Ralph's Blog

Local Businesses Unite to Spruce up Our Black Creek Home

Posted on Fri, Dec 29, 2017 @ 22:12 PM



Since my father founded Ralph’s Hardwood Floors in 1965, we’ve been located in the Village of Black Creek, and we have no plans of changing that. 

Black Creek may be a bit of a drive for customers in Green Bay, Appleton, or other areas of northeast Wisconsin, but it’s a perfect home for us. We cherish the small-town atmosphere, and we rely on the deep pool of hardworking, reliable, handy people in this area.  

We’re now one of Black Creek’s leading employers, a fact we take great pride in. So, naturally, we think it’s important to make Black Creek as pleasant a community as it can be. 

Fortunately, our fellow Black Creek businesses share our desire to spruce up Black Creek. Working together as the Black Creek Business Association (of which I’m the current president), we’ve taken several initiatives to make Black Creek more appealing to residents and visitors alike. 

My mom and dad grew up in the country surrounding the village, and back then, Black Creek was a different town, based on a farming economy. Downtown wasn’t big—basically just a crossroads—but there were several food stores and a bank, and people drove from miles around to get here. 

But as farms declined, so did the downtown. Stores closed, and vacant storefront became all-to-common. Businesses like ours, with well-established roots in Black Creek, realized we could help reverse this trend by concentrating resources on beautifying the village and attracting new businesses.  

In addition to initiatives such as helping fund public Christmas decorations, we’ve promoted structural face-lifts and encouraged the growth of specialty “mom and pop” shops that attract folks traveling “up north.”  

Perhaps our most notable success to date has been working with the village and American Legion Post 332 to create a Veteran’s Memorial. The 21-member Business Association identified a spot for it, helped arrange the sale of the land to Black Creek, and raised a significant portion of the funding. Now the Memorial is a meaningful, heartfelt tribute to those who dutifully served our country  as well as an eye-catching attraction! 

And, trust me, the Association has plenty of other ideas. We want Black Creek to be an exceptional place—a place where people desire to live, work, and do business. We’re doing all we can to take care of our home.  

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

'Tis the season for giving back

Posted on Fri, Dec 22, 2017 @ 11:12 AM



Like Thanksgiving, Christmas is a holiday when we should appreciate our good fortune. It’s a cozy, secure time with our families in our warm homes, gathering around Christmas trees with piles of presents underneath.

We not only look forward to the gifts we’re going to receive, we’re happy being able to give those we love a gift that they’ll love. The old saying, “It’s better to give than receive,” is very true.

That’s why it means so much to me that, each Christmas, many members of the “Ralph’s family” voluntarily work with the Salvation Army to sponsor families who aren’t as fortunate as we are—providing the parents with the ability to give something to their children, who like all children deserve to receive.

The Salvation Army prepares cards for families without the resources for a gift-filled Christmas. Each card lists clothes sizes and the interests of the family members, and we buy their gifts for them. It’s something my own family does each year, and it warms my heart that our employees feel the same urge to use their own money to help.

As a company, we also support the Salvations Army’s mission to make Christmas a time of joy for all. This year, on Dec. 8, Ralph’s matched all donations put into the red kettle during the “ring a bell” fundraiser outside of Sal’s Foods in Black Creek.

And it’s about more than just presents for Christmas. The Salvation Army supports those in need throughout the year, right here in Black Creek  and the surrounding areas.

Helping this noble organization help local families is the right thing to do—giving back to the community that has given us so much. I thank the Salvation Army and our employees who give. They truly understand the spirit of the season.

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

Your hardwood floors: a pick-me present for yourself

Posted on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 @ 23:12 PM


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My family has a special Christmas tradition we look forward to every year: We give each other what we call “pick-me” presents. 

It’s a tradition started by my mother-in-law and now carried on by my wife and sister-in-law. They wrap up two gifts in one box and the person they’re giving the present to gets to choose which gift to keep and which one to return. 

It’s just a playful thing, but it’s become an important part of our Christmas celebration. It’s fun wondering who’s going to get the first pick-me present and seeing which gifts everyone choses. We get a great sense of what each person’s tastes are when they make their selection. 

