Ralph's Blog

Producing Masterful Hardwood Floors: The Learning Never Stops

Posted on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 @ 18:08 PM

I’ve been working in the hardwood floor industry since I was a little boy, “learning at my father’s knee,” as they say.

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Twenty-five years ago, when I took over Ralph’s Hardwood Floors from my dad, Ralph Lorenz, one thing I’m pretty sure I did right was to realize I was far from through learning.

The hardwood floor industry is changing all the time—with new styles, new materials, and new installation techniques. Just as with so many other fields, you can’t rely only on what you already know. You have to keep seeking knowledge, or else you fall behind the latest innovations.

I keep current with hardwood floor trends and innovations in many ways, including our company’s membership in the National Wood Flooring Association, an organization that provides many valuable training and educational services, such as guidelines, tech manuals, live tech support, and “NWFA University,” an online portal full of information to keep my installers and me continually learning about the best—and better—ways to practice our craft and keep our customers more-than-satisfied.

The NWFA also offers a trade magazine, which we diligently read at Ralph’s. And they hold annual expos, which I attend every year.  Every other year, I also attend the Surfaces trade show, which is designed for all floor coverings. From this show, I get a better take on colors and trends, whereas the NWFA expo is more about techniques to achieve certain hardwood floor looks.

Customers tell us where to focus

Customers frequently drive the course of our continuing education. When they request a certain look, and we’re not sure of the best way to achieve it, we look to sources such as the NWFA, other trade magazines, and websites to figure out the best solution for the customer. I’ll even spend time talking to other industry professionals if I know they have more knowledge about the customer’s desired look than we do.

The goal is always to find the materials and techniques that will produce the best result for the customer.

This process is nothing new for us. When I took over in the 1990s, there was big demand for maple floors stained with dark color. As I said, customer requests often focus our learning efforts, and that was the case then just as it is now. I wasn’t satisfied with our results with this style of flooring, so we got advice from any source we could, did our research, and learned through trial-and-error experiments in our shop.

We tried multiple combinations of sanding techniques combined with different stain brands—until we had figured out how to create dark-stained maple floors that made our customers go “wow!” Over the years, we’ve done the same in learning how to achieve excellent results with other consumer trends, such as hard exotic woods, lighter red material (e.g., red birch), and hand-scraped flooring

Most recently, we’ve focused on learning about current trends like wider-plank flooring, engineered floors, lighter-textured materials, and luxury vinyl tile.

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect my installers all feel the same way—this constant learning is one of the best parts of the job, a part that keeps us feeling refreshed every day.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends

Movin’ on up

Posted on Fri, Aug 04, 2017 @ 11:08 AM

In my thinking, the point of a business isn’t just to survive, maintaining the status quo year after year. The goal of a business is to continually grow and evolve.

That’s why it gives me such satisfaction to know that since its founding in 1965, Ralph’s has moved into larger facilities four times and has undergone numerous expansions and remodels, including a recent remodeling of our showroom.

That tells me we’re doing the right things to please customers. If we weren’t doing those things, there’s no way we could have moved so many times. We wouldn’t have had enough business to afford the upgrades

Out in the country … starting small

The first location for Ralph’s Hardwoods didn’t even have a showroom. It was just my Dad’s garage, behind our house in the country outside Black Creek. Dad—who founded Ralph’s in 1965—stored materials and equipment there. He was a one-man show back then, doing all the work he could handle and always seeking more.

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As Dad’s hard work and commitment to customer satisfaction led to more and more work, he needed more storage space. So he moved the “warehouse” to a nearby 40x80 sq. ft. pole building barn. Dad worked out of that shed from about 1975 through 1992, when I took over the company.

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In 1988, with business continuing to grow, Dad decided he needed a place for customers to visit and see with their own eyes what Ralph’s could do for them. That’s when we made our move into town, with Dad renting part of an old building to create our first showroom.

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Continuing to get bigger and better

That first showroom was a great step up for Ralph’s, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. The building was terribly old and we had to share the space with another tenant. So when Dad passed the company on to me, one of my biggest priorities was getting us into a better location.

In 1993, we built our current building in Black Creek, at 404 W. State Street (Hwy 54). It allowed us to bring our showroom and warehouse together in the same location, and it gave us even more exposure to customers.

Since then, we’ve expanded the building three times, including a major expansion in 2005 that doubled our square footage. We now have 4,000 sq. ft. of showroom space and a 19,000-sq.-ft. warehouse—quite a step up from a garage!

