Ralph's Blog

“If ... Then ... Else” Until the Hardwood Floors of Your Dreams

Posted on Sat, Jan 26, 2019 @ 08:01 AM

What does computer logic have to do with hardwood floors? More than you might think.

When I went to college, I decided to major in computer science. I had been working with my father at Ralph’s since I was a young boy, but I didn’t think hardwood flooring was the career for me. And I was pretty interested in computers.

It didn’t take me long to switch my major to business. But with an emphasis in management of information systems (MIS), I kept learning about computers.

Once I graduated, I was able to combine my business and computer knowledge to find computer-related jobs in business settings for a few years. But I soon felt the call of hardwood floors and went back to work with Ralph’s, full-time, taking it over from my Dad.

I’ve never stopped liking computers, though, and sometimes I think of providing customers with their ideal hardwood floors as similar to programming a computer.

I don’t mean it’s impersonal in the way a computer is. What I’m talking about is “conditional” programming, also known as “if, then, else” programming. It’s basic logic that says that if one thing is true (the “if’), then there are two options: to select the first possibility presented (“then”) or to look for other possibilities (“else.”)

If “then” happens, no other choices need to be made (the “end.”) But If it’s “else,” then the process of “if, then, else” starts over again and continues until all the necessary choices have been made.

That’s the way we work with our customers when they visit our showroom looking to find the hardwood floors of their dreams.

The “if” is your vision—the true look, feel, and performance that will make you happy.  The “then” happens when we’re able to give you a first choice that matches what’s in your heart. If it’s “else” then we move past the first option and keep giving you choices until you’ve chosen, the hardwood floor characteristics that are just right for you.

There are many hardwood floor options—site-finished or prefinished, solid plank or engineered, type of species, color, texture, and more—and we’ll gladly and patiently repeat the “if, then, else” process for you until you’re more-than-satisfied with the selections you’ve made.

Of course, choosing among hardwood floor options is a much different proposition than choosing between 1’s and 0’s when writing computer code.  But the principle is the same—keep drilling down and making choices until the desired result is found.

To see what I mean, I invite you to give us a visit. We’ll learn your “if,” listen to your “then,” and continue with your “else” for as long as you need until your hardwood floor decision-making is at an end you’re thrilled about.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, about Ralph's, stories, Ralph's Hardwood

A Card From Christmas Past

Posted on Sat, Dec 22, 2018 @ 08:12 AM


Ralph's Hardwood Floors  Christmas

At our company Christmas party in 2000, a lot of babies and toddlers were around, and three women were pregnant.

All this new life made me happy.  Each child was a welcome and cherished member of the Ralph’s family. My own wonderful daughter, Kayla (born July 2000) was in the crowd, so I identified with every young family there. It felt good that Ralph’s was a part of our budding lives.

We got the idea at the party that the young ones and the pregnant mothers should grace the front of our company Christmas card (shown above). So that’s what we did, taking the photo on the spot. It’s now one of my favorites among our annual Christmas cards.

The young kids in this photo (and those soon to come) are now young adults or verging on it. But I have that “I knew you when you were a little itty-bitty thing” with them all.  It’s nice.

Seven of the 10 kids in this photo (including the soon-to-be born) have a parent who still works at Ralph’s, and several of these kids worked for us at one point or another. That’s another thing that makes me happy about this card. I’m not just paying lip service when I say, “the Ralph’s family.” I want Ralph’s to be a place where we don’t just work with each other; we care for each other. A place where we stick together. This card is  a great snapshot of that.

We have what, in sports, is known as team chemistry. That pays off for our customers because our team works hard together to get the win for you—a beautiful, artisan, fits-your-taste floor that is a showcase of your home.

This chemistry and comradery are also important to us because, well, who wants to work with people they don’t like or respect? Not me.

Merry Christmas to everyone in the picture and to everyone associated with it. Merry Christmas to anyone we’ve ever worked for or with. Merry Christmas to you!

May all your hardwood dreams be good.

Tags: stories, Christmas hardwood, Ralph's Hardwood, Ralph's Christmas, Christmas card stories

There better be a piece of Gran-grammy’s pie left!

Posted on Sat, Dec 15, 2018 @ 07:12 AM

One of the many traditions I love about Christmas is the family food.

It’s not regular food. It’s not fancy food. It’s family food—made in a way that’s unique  to your family in a special way.20181120_111941_resized

I’m talking about the favorite cake from your grandma, an aunt’s perfect green bean casserole, cookies that only your mom can make.

