How We Modernized Our Business as the Next Generation

Matt Christie Headshot
My brothers Jason (left) and Zach (right) and I didn't intend to make a career out of wood flooring, but now we work together to run the company our grandfather and dad started.
My brothers Jason (left) and Zach (right) and I didn't intend to make a career out of wood flooring, but now we work together to run the company our grandfather and dad started.

People always ask me and my brothers, Zach and Jason, how we manage to run a business together. As three brothers who are in their 20s and all owners of the company, we know we’re definitely not the norm for a wood flooring contracting company. Although we all grew up in the industry, none of us had a goal of becoming a wood floor pro. But like so many other people, we all ended up in the family business, and as we did, we discovered a passion for it—even as we struggled to modernize it and then went through a huge, unexpected change in our lives.

Growing up, doing wood flooring wasn’t something we looked at as a career; we were just helping dad to get McDonald’s for lunch or, as were high school age, spending money. We ripped up carpet or carried tools for him, and as kids, we hated it; I remember thinking, “Why would you want to do this as a job?”

My dad had always been in business with his dad, doing general construction and then specializing in wood flooring, and he always told us how much he loved working with his dad. Wood flooring was his passion, but he never pushed us to do it—he told us that wood flooring was what he loved, and we needed to find what we loved.

After high school, I went to welding school and ended up working for a concrete company as the low man on the totem pole working outside 10 to 12 hours a day, and I hated it. I didn’t really like welding, either, so I figured I could work with my dad for six months to a year until I found something else (this was in January 2015). The same thing happened with Zach; he went to school for printing and design and was working third shift at a printing factory—and he hated it. He ended up working for Dad, too, starting in late 2015, as something to do between jobs. Jason, the youngest, graduated from high school six months early. He knew he didn’t want to go to college but didn’t know what he did want to do—so he worked for Dad starting in late 2018.

I probably butted heads the most with Dad, because my vision didn’t always line up with his. We’d always end up on the same page, but it would start off rocky. I was trying to bring the business into the modern world while also respecting that he’d brought the business through decades, including multiple economic crashes—I couldn’t just come in and tell him how it was going to run.

The first thing I had to do was fix our information on Google. If you Googled “Christie’s Hardwood Flooring” in 2015, you’d find an old phone number of my grandfather’s and an outdated address. Customers wanted to leave reviews for us online, but they couldn’t find us, so they’d post on random sites.

When Zach and I joined the company full time, business was doing really well, but there wasn’t a long honeymoon phase. In the fall of 2016 and early 2017, we got really slow and weren’t able to pay a lot of bills. It was a sink-or-swim kind of deal, so we started focusing on networking online and in our community. I got our company on Facebook and Instagram, and when I did that, I learned about the wood flooring online community and connected with other pros. We also signed up to get leads on HomeAdvisor, which was helpful at the time. Zach and I would leave our business cards everywhere—we asked a customer once not that long ago where he heard about us, and he said he saw our card at Arby’s!

We also made an effort to meet people in the community and get our name out there more, even if that was just striking up a conversation with the HVAC contractor on the job site. Something I learned from one of my mentors is that you are going to be friends or enemies with your “competition” in town, so Zach and I started making calls to local floor guys introducing ourselves and suggesting we meet, thinking maybe we could recommend each other if one of us were too busy. Some guys took it pretty well, and a couple were basically like, “We don’t want anything to do with you, screw you.” (Those are the companies where now we get calls to fix their work.)

Once I stopped at a job site for one of the biggest local builders. The owner happened to be there, so we got to meet him and introduce ourselves, and now 20 percent of our yearly revenue comes from that builder—all because I stopped to shake his hand.

When it came to the actual jobs and products we used, we had to pick and choose our battles with Dad. We have a couple friends in the wood flooring business who worked with their dads but parted ways, and one of the reasons was that a lot of the old-school generation—not all, but a lot—seem to like the cheapest stuff they can use to cut costs. Our dad wasn’t like that, because he was always wanting to give the customer the best floor possible, but he was very loyal to what he was used to. He was really loyal to the finishes he was using because he had tested them and found what he loved, but the problem was that it had been maybe 10 years since he tested them, and things have changed. Zach and I went to a training at a local distributor where we saw a different finish we really liked, and we had to buy it ourselves with our own money and use it on a job. Then when he came by, we asked him what he thought, and he said it looked good—and that was when we finally told him which finish it was.

Another big thing some of the old school generation doesn’t seem to understand is the multi-head sander. Our dad used to say, “If you need a multi-head sander, that just means you didn’t do a good enough job on the big machine.” It was the same thing when Zach had to pay something like $1,700 of his own money to get a Festool orbital with a vac—but when Dad actually used it, he said, “Man, is that nice!” (I don’t think Zach ever did get paid for it!)

So a lot of what we did was try to convince Dad about the products we were trying, and once he saw it and was convinced it was giving the customer the best product in the end, then he would come around to it. Gradually, Dad began to trust us to make more decisions on our own. Some days it worked, and some days it was me calling Dad and telling him, “I really screwed this up.”

Last year we formed an LLC, and at that point he decided that we should keep him involved but we would have the lead in decision-making. He began helping by running to do a repair or bringing a couple gallons of finish to a job site. Then in May of last year we found out Dad had cancer, and after an intense battle, he passed in August. It’s still weird, especially coming back to work and being surrounded by him, but we’re proud to carry on what he built. Dads are tough, but he told us a couple times at the end that he was proud of us, and that’s a really good thing to hear as a son.

Today we are all owners of the business. I specialize in pricing, estimates and the budget; Zach is mainly in charge of each project; and Jason, at only 21, already has amazing skills on the job. When I say it like that, it sounds like we have a perfect puzzle, but we’re all brothers, so some days there are ups and downs, but I think we have it kind of figured out at this point.

Dad loved that we were all in the business, but he never put pressure on us to do this, and we still feel the same way about each other—we’re not bound by blood to this thing. Dad would always say, “If there’s a day you wake up and you don’t love what you’re doing anymore, you need to figure out what to do.” A family business—no matter what the business is—is always tough, but right now, we consider ourselves fortunate that we get to work with our siblings every day and try to continue the business that our dad and grandpa built.

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