was business owner knowledge. At my previous company, bills were magically paid, vehicle breakdowns were someone else’s problem and wages were not my concern. 

On joining Decorous, within a month or two I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders for all of these things, so it has been quite a steep learning curve with David on hand to bring calm during the storms but also bringing a storm when we are being too calm. He told us in 2017 that we were only getting three months of his time, but he remains part of Decorous today, so at some level he must be still enjoying himself.

What’s been the favourite job in your career?

In terms of site projects there are so many, and for so many different reasons… but currently we work for a large supermarket chain. Decorous has the contract to decorate stores in Scotland and the North of England. The logistics of doing the job are very challenging as is the strategy, but it gets me to areas of the country that I’ve never been to before and wouldn’t normally visit. The supermarket sales floor is open for business seven days a week, so we tend to operate a night shift for this whereas the staff areas, warehouses and externals need be done on day shift and back shift. Coordination with the store manager is key for programming and access to areas. A lot of interaction is required to minimise the impact of your presence with both supermarket staff and the general public. Some stores also have petrol stations which bring in a different set of regulations while others have underground car parks. Each one is different in its own right.

What would be your dream job?

Ah, that’s a difficult one, because you just don’t know what is being planned, what will be built in the future. If I had to choose though, I would like to have been able to work on the new W Hotel that is being built in the St James Quarter at the top of Leith Walk in Edinburgh. It’s a controversial design with five star luxury standards, incorporating restaurants, bars and spa. The logistical issues intrigue me too – there are underground tunnels from one area to another. That would be fascinating to see.

What are your long-term goals for the business?

The next step for Decorous is to diversify. Although we are renowned for large new build/refurb projects, we would like to make inroads into working with housing associations and councils. We may need to upskill existing staff and will look to promote within to achieve this as we try to grow our business without compromising our standards.

What about your personal life?

I am currently engaged to Juliet, who is originally from Zambia but has been living in Scotland since early 2009. We met in summer of 2016. She has two boys from a previous relationship and I have two girls. All kids are between 15 and 19 with everyone getting along really well. My oldest daughter studies at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and Juliet’s eldest son is a 2nd year Apprentice at Decorous and really enjoying it. Daughters apart, I don’t have much family left, only my father, whereas Juliet has a large family spread between Zambia, Scotland and the United States. I am looking forward to returning to Zambia to see them when restrictions lift.

The US-based relations live in Georgia, so I am hoping to visit them when the The Masters Golf Tournament for free digs.

Decorous has a corporate golf membership at Bothwell Castle club, but haven’t played as much as I’d like to. I’m also a football fan and enjoy exercise when I can. I’ve been walking a lot during lockdown, and in terms of holidays, although I like lying by a pool in the sun, Juliet would much rather go camping in the Hebrides!

Find out how to join the Scottish Decorators’ Federation here.