In the picture above are three of my mother’s many family recipes. As you can see, they’ve been lovingly used. Food stains mix with her handwritten notes. You can see how she made her own adjustments to fit with the times and her cooking experience.

I’ve come to realize this is common—what earlier generations have done, the cooks of the day faithfully recreate, usually making small changes but never leaving any doubt about what favorite family recipe it is.

Hardwood floors are the same. We find that our customers often want a hardwood floor that reminds them of a grandparent’s house or a floor in the house they grew up in. In other cases, there’s no direct connection, but the customer has a vision in mind that fits a style they’ve seen somewhere—if not in person, then in pictures.

Whatever the reason for wanting a certain look, the process we go through with our customers to fulfill their wishes reminds me of holiday cooking and eating, of how a cook can be devoted to recreating a traditional taste while also making small modifications that make sense based on new techniques or trends

Some things that once were standard are now seen in a different light, like the lard in the chocolate chip cake recipe shown above. The flavor was great then, and we want it now, but we’ve figured out better ways to get that taste.

That’s the same thinking behind our mission to give you the classic hardwood floor look you want—with whatever small refinements are necessary. You can have a classic-style floor, without sacrificing your ability to reflect your taste.

We love to talk with visitors to our showroom about how we can recreate cherished looks in a personal, modern way. Or call us at 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902 to begin the discussion.

P.S. You might want to use the recipes on Mom’s recipe cards. They rock

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

See a Need, Fill a Need

Posted on Fri, Nov 23, 2018 @ 23:11 PM


see a need

“See a need, fill a need.”

That well-known saying was uttered by Bigweld, one of the robots in the 2005 film, Robots. Since then it has become something of a business mantra.

I will always remember driving to visit my in-laws, with my young daughters watching Robots on the DVD player in the back seat. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it, and when I heard that phrase, I smiled.  I felt like Ralph’s had aced a test.

Ralph’s has always understood that common-sense advice. It fits with how my father, Ralph Lorenz, operated the company when he started it 53 years ago. A hardwood floor company in the region at the time had left the market, but homeowners and contractors  still needed hardwood floors. Dad saw the need, and he instinctively filled it.

Dad never lost that instinct, even after he “retired” and I took over as president of Ralph’s. For example, in 2008 he decided to begin selling space heaters out of Ralph’s. That’s not the business we’re in, so why did he do that? Because he understood what Bigweld meant, long before Robots.

With the economy in the tank at the time, many people thought they could cut their heating bills by using space heaters instead of central heating. Dad saw a way to help the people in our community get space heaters at a good price. Of course, he also saw a business  opportunity! He was fulfilling a demand.

I learned the lesson well. Over the years, I’ve insisted that we pay attention to all of our customers’ needs and how we can more than satisfy those needs.

For one thing, that means staying on top of hardwood floor trends (e.g., prefinished flooring and luxury vinyl tile and planks) so that we can best serve our customers who want to follow those trends. It’s also means taking the time to understand what our customers want.

We get Bigweld! If you have a flooring need, we’ll fill it.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

Break Time With Ralph's Storytelling

Posted on Fri, Oct 26, 2018 @ 23:10 PM



My Dad passed away in 2014,  but I’ll always have my memories of him. One of my fondest is how he loved to tell stories.

While Dad was running Ralph’s (which he started and named after himself), I worked with him essentially full-time during summers, when I wasn’t in school. So I got to see how he always took a break every morning around 10 a.m.  

Since he was taking a break, all the crew would to take a break. As we sat around drinking coffee, Dad would start to tell his stories. I think his favorite was about the time he went to Alaska to help out a friend with a hardwood floor job.

Alaska isn’t exactly next door to Wisconsin! But his friend was having a difficult time with the job and needed Dad’s expertise and experience. So off he headed to Alaska, bringing Mom along.

What made the story worth telling (and re-telling) was that Dad’s friend threw his back out soon after they got there. Dad had to complete the job himself.

Then he had to drive his friend’s truck full of equipment back to Black Creek, crossing through the Yukon on the Alaskan Highway, which at the time was not anything like a modern highway. There were many potholes, stretches where the road was just dirt, and places were the road was so narrow Dad would have to pull off the road to let oncoming vehicles pass.

Dad could make that story so entertaining, that even those who had heard it many times still enjoyed listening to him tell it.

We still like to hear stories at Ralph’s—the stories of our customers. We’re different from corporate hardwood floor companies and the big-box stores that sell hardwood flooring and services. We’re not just trying to make a sale. We want to get to know you.

