Ralph's Blog

Do What You Love And The Money Will Follow

Posted on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 @ 22:08 PM

 

do what you love

When I was 27 years old, working as a computer programmer, I came home one day very stressed out. It had been a difficult, trying day at work.

I’ve never minded hard work, but what made this day so frustrating was that I had accomplished very little. I had spent all day on just a few lines of code, trying to get them to work. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall.

“Is this what I want to do with my life?” I asked myself. I knew that answer was no, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Not long after, I was in a bookstore, and a book caught my attention. It was Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar.

I bought the book with the obvious intention of reading it. But I never did.

Nonetheless, I think of coming across it in that bookstore as a pivotal moment in my life. The title said it all for me, directly addressing the dilemma I was facing.

I knew that I wasn’t doing what I loved. And I knew that what I did love was Ralph’s, the company my father founded. I had begun working there as an installer when I was a teenager, and I kept working there during college when I was home for the summer. I got a lot more satisfaction doing that work than I ever did working with computers.

I also knew that my father was ready to retire, and that I could probably take over the company if I wanted.

But I had a big concern. Money!

I just didn’t think I could make enough in the hardwood floor business to justify switching from what I was doing. “I can’t afford to do that,” my mind kept telling me.

But here was someone writing a book saying that I shouldn’t let that concern stop me.

So, when my father did retire, I decided to follow my heart and not listen to the worries of my mind. I took a leap of faith and dedicated myself to Ralph’s.

As president, I decided my own salary, but there was no way I could pay myself as much as I had been making. I knew that going in, but I took the pay cut anyway to do what I loved.

And just as the book promised, the money did follow. Ralph’s has grown considerably over the years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a good living pursuing my passion.

I still haven’t read that book, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t need to. I’ve lived it.

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

Area Rugs and Hardwood Floor Care

Posted on Wed, Aug 08, 2018 @ 08:08 AM

 

area rugs and hardwood floor care

After installing hardwood floors, taking proper care of them is imperative if you want them to last long. There are different ways to protect hardwood floors from traffic damage and the everyday wear and tear. One of those ways is using area rugs where needed. Let’s take a look at some things you need to pay attention to when shopping for an area rug, as well as why area rugs and hardwood floor care go hand in hand.

Hardwood Floor Protection with Area Rugs

In theory, area rugs protect your hardwood floors by taking the brunt of the daily traffic, furniture shuffling and the like. That’s all true — area rugs prevent sunlight damage, furniture scratches, debris, dust and water from outdoors, etc. You can choose runner rugs for the high-traffic areas such as hallways and entryways, oversized area rugs that would cover a larger area. However, there are a few things to consider other than size and color when shopping for an area rug.

Area Rug Materials for Hardwood Floors

You’ll want to focus on breathable materials such as wool, which is always a good choice. It’s durable and will absorb most of the damage that would otherwise be inflicted on your floors. The surface material is essential, but the backing of the rug will determine whether it’s a good fit or not. Since the backing will be the part that touches the floor, make sure you avoid rugs with a latex backing. The backing can trap moisture and residue can make the floor slippery underneath.

Non-Staining Area Rugs

Another thing to look out for is whether the area rug you chose is non-staining. If it isn’t, the first rainy day and dampness from outside could ruin your floors. By opting for non-staining area rugs, you ensure that the colors and dyes from the carpet won’t seep into your floors when the carpet gets wet or damp. Always read the label, because the manufacturer will usually put a warning if the color may run through the rug.

Area Rug Pads

Rug pads are used to keep area rugs in place and to protect hardwood flooring. Unfortunately, not all rug pads get the job done. A poor choice could cause serious harm to your hardwood floor finishes. Plastic pads can move and cause scratches when dirt gets under the pad Natural rubber and felt are better options, as they can keep your rugs in place without sticking to the floors.

 

With these tips, you’ll be able to keep your hardwood floors in great shape for a long time. If your hardwood floors need refinishing or renovation, come visit our showroom for a closer look at our offer!

Tags: engineered hardwood flooring, custom hardwood flooring, caring for your hardwood floors, finishes, stains & textures, natural oils

Working For The Weekend

Posted on Sat, Jul 28, 2018 @ 23:07 PM

 

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We had just unloaded our equipment at the shop at the end of a difficult hardwood-floor restoration job.

“Have a good weekend,” we told each other with a weary laugh.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t Friday evening. It was a Monday night after a long weekend of work.