Usually, it’s not a huge choice because the gifts are similar. The difference is typically something like two shirts that vary only in their color or pattern. The thinking is: “I know you want a shirt, but I don’t know whether you’d prefer blue or brown, so I’ll let you choose.” 

That logic makes a lot of sense to me. The difference in color could be the difference between a shirt that’s a favorite and a shirt that never sees the outside of the closet. So, it’s not just the playfulness I like about this tradition. I also like that it’s practical—letting us make a choice that best fits our personal tastes. 

It’s the same logic that underlies Ralph’s philosophy of helping our customers select the hardwood floors of their dreams. It’s a lot larger scale—our customers have many more options than two—but the thinking is the same: The more choices you have, the more likely you are to end up with what makes you the happiest. 

The ability to select flooring that makes a personal statement is one of the wonderful things about hardwood floors. With choices about type of wood, color, grain, texture, dimensions, and more, homeowners can create their own unique masterpiece. 

That’s why we urge anyone thinking about a hardwood floor project to visit our showroom, where one of our hardwood floor experts will listen to your dream and guide you through the options to make it happen. You can see, feel, and walk on your many options. 

Your pick-me present can be your own hardwood floors! 

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

I Need To Vent...

Posted on Fri, Dec 01, 2017 @ 23:12 PM


Something that sometimes gets me upset enough that I need to vent is … well … vents. 

As the president of Ralph’s Hardwood Floor Co. for going on 25 years, I pay very close attention to hardwood floors and how they relate to the rest of a home, and when I see wooden vents in hardwood floors that don’t match as well as they should with the hardwood flooring, it bothers me. 

Contractors and homeowners are building beautiful custom homes, where all the colors of the walls, cabinets, and floors blend nicely—except for the wooden vents. These vents catch the eye—sticking up as much as a half-inch from the flooring—and they don’t match the color of the flooring, or any other wood in the house. Even worse is when metal vents are used.  

To me, a mismatch between vents and the floor looks amateurish and diminishes the home’s beauty. 

And it’s not just vents; it’s also transition moldings—reducers, bull nosing, and other transition pieces. I believe these parts of the flooring should match with the flooring. But they often don’t. 

When we install site-finished floors, the vents and moldings will match exactly because we stain and finish them with the same stain and finish we use for the floors.  

However, when we install prefinished floors, we’re dealing with “coordinated” moldings provided by the prefinished flooring company—but the “coordination” leaves a lot to be desired.  It reminds me of the look of moldings in a carpeted room, where the carpet company just installs pre-colored moldings and leaves it at that, with no way to make the moldings blend with the color of the carpet. 

We wanted a better match. 

That’s why we made a change in how we do things. No longer do we leave it to the prefinished flooring company to provide the vents and moldings for prefinished floors. Now we procure them ourselves and finish to match. 

We realized that by working with the best manufacturers, choosing from among their wide selections, and using our hardwood-flooring expertise to make the right choices, we can provide a more seamless look. We can match vents and molding as close as possible to the species, color, tone, and texture of the prefinished flooring 

We’re also able to get wider and longer bull nosing so that spindles can be installed directly into the nosing rather than on an additional piece on top of the flooring. And we don’t have to splice pieces longer than 8 feet. 

The contractors we work with like this added value we bring. We free them from responsibility and help them please their customers. 

In fact, some contractors are so happy with our matching techniques that they ask us to also stain and finish stair treads to match with the flooring. They realize the dramatic difference that a good match can make. 

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring, about Ralph's

The Spices of Fall

Posted on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 @ 23:11 PM


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One of my favorite things about fall is the smells and tastes coming from the kitchen.

There’s Thanksgiving of course, which I look forward to every year. But all season long, as the days grow cooler and shorter, I find myself craving “comfort food”—the kind of food that makes you feel warm and at home.

I’ve noticed, however, that as much as comfort food is about familiarity, none of the cooks among my family and friends prepare my favorites in the same way. They all have slightly different recipes—often due to variations in the spices they use.

How much nutmeg in the pumpkin pie? How much sage in the dressing? What spices go in the warm apple cider?

Each cook has different preferences, so while pumpkin pie is pumpkin pie, no two are exactly the same. 