That’s because being friendly with our customers and being interested in there is what comes natural to us. When we hire, being a “people person” is one of our most important criteria. We know that taking the time to learn about your life  and who you are is how we can best help you get the hardwood floors of your dreams.

So if you visit our showroom, you’ll never feel rushed. In fact, we’ll probably ask you to sit with us, have a cup of coffee, and just chat, That’s how we can hear your story.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories


Posted on Fri, Oct 12, 2018 @ 23:10 PM



When we interview applicants for a job at Ralph’s, we of course want to know the usual stuff—their work and education history, why they want to work with us, what relevant skills do they have, etc.

But one of our most important criteria isn’t something that can be put on a resume. It’s how they smile.

Some people have friendly natures. Others … not so much.  We want the friendly ones, the ones who smile naturally.

When someone calls us, we want the person who called us to feel like we’re smiling at them through the phone. If you visit our showroom, we want you to know you’re visiting friends.

We realize that we can’t give you the flooring of your dreams if we don’t know what your dream is.

Our team members genuinely want to help you.  They get satisfaction from that. So, while we’re talking to you about your choices, we’ll be getting to know you so we can better advise you about  those choices.

What interior-design style do you like? How much traffic will this flooring get? What is the flooring in the rest of your home? What’s your vision?

We’ll ask these questions with your best interests in mind. We’ve been around a long time (50+ years) because we prioritize customer satisfaction over short-term profit.

We won’t rush you. We’re not going to “sell.” You’ll have the time you need to look for yourself, and all the time you want from us.

If you give us the pleasure of being one of our customers, we will perform the project with your satisfaction top-of-mind. Just ask anyone who knows us. Providing our customers with beautiful, high-quality flooring and a great customer experience is our mission.

We want a smile on your face. That puts a smile on ours.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

Hardwood Floors For Your Home From Our Home

Posted on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 @ 23:09 PM


Ralphs Hardwood Flooring-Showroom-0022

At Ralph’s Hardwoods, we like to keep things local. 

We’re happy to be located in Black Creek, and we’re very pleased that most of our employees live in or near town. We’re one of the leading employers in Black Creek, and we benefit greatly from the strong work ethic our employees learned growing up here.  

And as a member of the Black Creek Business Association (of which I’m  the current president), we’re actively working with other local businesses to improve the town. For example, the association worked closely with the local American Legion post and the town to build a Veteran’s Memorial in Black Creek. 

We’re all part of the same community, and that’s the way we like it. 

Our local focus is also reflected in how we source the wood we use for our customers’ hardwood floors. Unlike many of our competitors, we insist on using local companies in Wisconsin to get our wood. And these companiesAacer Flooring, Hardwood Floors of Hillsboro, Kwaterski Bros. Wood Products, and Shawano Wood Productsaren’t just located here; they get their wood locally from Wisconsin or neighboring upper midwestern states 

There are several advantages to this local wood: 

Quality. Upper midwestern hardwood is harder and more stable than domestic wood from other regions.

Uniqueness. Every region's trees have their ow appearance characteristics, and we're proud to provide flooring that clearly came from our region. It looks different (and in our opinion, better) than wood from anywhere else.

Lower cost. Because local wood involves less shipping cost, we can pass those savings to our customers.

Reduction of environmental impacts. Shorter shipping distances also reduces fossil fuel use

Locally sourced wood supports area businesses and provides our customers with beautiful flooring that’s true to our local character. With our love of doing things locally, that’s a win-win for us all.  

To learn more about our local hardwood, and see how great it looks, please visit our showroom in Black Creek. 

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

The Forgotten Meaning Of Labor Day

Posted on Fri, Aug 31, 2018 @ 23:08 PM



Labor Day is one of those holidays whose meaning is often forgotten.

For some it’s the unofficial end of summer—a last chance for fun and sun before the weather chills. For others, it’s just a three-day weekend. Hopefully, for everyone it’s a fun, relaxing day.

But holidays are days of celebration, and we shouldn’t lose track of what we’re celebrating on Labor Day.

Mother’s Day honors mothers; Father’s Day honors fathers, Memorial Day honors veterans. Labor Day honors anyone who gets up every day to go to work.

It’s usually about making money, but not always. It could be volunteer work or taking care of children and a home. Whatever type of labor it is, people who work hard know it. It’s a huge part of your life.

This work deserves more than just a day off, although that is of course nice. On Labor Day, we should give some thought to the value of work. We should take time to appreciate those who get things done, even on days they might not feel like it.

It’s also a day when employers should be thankful for the hard work their employees do. As the owner and president of Ralph’s, I know that I think about how grateful I am to have such a wonderful team working together to make Ralph’s succeed.

