I got my start in the wood flooring industry when I was 19; my focus was playing guitar in an alternative rock band, and a singer in the band got my foot in the door with a local company. We were put to work behind a big machine, and I picked it up quickly. I got hooked on seeing the reactions from clients—you put so much hard work into a floor, and their reaction is awesome.
At the same time, though, I was chasing the dream of being an alternative rock musician, and that was coming together. My band had a big following, and we were opening for national acts coming through the area like Breaking Benjamin, Godsmack, Three Days Grace, Taproot and Army Of Anyone. We were signing autographs and watching fans sing along. When I was 23, in 2007, we released our first full-length album, called “The Obvious.”
The dream was happening, with one important exception: We weren’t making much money. At 23, I had become a dad. I had a family to support. I had to make a decision, so one evening I came up with the crazy idea of starting a wood flooring business. I sat down at my mom’s computer, typed up “Vivid Hardwood Flooring,” made a slogan, “Redefining the beauty in hardwood floors,” and made a logo and some business cards, using up all my mom’s printer ink. Music would have to wait.
I had four years in the wood flooring industry and a strong work ethic. From a young age I had worked—in grade school I delivered newspapers on my bike—so I knew I had the drive. My mom was a big help, helping with the first equipment purchases, running the books and, most importantly, believing in me.
I was honest and respectful with the company I was working for. When I gave them my notice, they understood and even hired me to help them out on some jobs when they were too busy. That was huge, as it helped me put food on the table for a growing family.
Besides that, I was nonstop hustling to generate business, handing out hundreds of flyers and walking into realtors’ offices with boxes of doughnuts. For every couple hundred of flyers I would get one call, and sometimes I’d deal with someone getting really angry for putting a flyer in their mailbox (which, it turns out, is illegal). This was before social media, so building the business was all footwork and a smile with confidence.
In 2008, the economy collapsed, but I refused to not work—I was focused on the fact that I had a family to feed. I had enough work that I started to hire employees. One of the best moves was doing interviews through a local trade school, and we hired a high school senior who was hungry to learn and became a great employee. I would pick him up from school every day at noon, and when I got tired of leaving job sites to pick him up, I bought him a car, which was a win-win for everyone.
After five years of owning the business, things were super busy, and I had six employees … and something had to change. I was working crazy hours and was extremely stressed: the stress of jobs with issues, the stress of clients upset about something, the stress of times when you might not have enough work for your six employees, the stress of the phone ringing off the hook and not getting back to everyone. I was literally running all over the place, and it was weighing extremely heavily on me. I had bought my grandfather’s farmhouse on 11 acres in 2013, and now I had a second son. I would come home dragging butt and knowing I had two hours of lawn mowing to do, and I wasn’t the father I wanted to be. I felt like a slave to my own business, and I hated it.
I needed to slow down and figure out the problem, so I did—I scaled back to three employees, then two and then none. I focused on what I needed to do to take care of the business, and what I wanted the business to do for me. My grandfather once said to me, “Take care of your business and the business will take care of you.” I wanted time with my two sons, so I reframed what making a profit in the business meant to me. Of course the business had to make money—we had bills—but now making a “profit” would also mean having time with my kids.
I made a decision to substitute time for dollars, and it’s changed everything for me. Today I drive to my job after my youngest son gets on the bus at 7 a.m., and sometimes I’ll even drive him to school by 8 a.m. Then by 2:30 p.m. I’m locking up my job site to pick him up from school. When I started doing this, some clients questioned why I wasn’t working longer hours, so I began telling clients up front that I’m there for them and getting their floors done, but I’m also there for my kids, and once they hear that, they’re cool with it. Clients just want you to communicate.
Keeping this schedule also means I’m not killing my body. I like to wake up in the morning and not hurt. I’m 39 now, and I still feel really good about doing this trade. I pace myself, because it’s not a race. Sometimes clients question if I’m even old enough to be running a business because they think I look so young! I think that’s because my work is like a workout all day, and I feel good.
As I write this (in November) I’m booked into March. I used to worry if I told clients I couldn’t do their jobs sooner that I would lose the job—and then I’d overbook myself. I’ve realized most clients love hearing they have to wait—it means you do good work.
Being on my own is just a simpler way of life. I’d be lying if I said I had no stress, but these days if I’m a little behind, I just figure out how to adjust my schedule and tell my clients immediately (again, clients are usually cool with it as long as you’re constantly communicating). I’ve realized that running a business is about having the right mindset, and more than just collecting money and sanding a floor—it’s about being present.
If you’re running yourself thin, you’re losing track of who you are and what you’re doing. You have to focus on what your path is. Keeping things extremely simple in my business has allowed me the time to raise my sons, racing motocross with my oldest through most of his childhood and now helping my youngest reach the clouds by getting his pilot license at an early age. It has also allowed me to focus on the dream I put on pause in 2007—I feel like I still have time to be the musician I’ve always wanted to be. A few more albums in the future? Maybe! They say you tend to go back to your roots. Twenty years into the trade, I’ll take any opportunity into consideration that presents itself to better myself in the wood flooring industry and/or the music industry. Keep life simple—you will enjoy more of the present.