And the people doing the eating likely have their own preferences, too, perhaps based on what they grew up with. “It’s good but not as good as Mom’s” is a common sentiment—even if what makes Mom’s stand out is just a subtle difference in spices.

Hardwood floors are the same way. A maple floor is a maple floor, but variations in color, texture, and other hardwood floor characteristics make each floor a reflection of the unique personal tastes of the homeowners. These characteristics are the “spices” that go into each homeowner’s “recipe” for the hardwood floors that will give them the most comfort.

An example is when homeowners select caramel maple flooring, which has a slightly darker, more-aged look than regular maple. The difference is subtle, but for some homeowners who are extending their current floor, it’s an essential ingredient.

I’m not the only one who thinks about hardwood floor “spices” in the fall. A trusted, high-quality supplier of ours, Karndean, actually offers a range of flooring styles based on the colors of spices such as nutmeg, paprika, and peppercorn—all of which are common in the foods of fall.  And their “Autumn Oak” prefinished flooring is specifically made with the colors of fall in mind.

For floors finished on site, we also offer colors whose names—“spice brown” and “nutmeg”—bring to mind the spices of fall. But it doesn’t have to be autumn to think about hardwood floor characteristics as spices. Any time of the year, finding the hardwood flooring that’s just right for you will involve small choices among “spices” to make the floors your own special creation.

When choosing your hardwood floor color, for example, you can get as detailed as a recipe—three parts of one color, two parts of another, three parts of a third … or two parts of one color and one part of another ... whatever you want.

If you’re not familiar enough with the many hardwood floor characteristics available, you can consult with experts like Ralph’s to come with your own hardwood floor recipe. We welcome you to stop by our showroom or call 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902 to make an appointment  

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

What's in a Name?

Posted on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 @ 09:11 AM

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Calling someone by their first name can get confusing among the staff at Ralph’s. 

We’ve got three Tom’s who work for us, three Randy’s, and two Travis’s. (Last summer, it was three Travis’s, counting a seasonal worker. We also have folks with similar sounding names—Dori and Doris, and Rod and Robyn. 

And almost every male employee who’s interacted with customers has been called “Ralph” at least once—including me. It’s a common assumption that anyone who works for Ralph’s is either Ralph, or somehow related to him. 

Thinking about all this reminds me of the time when I briefly considered changing the name of the company to something other than Ralph’s. It was 1992, and I had just taken over from Dad, the real Ralph. I thought maybe we needed a name that wasn’t just a person’s name but was flashier and more descriptive of the type of hardwood flooring work we specialize in—custom flooring. 

I’m very glad that I didn’t follow up on that thought. It would have been a foolish thing to do because Dad had already built the Ralph’s name into a brand that customers associated with high quality. I realize now that there’s a lot more to a company name than just the words—there’s everything that becomes associated with the name through years of hard work and service to customers. 

The many great people who’ve worked at Ralph’s since I took over have done their best to continue to build the Ralph’s name into one that’s synonymous with beautiful flooring, first-rate customer service, and a commitment to always making things right if a situation ever does arise.  

I’m proud to say that I believe we’ve succeeded. When our customers—homeowners or contractors—say the name “Ralph’s,” I’m sure they associate it with those qualities. I also think they continue to think of us a family-oriented business because our team members operate together like a family. 

So, what’s in a name? What you put into it. And we put all we can into making the Ralph’s name one that brings to mind excellence and trustworthiness. I think Dad would be happy with what we’ve done with the brand he started.  

As for the multiple Tom’s, Randy’s, and Travis’s working for us now—that’s what nicknames are for! Besides, we all work so closely together and know each other so well, that it’s not really a problem. We all know who’s who—even if they’re sometimes called Ralph.  

Tags: stories, about Ralph's, Wisconsin

Ralph’s and Van’s: Keeping It in the Family

Posted on Fri, Nov 03, 2017 @ 23:11 PM


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Ralph’s Hardwood Co. and Van’s Lumber and Custom Builders share a common history—they’re both run by the son of a previous owner who was their father. 