If you’re not willing to work hard, then you don’t last at Ralph’s. That means that our long-term employees—of which we have many—are all folks who don’t mind “rolling up their sleeves.” They give their all to their jobs and take satisfaction from it. They have great work ethics.

I hope all of them will enjoy this Labor Day, doing something they enjoy. I also hope they take a moment to congratulate themselves for consistently laboring to fulfill Ralph’s mission to be the best hardwood floor company possible.

And I hope that you too have an excellent time on Labor Day.  Just remember to appreciate those in your life who work hard. And don’t forget to feel good about all the work you do.

You’ve earned it.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

Do What You Love And The Money Will Follow

Posted on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 @ 22:08 PM


do what you love

When I was 27 years old, working as a computer programmer, I came home one day very stressed out. It had been a difficult, trying day at work.

I’ve never minded hard work, but what made this day so frustrating was that I had accomplished very little. I had spent all day on just a few lines of code, trying to get them to work. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall.

“Is this what I want to do with my life?” I asked myself. I knew that answer was no, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Not long after, I was in a bookstore, and a book caught my attention. It was Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar.

I bought the book with the obvious intention of reading it. But I never did.

Nonetheless, I think of coming across it in that bookstore as a pivotal moment in my life. The title said it all for me, directly addressing the dilemma I was facing.

I knew that I wasn’t doing what I loved. And I knew that what I did love was Ralph’s, the company my father founded. I had begun working there as an installer when I was a teenager, and I kept working there during college when I was home for the summer. I got a lot more satisfaction doing that work than I ever did working with computers.

I also knew that my father was ready to retire, and that I could probably take over the company if I wanted.

But I had a big concern. Money!

I just didn’t think I could make enough in the hardwood floor business to justify switching from what I was doing. “I can’t afford to do that,” my mind kept telling me.

But here was someone writing a book saying that I shouldn’t let that concern stop me.

So, when my father did retire, I decided to follow my heart and not listen to the worries of my mind. I took a leap of faith and dedicated myself to Ralph’s.

As president, I decided my own salary, but there was no way I could pay myself as much as I had been making. I knew that going in, but I took the pay cut anyway to do what I loved.

And just as the book promised, the money did follow. Ralph’s has grown considerably over the years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a good living pursuing my passion.

I still haven’t read that book, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t need to. I’ve lived it.

Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

Working For The Weekend

Posted on Sat, Jul 28, 2018 @ 23:07 PM



We had just unloaded our equipment at the shop at the end of a difficult hardwood-floor restoration job.

“Have a good weekend,” we told each other with a weary laugh.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t Friday evening. It was a Monday night after a long weekend of work.

We were joking about having a good weekend. Our weekend was over. We had to be back at work in a few hours. All we had time to do was go home and sleep.

I was in college at the time, home for the summer and working at Ralph’s for my dad, who founded the company. I wasn’t crazy about working weekends, but I understood why we were doing it. This job was for a business rather than a homeowner, and commercial customers often want us to work weekends so we don’t disrupt their work week.

We worked Friday evening and expected to be done early Saturday. But sometimes a job takes longer than expected.

This particular job was for a retail business that wanted their floors re-sanded. The problem was the floor was full of nails. We had to keep changing our sandpaper because the nails dulled the sandpaper and caused it to leave streaks. This slowed us down considerably and kept us working until Sunday night.

The thing that sticks in my mind about our jokingly saying, “Have a good weekend,” was that no one really seemed upset. We were joking around after all, in good spirits. No, we hadn’t spent the weekend like we normally would have, but we had done something worthwhile. We had turned a decrepit old floor into a beautiful floor.

I also still remember another weekend-long commercial job that I worked on as a young installer. An insurance company had 20,000 sq. ft. of hallways with a herringbone pattern on the floor, which they hired us to refinish.

With herringbone flooring, some boards are oriented horizontally and some are oriented vertically. This multi-directional pattern presented us with a challenge because it’s difficult because no matter how you do it the floor is being sanded and finished across the grain of the floor.  There were a few sections that need to be corrected and it took us until Monday to make the floor look the way it should.

Several of the guys I worked with on those long-ago, all-weekend jobs are still with us. Robyn, Al, and Randy all remember the feeling.  We try our best to avoid those weekend killers for our crews—using our accumulated skills and smarter scheduling. But if it’s necessary, we get the job done.

Even if it means working when everyone else is relaxing.




Tags: custom hardwood flooring, Wisconsin, about Ralph's, stories

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