Ralph's Blog

Doing Right When Things Go Wrong

Posted on Sat, May 24, 2014 @ 09:05 AM

Doing Right When Things Go WrongMost hardwood floor installations go very smoothly, but every once in a while, unanticipated problems happen. That’s when, as a company, we have to “put up or shut up” about our commitment to customer satisfaction.

Are we really willing to bend over backwards, and even take a financial loss, to make a customer’s experience one they’ll have a good feeling about?

We were faced with these questions recently, and I’m extremely proud that our team on the job did all the right things to make our customer more than pleased.

We were about a third of the way through installing a pre-finished, engineered hickory floor when our installers noticed that the floors were slightly buckling around nail points. They stopped work and told the homeowner that this was a problem that would only get worse over time. There was no point putting in these floors, because six months later, they’d have to be replaced.

The homeowner told me later that he didn’t think he would have ever noticed the buckling until it became worse. It was almost imperceptible; it was the trained eye of our installers that allowed them to pick it up.

The technicians we hire have to have a passion for pleasing customers, because that’s what we’re all about. Our team on site did exactly what I would have wanted them to do if I was the customer, and what more can you ask?

Of course, this problem wasn’t solved just by identifying it. We contacted the manufacturer to ensure we were installing their floor correctly, which we were. So we had no choice if we were going to make this customer happy. We had to rip up the floors and worry about dealing with the manufacturer later about the cost.

However, there was another issue. The homeowner had chosen pre-finished, engineered hardwood floors precisely because he wanted a quick installation. And now his old floor was ripped up and we didn’t yet have a suitable engineered, pre-finished replacement.

Our solution was to offer him a solid wood, site-finished floor on a superfast track to completion. We brought in extra crews to get the job done as quickly as humanly possible without sacrificing any quality.

If this homeowner was working with the wrong type of company, he would have ended up with a defective floor, and now he has a beautiful hickory solid wood floor site-finished with our craftsman’s skill. We did our job—he got great value for his money and he has a good feeling in his heart about Ralph’s Hardwoods.

I’m not saying Ralph’s Hardwoods is doing anything special. I know right off the top of my head the companies that I deal that have that level of commitment—that’s why I keep dealing with them, whether it’s for business or as a consumer. I know that I’m never at risk of being unsatisfied.

To me, putting customers first is just good business, and everyone should be doing it.

And you know what? It’s also a lot of fun to make customers happy. Their smiles at the end of a tough job are a wonderful reward.

Watch Jim Weiland's video testimonial here!

Tags: prefinished hardwood flooring, stories, about Ralph's, installation, remodeling

Hardwood Floors And Summertime...Tips For The Transition

Posted on Sat, May 17, 2014 @ 10:05 AM

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Summertime’s coming (we think), and if you are one of the lucky people with gorgeous hardwood floors in your home, there are a few tips we would like to share. We want everyone to be able to keep their hardwood floors looking great for a long, long time.

1. Keep your cool.

During the summer, the warm outside air will make its way inside—it is unavoidable.

When the relatively humidity outdoors is too high, it is time to turn on the air conditioner. Not only will this keep you more comfortable, it will go a long way in helping to control the expansion of your hardwood floors.

Hardwood flooring, even with several layers of finish on top, still has open pores that can absorb moisture from the air. When the wood picks up this moisture, it expands—which can lead to cupping or in extreme cases, buckling.

Therefore, it’s crucial to properly weatherproof your home and to be careful to keep warm air outside (e.g., don’t leave the door standing open). This will not only help you care for your hardwood floors, but will also help with your energy bills.

2. Keep it between the lines.

The comfort zone for hardwood floors is between 30-50 percent relative humidity. You should strive to maintain this humidity level in your home year-round. Most people find this humidity level the most comfortable for themselves as well.

The key is to maintain that level at all times. That means that when you go on vacation this summer, don’t turn the AC to 80 just to save a little electricity.

3. Make it a cool night.

In the middle of the night, the AC may only run about 10 percent of the time, while in the heat of the summer afternoon, it may run 90 percent of the time. This leads to moisture fluctuation, as you might notice by a “muggy” feeling in the house in the morning. If you have a programmable thermostat, consider setting the temperature during the night a couple degrees cooler than during the day. Not only will this have a positive impact on your floors, as a side benefit, you will probably sleep better.

Many people also use dehumidifiers to help control moisture—which not only helps protect the flooring from excessive movement, but also produces more-comfortable and healthier air.

4. Stay in control.

It’s true that good engineered hardwood flooring is generally more stable than solid plank hardwood floors, but engineered hardwood still contains a top layer of hardwood that can react to moisture fluctuations. It’s still important to control humidity and temperature levels in your home, even with engineered hardwoods. 

Tags: caring for your hardwood floors

College, Corduroys, and Hardwood Floors.

