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

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