I wasn’t planning on a career as a hardwood floor guy.
Hardwood floors had been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. But when it came time for college, I was thinking computers, not hardwood floors, and I went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as a computer science major.
My Dad, Ralph Lorenz, started Ralph’s Hardwood Floors in 1965, the year I was born. By the time I was 7, I was already helping out by answering the business phone, which at the time was still our house phone. Dad was always talking about hardwood floors, so I knew enough about how he did things to answer simple questions, and it made feel great to be able to provide real help. I got a fulfilling satisfaction from serving our customers—and that good feeling continues to inspire me to this day. I’ve never stopped wanting to please customers. It’s a gratification and impulse that never goes away.
Then Dad started taking me along on jobs as a helper. At first, I was just doing things like carrying equipment or applying finish—nothing that involved machinery. But before long, I was running the sander. However, if you asked me then whether I wanted to go into hardwood floors, my answer would have been a definitive, “no.”
Not that I knew what I wanted to do. I was just a teenager and not really sure. Computers were moving into the PC era, though, and I found them interesting, so I decided on the computer science major.
Within a couple of weeks, I realized it wasn't for me. And as I got into it, I found that learning the FORTRAN programming language wasn’t all that interesting. I discovered that I was more interested in how computers could be applied as business solutions than in the technicalities of programming. So I switched to a business administration major.
Business just seemed more relevant to me. Learning about marketing, selling, contract law, and other business topics was engaging because I could directly relate them to my experience growing up with Ralph’s. I was learning about solutions for real-world problems I had seen with my own eyes.
Nonetheless, I still wasn’t sold on career in hardwood floors. During my fourth year, I had returned to computers somewhat—earning a business degree, but with an emphasis in the management of information systems. I saw myself as someone who could work with computers to improve how businesses are run.
After college, I did have a couple of computer-related jobs, but something wasn’t right. I found that I didn’t enjoy the work as much as I thought I would. It wasn’t people-oriented enough.
And then Dad decided to step down. He met with his employees, and they voted that they wanted me to return to run the company.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure I should. It was a big risk, and I would have to take a substantial pay cut from the job I was doing at the time. But when I learned what Dad’s plan was if I didn’t come back, I made my decision. I had learned a lot in college, and I wanted to put that knowledge to work for my family’s company and our customers. I had developed a burning desire to take Ralph’s into the next century, as the best hardwood floor company anyone could work with.
It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. The chance to grow a business, provide a great place to work, and please homeowners and contractors with our service and quality—those are the things that excite me. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do them every day. Ralph’s is home, and I’m very glad I came home.