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Even more importantly than the size, though, is the improved quality of the showroom and the cost-savings our efficient modern warehouse allows us to provide our customers. We’re not just growing to grow—we’re growing to better serve our customers.

For example, with last year’s showroom renovation, we added numerous displays and features to give customers a better experience, allowing them to see, touch, and walk on the very latest in hardwood floor trends.

Is this new showroom the last time we’ll expand or improve our facilities? I doubt it, but it is what we’re very excited about now. To me, it’s just the latest evidence of our business philosophy of achieving growth by giving customers what they want and exceeding their expectations.

I hope you’ll pay us a visit and check out how far we’ve come.  

Tags: stories, about Ralph's

Hardwood flooring - It’s a family affair.

Posted on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 @ 18:07 PM

When my dad, Ralph Lorenz, started Ralph’s Hardwood Floors in 1965, he was setting out on his own after learning the trade at another local hardwood floor company.

But “on his own” doesn’t mean he had no help.

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My mom, Roberta, was always lending a hand—answering the Ralph’s phone line in our home, helping Dad with non-technical aspects of installation, handling the accounting, forming bonds with our customers, and doing anything else that needed doing. She was essentially Ralph’s office manager … and much more.

I was born the year Dad started Ralph’s, and it wasn’t long before I was helping out, too. Some of my earliest memories are of working with Dad. At first, it was little stuff, but as I grew up, Dad began teaching me the hardwood floor craft.

In the early days of Ralph’s, Dad also got help from family members from outside of our home—but not from far away! My uncle, Gene Blake, was a farmer who lived across the street and he began helping Dad with jobs when Uncle Gene’s work was slow and Dad’s was busy. He also let us put a phone in his house, which he or my Aunt Dolores would answer when Mom or Dad didn’t pick up the Ralph’s line in our home.

Gene still live across the street from the house I grew up. And I see their son, Al, all the time. That’s because he’s Ralph’s longest-tenured employee. He joined us in 1986 as an installer, and he’s never seen a reason to leave. Now Al’s son, Reed, is helping us in the summer. The family tradition continues!

We have about 40 team members now, but I think the “family” feel of the company remains. That’s how we started, and that’s how we carry on—like a family pulling together.

We’ve made countless hires over the years. Some work out; some don’t. But those that do tend to stay with us for the long run. We want employees who are honest, nice, clean cut, hard-working, physically fit, mechanically oriented, eager to learn, and eager to please customers. We want people who we’d be glad to welcome into our family.

If you—or someone you know—has what we’re looking for, let us know. Joining the Ralph’s family could be a life-changing opportunity.

Tags: stories, about Ralph's

The Wheelhouse Restaurant: Delicious Food and Yummy Hardwood Floors

Posted on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 @ 08:06 AM

In 1977, when Jeff Maiman bought the building he turned into The Wheelhouse Restaurant, he knew he had to do something about the hardwood floors. They were worn out and ugly, painted dark chocolate.

Maiman wanted to create a woodsy, nautical look in tune with the restaurant’s location—the Chain O’ Lakes in Waupaca County, Wisconsin, a popular area for boating, canoeing, and other outdoor recreation. And he knew hardwood floors would be a key element in creating that natural atmosphere.

Maiman called a company he had heard did high-quality hardwood floor work—Ralph’s Hardwoods. From the moment Ralph’s founder, Ralph Lorenz, and his wife, Roberta, showed up at his door to look over the job, Maiman has been glad he turned to Ralph’s.

He appreciates Ralph’s attentive customer service. And as avid woodworker himself, he has great respect for the skill of their work.

“We were really, really impressed with the job they did,” Maiman said about the refinishing of the old floors he had bought. “They do quality work, and if it ain’t right, they make it right.”

The relationship between The Wheelhouse and Ralph’s has stood the test of time and is now in its fifth decade.

A Natural Match

The rustic charm of The Wheelhouse fits perfectly with the idyllic Chain O’ Lakes, and the hardwood floors set the dining area’s tone.

“This is really a knotty pine and wood interior,” Maiman said. “It’s kind of an ‘up-northy’ feel, and the hardwood floors really make it pop. I couldn’t see having any other type of floor.”

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Maiman painstakingly constructed the tables and booths for the restaurant with his own hands, so working with Ralph’s is more than just good business. It’s an assurance that the floors with live up to his personal quality standards.

