Advice for Building a Successful Career in the Wood Flooring Industry

The Flooring Foundations feature story in the February/March issue of Hardwood Floors covered the foundational elements that have shaped the wood flooring industry and experienced wood flooring professionals offered shared how they laid the groundwork for success. Here, they share some additional career advice.

Mike Osborn, Start to Finish Hardwood Floors:

Mike Osborn

Number one is being a people person. You have to be successful at being a people person and being nice. Know your products, know your craft, know how to negotiate. Put a star on this one: be on time. Customers hate it when they’re hanging around waiting for you. My father-in-law grounded into me – return your calls. If someone goes to the trouble of calling you, return the call. It could be a good lead; it might be one you don’t want. If it’s one you don’t want to engage with, tell them so. Kindly tell them you’re too busy or it’s not the right fit. In the long run, you’ve got to know your wood science. If you don’t understand it, you’ll have some bummer jobs along the way.

Investigate and know the jobsite environment where you intend on installing your flooring. Below, above, and over time the seasonal/environmental changes that may occur.

Never try a “new” or “new and improved” finish product or adhesive product on a large job. Always start with trying a new product on a test panel or small job to confirm that it works well for you. When curious about a new product or process be sure to ask questions before you try it. The manufacturer’s representative or your distributor is a good place to start, they all have a vested interest in your success and improving their sales. The manufacturer and distributor offering a new product have likely made a large investment in the new product and want to teach how it’s applied, perhaps in a seminar or on your jobsite.

When estimating, know when to walk away or politely decline if the project is destined to fail or if the client is just not a good fit.

Mark Scheller, Scheller Hardwood Floors Inc.:

Mark Scheller

There are four major things that I’ve done and continue to do that have contributed to my success and good reputation:

  1. Educate myself about flooring, finishing, construction techniques, tools, including CAD, and elevate my skill as a carpenter and wood finisher. The NWFA has been instrumental with that directly through their instructional tools and, probably more importantly, through the network of professionals I’ve met through the association. Because of my extensive knowledge and knowing where to get answers for the things I don’t know (pro tip: it’s not YouTube), I’ve been able to establish myself as someone who can solve problems when others can’t.
  2. I once had a client tell his friend in my presence that “Mark always does the best he can.” He meant it as a compliment, and I certainly took it as one, but thinking about it afterward, it’s an unobtainable goal. I can always do better. That’s how you grow. In my mind it’s not a leap to go from 80 percent (good enough) to 95 percent, but the last 5 percent to perfection is a target that will always be out of reach because the bar always goes higher. I like the watchmaker Piaget’s take on this: Always do better than you have to. So many workers are content with “good enough,” hoping the client won’t notice. The funny thing I’ve realized is that when a project is done properly, it just looks right, as if it grew there. It’s the mistakes that are noticeable, even to the untrained eye or ear. And once you see a mistake, it can’t be unseen. It’s not that I don’t make mistakes. I make them all the time. If I catch it, I fix it, and if it’s something that I notice later and it doesn’t affect the job in a material way, I make a note to do better next time. If it does affect the outcome and has to be redone, I’ll show it to the client and then fix it, even if they didn’t notice it.
  3. I’ve improved more by listening to clients’ complaints rather than their compliments. I accept complaints graciously and work to fix them as best I can. However, if the complaint is unreasonable, I’ll listen until they’ve talked all they wanted to and then explain why what they’re asking for can’t be done. Once they’ve felt listened to, common ground can usually be found. I spend a lot of time anticipating what a client might complain about and put effort into avoiding complaints. I’ve found it makes for a more pleasant working experience for me as well. I use dust collection. The air scrubber is the first thing I turn on and the last thing I turn off. I use drop clothes, clean up every day, and overall try to leave the site in a better condition than what it was when I got there. There is no middle ground on that. It’s either better or worse. Clients notice when their property is respected, and they definitely notice when the site is left in a mess.
  4. When I’m on the site, I always make an effort to spend at least a few moments a day talking with the customer and explaining what I did and why, what’s next, finding out what the expectations are or setting expectations, and why it’s taking so long. I call it “hand holding.” The last one is easy. I’m slow at my work and I spend a lot of time on the prep work and layout, which sometimes doesn’t show. I allow enough time to do the work though. Taking time to listen to the customer can sometimes prevent minor issues or misunderstandings from turning into actual problems. Taking the time to do the job is something I consider very important. It’s been my experience that some clients will set artificial deadlines for a project thinking that will somehow magically make things happen faster, and I know contractors that will bend over backward and cut all kinds of corners to make it happen. That usually doesn’t end well for anyone. Making the time to talk and listen will alleviate that, and often will make unreasonable deadlines go away. If there is an actual deadline, then I start early or suggest a faster contractor. It’s very rare for them to go with the faster option unless it’s a flip property, in which case I don’t want the job anyway.

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