Posted on Sat, May 10, 2014 @ 08:05 AM

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I grew up working at Ralph’s Hardwood Floors, the company my father founded in 1965. I enjoyed the work, but when I went off to college at UW-Oshkosh, I didn’t think Ralph’s was the career I wanted.

Then one day Dad called me at school and asked if I’d go by a customer’s house near campus and give an estimate for new hardwood flooring they wanted. He didn’t have time to make the 45-minute drive down from Black Creek, and I was right there. He figured I could handle it.

I wasn’t so sure. I had never quoted on a job before, and I had never been the main point of contact for a customer.  It seemed like a “sales” job to me, and I didn’t think I’d be comfortable in that role.

But Dad asked, so I did it. I put on my best corduroy pants (they were in style at the time!) and my nicest shirt and showed up to give the estimate.

Then a funny thing happened. The homeowners were nice people, and we began shooting the breeze, getting to know each other. I relaxed and started being myself instead of a scared college kid.

When we got to their floors, they told me the look they wanted and how they were thinking about getting it. Then, without at all feeling like a salesman, I gave them a recommendation based on the experience I already had working with Dad. I liked them, and I truly wanted them to get the floors that would make them the happiest.

They had been considering a red oak floor, but I suggested that white oak would look better with the trim they already had in their home. After I showed them some samples, they agreed.

After the installation, they were very pleased with the results, and it gave me a great feeling to know I had played a part.

That day, I realized that “sales,” when done with a sincere desire to help people, is something that I actually enjoy. It’s not about being pushy or trying to make money at the expense of our customers; it’s about getting to know people and helping them get what they want so they’ll be happy customers.

I realized that’s something I’d enjoy doing the rest of my life.

We recently put together the 2014 edition of the Ralph’s Hardwoods Idea Book, and it celebrates this process of helping customers get the floors of their dreams. It features stories and pictures of projects in which we’ve helped homeowners create beautiful floors that are uniquely their own.

These are the types of projects and customers that keep me excited about the work I do every day. I think the Idea Book will help get you excited about the possibilities of how Ralph’s can help you!

Ralph's Idea Book

Photo courtesy of mer chau. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: stories, about Ralph's, installation

Different Finishes for Different Folks

Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 @ 13:05 PM

If you’re getting ready to install hardwood floors in your home—or to refinish existing floors—don’t underestimate the importance of the type of finish you choose. You need the right finish to complete the look you’re after. Your choice of finish will also determine how durable and scratch-resistant your floors are. Make sure you read all the way to the end. We have something new to share with you. 

Basic finishing options are:

Polyurethane

This is the most common choice due to its price and easy application. It typically has a glossier sheen. Some people feel it looks “plastic”; others love its shine.

Swedish

Unlike polyurethane finishes—which form a layer on top of the wood—Swedish finishes bond to the floor. This creates a natural look with great color and makes the finish extremely durable. Swedish finish is a very popular choice, and we have established our reputation over 40 years by offering our favorite Swedish finish system, Glitsa.

Water-base

This type of finish is a very hard finish. It also has the advantage of drying faster than most other finishes and a relatively lower odor level. 

Moisture Care Urethane

This is the hardest common finish and is highly water-resistant. It is ideal for high-traffic businesses, such as restaurants or bars.

Wax

This was the finish of choice for generations. It has lost much of its popularity—in part because of constantly having to re-wax but also because it doesn’t offer great protection against scratching. But there’s no denying the uniquely beautiful sheen that wax can bring to hardwood floors.

Natural Oil

A mixture of plant oils, waxes, and stain, this type of finish appeals to people concerned about carbon emissions, because it has no volatile organic compounds. Although the yearly maintenance is a drawback, it is a relatively simple process that can be performed by the homeowner. 

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Tung Oil

This finish gives wood a deep glow that enhances the natural color and grain. It is the most water-resistant of pure-oil finishes, but as with any pure-oil finish, it scratches relatively easy and requires frequent reapplication. Many people love its hand-rubbed look.

UV Cured

As promised, introducing the newest technology available in site-finished hardwood floors!!! A floor that can be lived on the day the last coat of finish is applied. Once the finish is dry to the touch (about two hours after application) a UV light is passed over the surface, curing it instantly. You can walk on it, move your furniture and appliances back on it, and even let the dog back on it immediately. We are very excited about this new addition to our line of finishes!

Choosing Your Finish

It helps to decide on the relative importance of appearance, durability, ease of maintenance, and cost to you. For example, many of the less-durable finishes are nonetheless popular because of their distinctive looks, which are just what some people are searching for. For others, a hard finish is a must. To make the best decision, know your priorities.

We’re glad to talk to you about the different finishing options, including your choice of gloss (high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, or matte). From what we’ve seen in our years of service, we can tell you about how different finishes, glosses, stains, and woods work together. And we can answer questions about how each option fits your goals.

 

Tags: restoring hardwood floors, remodeling

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