Whether it’s the tables and booths he sweated over, or the pizza, sandwiches, and other menu items—which are known for being delicious, fresh, and scratch-made—Maiman insists on the best. So it’s only natural that he chooses to work with a hardwood floor company that shares in that insistence.

He fondly remembers how Ralph’s once voluntarily returned to refinish a floor free of charge because Ralph wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the first refinishing. That’s the dedication to quality he’s come to expect from Ralph’s.

As Maiman has expanded The Wheelhouse, Ralph’s has put in the hardwood floors. And Maiman calls on Ralph’s every year to recoat the floors—a frequency of recoating that isn’t needed in a home setting but that Maiman deemed necessary in a high-traffic commercial space like his popular restaurant.

“We wanted to stay on top of it,” Maiman said. “Ralph’s worked very well with me in doing so.”

New Hardwood Delights Customers

Three years ago, during the relatively slow winter season, Maiman had the hardwood floors completely replaced with new Ash flooring, including in areas that previously were carpeted. Now the restaurant, which has about 3,000 square feet of space in its dining area, is virtually all hardwood, coated with a moisture-cured urethane finish designed specifically for commercial spaces.

Maiman loves the new floors, and so do his customers. A compass rose inlay medallion, in particular, draws raves.

“Ralph’s blended it all so well,” he said. “I’ve had nothing but compliments from everyone who has come in. They look at our floors and say, ‘Wow! How can we get floors like that?’ And we send them to Ralph’s.”

Refinishing each year makes them look like they’re brand new, Maiman said, and he values the durability and easy maintenance of the moisture-cured urethane finish.

“It’s hard as rock, “he said. “It holds up so well, and it’s so easy to take care of. “

Let Ralph’s Do It

Maiman also owns an ice cream shop, Scoopers, across the street from The Wheelhouse. For years, Maiman refinished Scoopers’ pine plank floor himself, coating it with a polyurethane finish. But he was so pleased with the finish, and Ralph’s craftmanship in The Wheelhouse, that he eventually brought in Ralph’s to take care of the floors in Scoopers as well.

“Why not?” he figured.

“Hands-down, they are better than I am,” he said, laughing. “And they have proven themselves.”

Tags: restoring hardwood floors, about Ralph's, finishes, stains & textures

Cold ice, hardwood floors and the Mother's Day I will never forget.

Posted on Sun, Apr 30, 2017 @ 10:04 AM

I look forward to Mother’s Day every year. It’s a chance for me to express how much I love my mother, Roberta Lorenz.

With Mother’s Day coming up next week, I’m eager to make her feel as special as she is.

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Rod, Roberta and Ralph.

But I’ve also found myself thinking about my father, Ralph, and his role in a Mother’s Day long ago.
I was a small boy, about 7 or 8, and snow still covered the spring ground. Dad thought it would be fun to take me out for a snowmobile ride. It wasn’t supposed to be a long excursion. He just wanted to give me a quick bit of excitement before we returned to celebrate the day with Mom.

And I did have fun, riding in front of Dad and driving  …. until we fell through ice.

We were flying across what appeared to be a snowy field when I saw a spot just ahead that didn’t quite look right. It was a small pond, and before I could react, we hit it and broke the ice.

We were stuck in the ice-cold water. Suddenly our lighthearted romp had become serious.

We eventually got the snowmobile back onto solid ground, but my feet had gone in the water and were freezing. I was pretty miserable, and Dad was worried that I would get frostbite.

That’s when his quick thinking saved the day. He had me strip off my boots and socks, and then he put the socks on the muffler of the running snowmobile to dry them off. Soon enough, my feet were relatively warm again in toasty socks.

Dad’s urgency and resourcefulness in that situation reminds me of the many times I saw him overcome the sudden problems that inevitably arise in hardwood floor work. When something wasn’t right, Dad jumped right on the problem, and he was a master of thinking of creative solutions.

Dad started Ralph’s Hardwood Floors in 1965, the same year I was born, and I learned the business from him. I took over in 1992, and, sadly, Dad passed away in 2014. But his fix-it-now, resourceful spirit still lives on in the work that we do.

Of course, our goal is to have no problems with jobs—a goal we typically achieve. But when we “fall through the ice” and a problem arises with installation or refinishing, we take immediate action to fix what needs fixing. Whether it’s our fault, or a manufacturer’s, or a contractor’s—or even the customer’s—we don’t rest until the problem is resolved to our satisfaction, and most importantly, to our customer’s satisfaction.