We were joking about having a good weekend. Our weekend was over. We had to be back at work in a few hours. All we had time to do was go home and sleep.

I was in college at the time, home for the summer and working at Ralph’s for my dad, who founded the company. I wasn’t crazy about working weekends, but I understood why we were doing it. This job was for a business rather than a homeowner, and commercial customers often want us to work weekends so we don’t disrupt their work week.

We worked Friday evening and expected to be done early Saturday. But sometimes a job takes longer than expected.

This particular job was for a retail business that wanted their floors re-sanded. The problem was the floor was full of nails. We had to keep changing our sandpaper because the nails dulled the sandpaper and caused it to leave streaks. This slowed us down considerably and kept us working until Sunday night.

The thing that sticks in my mind about our jokingly saying, “Have a good weekend,” was that no one really seemed upset. We were joking around after all, in good spirits. No, we hadn’t spent the weekend like we normally would have, but we had done something worthwhile. We had turned a decrepit old floor into a beautiful floor.

I also still remember another weekend-long commercial job that I worked on as a young installer. An insurance company had 20,000 sq. ft. of hallways with a herringbone pattern on the floor, which they hired us to refinish.

With herringbone flooring, some boards are oriented horizontally and some are oriented vertically. This multi-directional pattern presented us with a challenge because it’s difficult because no matter how you do it the floor is being sanded and finished across the grain of the floor.  There were a few sections that need to be corrected and it took us until Monday to make the floor look the way it should.

Several of the guys I worked with on those long-ago, all-weekend jobs are still with us. Robyn, Al, and Randy all remember the feeling.  We try our best to avoid those weekend killers for our crews—using our accumulated skills and smarter scheduling. But if it’s necessary, we get the job done.

Even if it means working when everyone else is relaxing.

 

 

 

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

Enjoying The Extra Mile

Posted on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 @ 23:07 PM

 

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Customer service is a cornerstone of Ralph’s business philosophy, and it has been a priority for me since I was a young man.

I remember a couple of occasions when I was teenager working for my father, who founded Ralph’s. In both instances, the importance of customer service was really driven home for me.

In one case, we were finishing a floor for homeowners who wanted a very light color. Dad wanted to use up some stain we had overmixed the day before, but that would have made the floor darker than they were asking for.

That made me feel a little uneasy. I wasn’t thinking about the long-term benefit of quality customer service or the power of positive word-of-mouth. I just wanted the homeowners to be pleased.

I was able to convince Dad that we could use the extra stain on another job, and so we gave them the color they wanted. I can still remember how happy they were and how satisfied that made me feel.

On another job working with Dad, a customer wanted a board by some stair spindles sanded, but Dad was afraid that it wouldn’t look good if we did it. She begged us to do it; she was practically in tears. So, when Dad left the room, I sanded the piece. The homeowner was thrilled and profusely thanked me. I felt great.

It was starting to click with me—service was in my blood. I soon realized it made good business sense to go the extra mile to satisfy customers. Excellent customer service means repeat customers and referrals. But at first it was just a natural reaction on my part. It’s part of my personality.

On every job I worked on, I began asking the same questions How can we make this look better? How can we better serve the customer? At the end of the job, I wanted the customer to say “wow!” with a big smile.

And it’ not just me. Ralph’s purposely hire installers who have the same personality trait. We can usually tell. They are people who get pleasure from helping others. They enjoy that extra mile.

I’m glad I had those teenage experiences to help me realize the ultimate importance of customer service. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be suited to be running Ralph’s.

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

A day in the life of an installer

Posted on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 @ 19:06 PM

 

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Travis Shepard couldn’t imagine being glued to a computer all day.

“I’m not one of those guys who can work in an office and sit at a desk,” he says.

Travis, who has been a hardwood floor installer at Ralph’s for 15 years, prefers changes of scenery. That’s one reason he enjoys being an installer—each home is different, and each job has its own challenges.

“You’re doing the same thing, but it’s always a little different,” he says. “Every day, or every week, it’s something new. For a person who likes change, who likes working with tools and with his hands, it’s a great job.”

Travis applied at Ralph’s a month before graduating high school. He liked woodworking, and he figured Ralph’s would be a good fit.

He was right. He learned on the job how to install, sand, and finish floors, and now he’s a valued crew leader.

