Ralph's Blog

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: custom hardwood flooring, stories

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: custom hardwood flooring, stories

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