When we got home that Mother’s Day after the snowmobile incident—much later than planned—Mom just laughed. She realized that I had been in good hands because Dad was there.

That’s the feeling we continually strive to give our customers. When it comes to hardwood floors, we take all the worry away, always making sure our customers have “warm feet.”

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, picking the right floor for your lifestyle, hardwood floor trends

“No Way That’s Not Real Wood”—Luxury Vinyl Tile Fools the Eye

Posted on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 @ 15:04 PM

Luxury vinyl tile is the new star in the flooring world.

Ralph’s has recently started offering this flooring option, and the interest among customers has been even stronger than we expected. There’s a reason for that—luxury vinyl tile is a great product.

The first reaction most people have when they see it for this first time is: “That’s not wood?! It surely can’t be tile.”

But it is. Vinyl tile has come a long way since the heyday of sheet laminate tile. Sheet vinyl made to look like wood was rare, and when you did see it, it had a distinct inauthenticity because the repetition of the sheets created an unnatural look. There wasn’t enough variation in grain, knotholes, color, and other natural wood characteristics.

Advances in the quality of vinyl printing—with ultra high-definition photography— are enabling manufacturers to now print tile that really looks like wood (or stone). People with untrained eyes have to get down close and touch the tile to distinguish it from the real thing.VGW85T_French-Oak_RS_Res_Living-Room_Image.jpg

Increased variety is also leading to vinyl tile’s surge in popularity. Companies such as Karndean offer luxury vinyl in individual board-plank-size tiles in a range of styles, colors, and sizes. You can choose tiles with fixed widths and lengths, or go with random widths and lengths, like real wood.

You can even get tiles for special design features, such as borders or medallions.

With more variety in vinyl tile than ever, homeowners can choose flooring that reflects their unique style and vision. And because small tiles are used instead of entire sheets, installers can use their experience to enhance the natural wood appearance.

But homeowners can get real hardwood floors for prices comparable to luxury vinyl tile. So why not go with real wood, even considering the greatly improved quality of vinyl tile?

The Benefits

Many homeowners choose to install luxury vinyl tile because, unlike wood, it’s waterproof and not affected by humidity. That means it is ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, bathhouses, or any other room or area that is likely to see a lot of humidity and moisture on the floor.

Vinyl tile’s humidity insensitivity is particularly appealing for vacation homes, which often experience wide humidity fluctuations related to seasonal changes and whether they’re being used. The owners don’t have to worry about vinyl tile cupping or gapping due to any humidity changes.

Generally speaking, when a customer is interested in installing hardwood floors in a space that will experience a lot of moisture and/or humidity swings, we’re advising against that and recommending luxury vinyl tile instead. That’s how happy and confident we are with the best luxury vinyl tile that’s now available, which is what we sell.

You may think it’s odd for a hardwood floor company to advocate the use of a type of flooring other than wood. Many visitors to our showroom don’t even realize we carry luxury vinyl tile. They come looking for wood, because after all, we are Ralph’s Hardwood Floors.

But we’re not just a hardwood company. “Floors” is also in our name. Besides, we think of ourselves above all as a customer-satisfaction company, and for many of our customers, luxury vinyl tile is the choice that will give them the greatest satisfaction. We’re pleased to offer that option.

 

Image courtesy of Karndean.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, picking the right floor for your lifestyle, hardwood floor trends

In Search of a Few Good People

Posted on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 @ 11:03 AM

Some people are just “good with their hands.”

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We’re looking for these people.

Ralph’s is hiring hardwood floor installers, and we want them to have a natural aptitude for working with tools, fixing things, and putting stuff together. We want them to inherently possess the attitude of a craftsman, with a keen eye for detail and a drive for quality in all the work they do.

Does this describe you? Or does it describe someone you know who is looking for employment, or better employment?

We’re holding two Career Fairs this month: on Tuesday, March 14, from 4-6 pm, or Saturday, March 18, from 8 am-noon.

Join us to learn why Ralph’s Hardwoods Flooring could be a life-changing opportunity.

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED. We will train our new installers to be expert specialists in the craft.

We are offering the opportunity to do rewarding work with a company that’s been doing business in Black Creek for more than 50 years and is known as a rewarding employer—with competitive salaries, solid benefits, a great work environment, and on-the-job training. The average time of employment for our installers is 10 years, and we have a crew member who is nearing his 30th anniversary.

Folks who join us usually like it here!