Crew leaders aren’t required to be at work until 7 a.m., but Travis says he likes to get to work between 6:30 or 6:45—as do most of his colleagues. That gives them plenty of time to review their work order for the day and talk with salespeople about new jobs.  (Fortunately, Travis—like most of the folks who work at Ralph’s—doesn’t have a long commute. It’s only a five-minute drive.)

Travis says the early morning talks with the sales staff is important because he gets necessary details such as the homeowner’s preferences, the layout of the home, the direction the wood should be installed, and the location of electrical outlets.

Then it’s time to load up the truck with the materials and equipment for the day’s work. After gassing up and driving to the job, each Ralph’s crew is usually at the customer’s home between 7:30 and 8. Travis enjoys interacting with the homeowners, going over the job with them and making them feel comfortable. Ralph’s crews treat each home like their own, he assures them.

Whatever the project involves—even the messy job of tearing out old carpet or tile—Travis loves being responsible for doing it right. No one is telling him what to do; he just knows what to do.

“You don’t have anyone breathing down your neck,” he says. “You feel like: ‘it’s my job.’”

The lunch break is 30 minutes, and the crew usually eats in the truck or the home where they’re working. As they’re eating, they listen to the radio and shoot the breeze.

“We’re all friends. Everyone who works here,” Travis says.

Crews usually knock off around 4, unless a job is behind schedule, in which case they’ll keep working as long as necessary.

When a project is complete, Travis leaves with a warm feeling—knowing the homeowners now have beautiful new flooring to brighten their days.

“It’s really cool, at the end of the day or week, knowing that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life,” he says. “I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”

And then he sleeps well at night!

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

Can't make it to our showroom? Here's the next best thing

Posted on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 @ 13:06 PM

Are you thinking about a hardwood floor project? Magazines and websites will only get you so far. What you really need is the full experience--walking on a floor you're considering; touching it; seeing it as it will really look.

You need to come to our <showroom> to do that, but this is the next best thing.

Come out and visit our showroom!

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, engineered hardwood flooring, custom hardwood flooring, remodeling, finishes, stains & textures, finishing touches

Ralph's does dancing...well, at least their floors

Posted on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 @ 23:06 PM

 

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Dance teacher Marcia Fellows loves having a hardwood floor for her students in Appleton to dance on—as long as it looks good.

But Marcia, who opened Marcia’s School of Dance in 1961, says she doesn’t have to worry about the appearance of the hardwood floor in her studio because of Ralph’s.

In 1968, she added onto her house, built in 1952. The addition was a dance room for her school, and she wanted us to put in a narrow-slat maple floor.  That same floor is still there now, without any re-sanding.

“In all those years, we’ve never had to sand it,” she said. “Ralph’s comes back every year and just cleans it. It’s worth it because when Ralph’s comes in, it looks beautiful.”

Marcia first worked with my father, Ralph’s founder Ralph Lorenz. But I remember Marcia’s School of Dance from way back, too, because once I got old enough, I was on the crew doing the cleaning,

We’ve never had to sand the floors, or even refinish them, because Dad originally finished the floor with a DuraSeal penetrating finish. DuraSeal makes a product-- Renovator Cleaner and Reconditioner—that cleans and buffs floors with that finish.

It really works well, as Marcia will tell you. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be happy.

“I have to have a good floor,” she said.

Marcia also does her part to keep the floor looking great for her students, who are of all ages and study a variety of dance styles, including ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and Polynesian.

“Nobody can walk on the floors with outside shoes,” she said. “We’re extremely fussy.”

The quality of the floor isn’t the only reason Marcia’s has continued to work with Ralph’s all these years. She said she also appreciates our service.

Ralph’s installers “are here on time,” she said. “They’re ‘Johnny on the spot.’ They come in, do the job, and clean up after themselves. The guys are friendly. They’re very respectful. I just think they do a good job.

I would recommend them to everybody and anybody. They are the best.”

Thanks, Marcia, for the reassurance that we’re doing things right—and for the 50 years of business. We cherish customers like you, and we get great satisfaction from continuing to meet your high standards.

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

Going for a blue ribbon on every job we do

Posted on Fri, Jun 01, 2018 @ 23:06 PM

 

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When I was in my high school 4-H Club, each member had to do a special project every year.

I decided mine would be to fix up an old Victrola record player my uncle had bought at an auction. It worked, but it had a broken leg, the finish was worn, and it was badly in need of re-staining.