Rod Lorenz, Ralph’s owner and president, took over Ralph’s from his father, the company’s namesake, in 1992. Van’s president and co-owner, Craig VandenHouten, succeeded his father, Ray VandenHouten Jr., who in turn took over from his father, Ray VandenHouten. Craig and his brothers, who are equal partners— Kurt (sales), Eric (material sales), and Chris (job coordinator)—are continuing the family business. 

Since Ralph and Ray Jr. started working together in the 1980s, the two companies have continued to partner, and their ties have only grown stronger. Ralph’s began by sanding and finishing floors Van’s installed, but for the past 15 years or so, Ralph’s has been doing the entire installation in custom homes Van’s is building. 

The two company’s similar history is more than just a coincidence—it’s a large reason the partnership has lasted so long. Both Ralph’s and Van’s share similar family values, and so they each complement the other. They are both committed to doing the highest quality work possible and providing first-rate customer service. 

“We’ve worked with these guys long enough that we know we share certain values,” Rod says. 

Rod says trust runs both ways between Ralph’s and Van’s, and Craig agrees. That’s because both companies insist on the best, Craig says, which is what is needed in the custom home market. 

“Today’s customer is very particular,” Craig says. “Perfection is what’s expected. Ralph’s is very particular themselves. Customers are paying a lot and they except a lot, and Ralph’s does it right.” 

Working with Ralph’s over the years has been beneficial to Van’s in part because of Ralph’s commitment to staying on top of the latest hardwood floors trends, Craig says. 

 “I’ve always admired how they’ve been able to adapt to changing trends in the building industry,” he says. “They’ve been able to figure out what customers want and provide that service.” 

Craig also appreciates the personal touch that Ralph’s provides. A dedicated contact, Mark Triggiano, visits Van’s each Wednesday to check on the status of jobs and to see if Van’s needs anything from Ralph’s. 

“It’s really nice to have that in this day and age,” Craig says. “You know who you’re dealing with. And if there are any issues, he’ll let us know before it becomes an issue.” 

Craig also likes that Ralph’s fully guarantees its work and follows through on making sure the work is done correctly, taking risk away from Van’s. 

“If there is an issue—and there are very, very few—they’re excellent at fixing it,” he says. 

Another plus of working with Ralph’s, Craig says, is that he can send customers to Ralph’s showroom to select the exact flooring they want in their home. He is highly impressed with Ralph’s recently remodeled and expanded showroom. 

 “Everything they can do is right there, which is really convenient for customers,” he says. 

Best of all, Craig says, Ralph’s finished product is excellent. In his own home, the hardwood floors were finished by Ralph’s 18 years ago, and that finish is still getting compliments. 

“Their finish is the best I’ve seen and holds up very well,” he says. 

Ralph’s also is enamored of how Van’s does business. Rod says he enjoys working with Van’s because they share a commitment to quality, staying on schedule, and making sure the customer is more than satisfied. 

With those shared values and long history of collaborating successfully, Ralph’s and Van’s partnership should last for many more years to come. And that’s good news for their customers.  

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

Setting the standard: The early days of Ralph’s

Posted on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 @ 23:10 PM


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Pictured from left to right are Roberta Lorenz(back to picture), Ralph Lorenz, Barb Strauch, Jim Strauch, Rod Lorenz (sitting in back), and unknown. 

When my father, Ralph Lorenz, started Ralph’s Hardwood Floors 52 years ago, the first person he hired was a man named Jim Strauch.

Jim was no stranger. He and Dad had both worked for a local hardwood floor company, and they frequently worked jobs together. Jim, who had more experience, helped Dad learn the hardwood-floor craft.

The two weren’t just colleagues; they were buddies, and when Dad set out on his own, Jim joined him.

“We were a team. It’s tough to break up a team,” Jim said.

Jim also had a feeling Dad would find success, and he wanted to be a part of it. Jim recognized that although Dad could come across as all-work, he had a personable side to him that ingratiated him with contractors, who provided a lot of our early business.

“He was great with relationships, and that was important,” Jim said.

And Jim could see that Dad had an entrepreneurial knack.

“He meant business; he meant business all the way.” Jim said. “He was a great business guy, and he had to be to be on his own.”

Jim also realized that Dad something else going for him—the valuable and vital support of Mom (Roberta Lorenz), who pitched in on the business side (and sometimes on the job) and had a winning way with customers.