The job involves installing, sanding, and finishing new and used hardwood flooring. Installers cut, glue, nail, stain, and finish. They need to be creative when developing a custom idea but also able to follow exact specifications when necessary. They need to be able to do physical work and to be accurate in calculations and measurements.

At the Career Fair, we’ll explain what’s involved in becoming a master hardwood floor installer. We’ll talk about what a typical day is like, what our company is all about, and how the right people can enjoy a long-term career with us. We’ll be conducting interviews during the Fairs, so anyone interested should bring a resume and a completed application.

Surely you know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who would appreciate this opportunity. Do them a favor and share this blog with them!

Learn more about the Career Fairs.

Hear what our installers have to say about working at Ralph’s.

 

Tags: about Ralph's, Ralph's news & events, installation

Your home may need a shade of gray

Posted on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 @ 18:02 PM

Grey isn’t usually something we associate with vibrancy and excitement – gray clouds, gray mood, gray matter, and gray hair.

Well the time has come to change your perception of gray because when it comes to hardwood flooring gray is gold. It's quickly becoming the worst kept secret in our industry - gray hardwood flooring is an excellent way to make a unique and lasting statement in your home.

There are several reasons why gray hardwood floors are literally jumping off the shelves. The process used to design the floors enhances the grain, creating a striking appearance that isn’t present in the usual brown hardwood floors. Second, they are unusual. One might think this would be a detraction but in reality many fans of gray hardwood flooring are drawn to these unique products for just that reason.

Visitors to our showroom tell me they love the look and feel of these floors so much and it’s not difficult to see why they have grown in popularity.

For amateur home decorators and family members who are taking the lead in the maintenance and improvement of their family homes gray hardwood floors offer several engaging possibilities. Because gray is a neutral tone it can serve as a beautiful backdrop, especially among warm colours like red or orange.

Grey tends to look best in maple oak and hickory and the good news is there are plenty of those available in the marketplace. Hickory is particularly popular because it is extremely hard and offers the gray color with an undertone of brown.   It is easy to tie into different colors in your home with this gray/brown look. Grey hardwood floors are an easy choice for any room in your home and can even work well in a room with bright colors, such as the dining room or guest lounge.

Are you thinking of adding a gray hardwood floor to your home? With several selections of gray to choose from our staff can help you discover a gray that will bring you confidence and make your home bounce. Don’t hesitate to stop by and learn how you can add a touch of gray to your home.

Tags: hardwood floor colors, remodeling

Welcome to your hardwood floor New Year’s Resolution

Posted on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 @ 04:01 AM

It's a brand new year and many of you have resolved to update your living space to make it as warm and inviting as possible. The floor is the foundation of every room and making hardwood floors part of your resolutions in 2017 will make you love your home even more.

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Hardwood Floor New Year’s Resolutions

Whether you have hardwood and it needs a little love or you want a new floor, here are three resolutions for you:

Clean your hardwood floors the right way: Using the right tools when you are cleaning your hardwood floor keep it clean and protect it. When using your vacuum, turn off the rotating brush and when using a mop, avoid sponge or string mops that put too much moisture on your floors. Choose a microfiber mop designed for hardwood instead.

Hardwood floors are easy to maintain and that means less time with a vacuum cleaner and more time addressing your other New Year’s resolutions or just having fun.

Refinish your hardwoods: Get your hardwoods shining like they used to with a refinishing job. We can sand down and reseal your floors and make it look like you just had them installed. A new stain color is another way great way to update a floor and our selection of colors will amaze.

Install a new hardwood floor: Why not make a statement this year and install a brand new hardwood floor in your home? They come in a wide variety of colors and textures to meet your needs. After your new floor project is done all that you will have left to do is create memories that will last a lifetime! Those hardwood floors will become a magnet for fun and good times.

Keep Your Resolutions

Despite our best efforts, many resolutions turn into well-intentioned dreams (remember last year’s gym membership). So how do we buck that trend?

According to experts, sharing your goals with friends and family is a proven way to turn your resolutions into reality. For hardwood floor resolutions we recommend a visit to our showroom where you can share your dream floor ideas with one of our hardwood flooring experts.

They will help ensure you get the exact floor you want…and keep your resolution.

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, installation, remodeling

Deck the Halls

Posted on Fri, Dec 23, 2016 @ 12:12 PM

It is said a picture is worth a thousand words and so here are several thousand for you for the holidays. Merry Christmas and enjoy the hallways.

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Tags: hardwood floor colors, hardwood floor trends

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