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.