“If you can’t get along with her, you can’t get along with anybody,” Jim said. “She was a very important part of the business.”

It’s been years since Jim worked at Ralph’s, but he is still fondly remembered as someone who set the standard for future members of our team.

“We were going to get the job done, and we were going to do a good job,” Jim said about his and Dad’s attitude during those early days.

That’s the same attitude we still have, and—even though we’ve grown to around 40 team members and have more-pressing hiring needs than ever—we insist on hiring people who share in that attitude.

If you love to please customers and don’t mind working hard, as part of a team, then you’re probably a great candidate to follow in Jim’s footsteps. It doesn’t matter if you know hardwood floors. As long as you’re reasonably mechanically inclined, we can teach you the technical skills of hardwood floor installation and refinishing. A” Jim-like” approach to work is what we’re looking for, above all.

It’s a two-way street. In return for hard work, dedication, and trustworthiness, we do everything within our power to treat our team members just as Dad treated Jim—making Ralph’s a rewarding and fun place to work.

“I had good times with him.” Jim recalled. “He was a great guy to work with, and he treated me good.”

As evidenced by our many long-time employees, Ralph’s is a place where you can build a career. If you—or someone you know—may be interested in becoming part of the Ralph’s team, you can learn more and apply here.

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring

Where is your up north? Hardwood floors, cabins and vacation homes.

Posted on Sat, Oct 07, 2017 @ 09:10 AM

20170714_202124.jpgIn Wisconsin, many people will say they are going “up north” for the weekend. It might be a trip to Shawano Lake. Or “up north” could be Door County. Others might consider a rafting trip down the Wolf River, or 18 holes on a golf course, their “up north.”

When my family and I go up north for some vacation time, we love to visit my sister and brother-in-law, Brian and Jill, who have a cabin in Minocqua. It’s a trip we always look forward to.

Brian and Jill take a lot of pride in their cabin, and they are constantly working on home improvement projects. I think it’s relaxing for them. Even though it’s work, it’s not the work they do for a living. I enjoy watching them go at it (and helping, when I’m not in the way) because of the great pride they have in their cabin.

Considering the care that Brian and Jill give their cabin, I feel honored that they choose Ralph’s when they are making flooring improvements. Even with the family connection, they wouldn’t use us if weren’t up to their high standards.

When they built an addition to the original cabin, we installed some really rustic-looking Ash floors. Ash is a great hardwood for cabins because it’s pretty forgiving of humidity changes. Vacation cabins that aren’t kept at the same temperature and humidity when the homeowners are away need relatively stable woods like Ash, which are less likely to cup or buckle due to humidity changes.

When Brian and Jill decided to remodel the original part of the cabin, they used Ralph’s again. They wanted the project to be simple, so we helped them decide on prefinished engineered hardwood. Not only did this make the installation quicker, quality engineered hardwood flooring typically handles humidity changes better than solid plank hardwood.

The species they chose was European white oak, which has a nice natural look that’s perfect for a getaway cabin and is an excellent complement to the Ash floors in the addition. We were able to complete the project in a day, and Brian and Jill were very satisfied with the result.

To me, the work we’ve done at the cabin is a perfect example of how to choose the right flooring for a particular situation. We accomplished two things: the floors have just the right natural look for the cabin’s relaxed, casual atmosphere, and they also are a great choice for the humidity conditions.

Best of all, my wife, kids, and I also get to enjoy them! I can’t wait until the next time we’re walking on them. It’s always a fun, laid-back time. And it makes me feel good that Ralph’s successfully contributed to the home improvements that my sister and brother-in-law love to make.

Ralph’s is happy to work with you to select the right species and type of flooring for your home, whether it’s a vacation home or your primary residence. In addition to solid-plank, site-finished hardwood floors, we also offer a wide range of quality prefinished and engineered hardwood products, as well as luxury vinyl plank and tile.

Whatever look you’re after, and whatever the humidity conditions, we have the right flooring for you. Stop by our showroom any time to explore the possibilities, or give us a call at 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902to talk about your project.

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, stories, custom hardwood flooring

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.


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

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