We’ve all seen the social media posts where a pro is selling all his tools. It’s one thing when they have gone to the manufacturing side and now work for the companies who make finishes, abrasives, flooring, etc. But the pro who gives up breaks my heart. Sometimes the back story is related to an injury, or some other life-changing “Y” in the road, but for some it’s because they are not well with this career.
I’ve been stewing on this topic for months (ask the editor!), and today I felt inspired to sit down and reach out to all of us who work hard, aspire to be self-employed or crew leader, and in general are trying to stick it out for the long run. In many ways, to me, this craft is like a marriage to a fine mate—not always easy, but incredibly rewarding over time.
What makes this marriage worth it? I can tell you how I feel.
First of all, wood flooring is a Craft, and I’m going to refer to it like that from now on (yes, with a capital “C”). A Craft is something special that involves skill. Even the smallest tasks like vacuuming, scraping corners and putting the material in the home or site involves a heightened skill over a layman’s interpretation. Vacuuming means getting all the dust and bits off the floor (not just some of it—all of it). Scraping corners means not scratching the molding or go against the grain, and you get extra points for removing aluminum-oxide UV-cured finishes. Putting the material or tools in the home means not damaging the home banging on the walls or doorways as we move while holding a bundle or machine. It goes on, but you get the point. You can either think of these tasks as tedium or as a Craft. A welder just has to make a good weld, but a wood floor pro must make it strong AND beautiful. Refinishing a floor and leaving scratches is a bust, even though it may have been installed with perfection.
Second, I am uplifted by being connected to other pros on social media, both in the many Facebook groups many of us use and through their personal Facebook pages. Time and time again, they display their finest trophies, and we all join them with praise and thumbs-up expressions. A fine border, or an epic “before-and-after” refinish are all trophies of the highest sort. For a large portion of these pros, I would count myself lucky to just sweep their floors; they are like a shining star to aim for. They post their beautiful wood flooring work on their pages just as they proudly post about their spouses and their families—it’s obviously an incredibly meaningful part of their lives.
Third, wood flooring has challenged me. Every job is different, and I like thinking on my feet and having those MacGyver moments. I did not quit when I had a funky client—I’ve written about that plenty of times. (Editor’s note: Check out “How I Handle These Common but Difficult Customer Scenarios”, “The Customer Who Wanted to Inflict Diabolical Harm on My Company” and “How to Protect Yourself From Customers That Turn on You (Like This One)” for examples.) And I’ve never backed away when I needed a higher skill level for a task I had never done well before (like the herringbone floor I wrote about).
Fourth, owning your own business is empowering. Like many people, I never intended to be in this Craft. I went to college because I was taught that that's what smart people do—that’s what people who have a house on top of a hill do. I began doing wood floors to continue my classes, and I got my bachelor’s degree in marketing. At that time, wood flooring was a “job,” just like my dating mentality was “the blonde one this time; next it’ll be a brunette.” (I was horrible as a young man!) I don’t regret going to college—it taught me a lot—but I’m relieved I didn’t end up in the corporate job I thought I was supposed to have. You can work in the corporate world for decades and then get fired on a whim. Owning my own business, I don’t have to worry about job security, and I don’t have to answer politely to a boss who might be a wingnut. Yes, we all have to deal with customers, but like I mentioned above, I’ve written plenty of times about how I handle that and don’t let customers control the job.
As it stands now, I’ve been involved in wood flooring totally on my own for almost 30 years, and only in the past five years or so has the real juice been sweet. Like a marriage, the wait was worth it, and I can honestly say I have no regrets. I am just as happy scraping corners as I am collecting a big paycheck. Growing up, I had a close relative in the business who chased the money instead of the Craft—and he was miserable. I think when you chase something too hard, you don't get it, but when you focus on what’s really meaningful, everything falls into place.