I was only 15, but I had already started sanding hardwood floors for Ralph’s, which my Dad founded the year I was born. I figured with that skill, I could do the job right, and I knew I had the necessary tools and materials right in Dad’s workshop.

I stripped the old finish off the record player, hand-sanded it, re-stained it a different color, and then applied a new coat of finish. I sure was proud when I was done. Dad gave me advice about how to make it look good, but this was my project, and I loved the way it turned out.

I think back on that project as the first time I truly realized how gratifying it can be to take something old and worn and restore it to a beautiful condition. Before then, I sanded floors with Dad because that was what he wanted me to do. But I was a typical teenage kid—I would have preferred to be playing baseball or some other sport.

When I finished restoring that Victrola—the first hands-on project I had ever completed all by myself—I started thinking of my work at Ralph’s in a different light. I began to appreciate how neat it is to bring old hardwood floors back to life.

And I kept remembering that feeling I had when I finished the Victrola. I couldn’t believe how much better it looked, and judging by the compliments I got (and the fact that I won a first-place blue ribbon in our 4-H competition), other people couldn’t either.

I wanted to give that same feeling to our customers, and when we were done restoring floors, I delighted in seeing that “Wow” look in their eyes.

It would be years later, a few years after I finished college, that I returned to Ralph’s full-time, taking over for Dad. But ever since I returned until now, I’ll occasionally think about that Victrola and the impact it had on me.

I want every floor we restore at Ralph’s to give our customers that same “Wow” feeling I had back then. I want them to feel that their floors are now “blue ribbon” floors.

I’m proud to say that all our installers share in that desire. They understand the gratification I felt in making something old new again, and they take pleasure in seeing how happy that makes our customers.

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

Ralph's is on TV!

Posted on Wed, May 23, 2018 @ 14:05 PM

Have you seen our latest commercial? If not, take a look now. You’ll see how beautiful a hardwood floor from Ralph’s can look.

It all starts with you. You have a vision. We can make it happen. Uniquely yours.

Come out and visit our showroom!

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, engineered hardwood flooring, custom hardwood flooring, remodeling, finishes, stains & textures, finishing touches

Taking care of business to take care of our customers

Posted on Fri, May 18, 2018 @ 23:05 PM

 

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Probably everyone has had an experience when “the lightbulb” goes off and you suddenly come to an important realization. When I was a teenager working for my Dad at Ralph’s, I had just such an experience.

My Dad had founded the company the year I was born, and I had been helping out for almost as long as I can remember. I well understood that Ralph’s was how Dad put food on the table for our family.

But even as I progressed from a kid hanging around the shop to a legitimate installer as a teen, I never questioned how he ran the business. I knew he knew hardwood floors, and I thought that was all there was to it.

Then, when I was 17, Dad took a job repairing water damage to a local high school gym floor—damage caused by a leak in the gym’s roof.

Leaking had caused damage the year before, as well. And we also did the repairing then. But that year we weren’t the ones who contracted with the school. Ralph’s still wasn’t big enough for the school to award a bid to Dad, so he got a hardwood floor company that could get bonding to bid for him.

We did all the work, but only got part of the pay.

The next year, when the roof leaked again and the floor needed repairing once more, the school determined, “Ralph’s did all the work last year, why not just contract directly with them?”

But Dad only charged about half of what the contractor charged a year before!

That’s when the lightbulb went off. I thought to myself, “They were willing to pay twice as much the year before; surely they’d be willing to pay at least close to that this year.” I would have understood if we cut the price by a bit, but by half? With the difference, I could have bought a car!

We could have charged more, and it still would have been a very fair price.

Make no mistake about it. Without Dad, Ralph’s wouldn’t exist. Everything we’ve become is built on his foundation of hard work, craftsmanship, and ability to build relationships with customers. But it was at this moment that it dawned on me that Ralph’s was a business and it needed to be run like a business to keep us going. Otherwise, how could we continue to provide the services that Dad provided so well?

Maybe, to some extent, I was just a kid rebelling against my “old man,” but this experience planted a seed in my mind. A few years later, when Dad retired and I took over the business, this seed bore fruit. I had studied business in college, and I took over with a determination to apply fundamental business principles to expand Ralph’s services to even more people—without sacrificing Dad’s commitment to quality, customer service, and fair prices.

With the help of many dedicated employees over the years, I can say with confidence that we’ve succeeded in that effort.

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

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