For many American companies, their cultural platform focuses on ten or twelve principles. These ideologies are often aspirational-centered. Companies place value on being the best this or the best that in their field of expertise. At Real Wood Floors, we are not your traditional American or global business.
When we discussed our company values and cultural platform, we wanted to make sure Real Wood Floors’ values were actually attainable, but we quickly discovered something interesting. There was little to brainstorm or institute. We had already organically developed our core values over the last 8 - 10 years.
Innovation, embracing challenge, mission-minded, and having fun embody Real Wood Floors, and these are our core values. They are so important to us we are willing to spend money (that might make some corporate CEOs’ heads spin) to achieve them.
We enjoy innovation. For our retail stores, we came up with the color wall to better showcase the roughly one hundred hues of floor colors we’ve created. The color wall’s matrix helps homeowners more easily choose the right flooring for their homes. To help clients understand the great value of engineered flooring, we created Plankology, a visual guide to illustrate how flooring is made and the differences between flooring types. We even chose a proprietary scent, a rich, mahogany aroma, to be used in our retail stores and at our headquarters.
And of course, we love being innovators when it comes to flooring products. We want to add features to improve our products so homeowners and business clients can receive the most value. When we realized clients were sacrificing aesthetics because of an age-old custom, we decided to take some action.
Most entry-level floors are just four feet long. And this is not a surprise. Flooring from a manufacturer is shipped in twenty-foot or forty-foot containers. Four-foot flooring fits side by side in these types of containers; it’s the easiest and most cost effective method to ship as a commodity product.
But what if you don’t want four-foot flooring? What if you don’t want to sacrifice aesthetics for convention? We felt the same. Six, seven, and even eight-foot flooring creates depth and richness and is much more attractive. We learned that for a modest price increase, our clients could get an infinitely better-looking floor.
Embracing challenge is a core value and a genuine attitude at our company. When confronted with a task that seems overwhelming, Real Wood Floors’ employees tend to get fired up. Competitive juices get going, and we’re more likely to say, “Let’s figure it out,” than, “It can’t be done.”
In 2005, the Real Wood Floors team consisted of just Sam Cobb, Heather Salrin, and a cat. Mere months after the company launched, our flooring supplier called to say they would no longer produce our engineered floors. Instead of Sam shuttering the business, he said to Heather and the cat, “Let’s figure out how to make engineered floors.”
Nate Elbrecht had recently joined the team, and soon moved overseas to learn how to make our wood floors. Within nine months he knew enough to supervise our production. Real Wood Floors began harvesting lumber in the Ozarks, and subsequently started manufacturing engineered hardwood floors.
That first year, Real Wood Floors struggled financially. On the books, the company had two employees, but CEO Sam Cobb decided to start sending a thirty-five dollar check each month to Shepherd’s Field, an orphanage in Tianjin, China, that focused on helping very special-needs kids. It wasn’t much, and he thought about not doing it, but Sam felt it was the right thing to do.
A year or so later, Real Wood Floors was doing better, and Sam was able to travel to China for his first visit to Shepherd Field. In the dining area, the floors were just a bunch of loose wood boards. Sam impulsively said to the orphanage’s director, “We’re gonna get you some new floors.”
Two weeks after Sam’s return home, he received a phone call from the orphanage. “When can you come install the wood floors?” At the time Real Wood Floors didn’t install flooring.
Sam called one of his clients, Josh, and asked if he would be willing to go to a Chinese orphanage for an installation. “Sure. How much does the job pay?” Josh asked. “Well, it pays nothing,” Sam answered, “and, in fact, I’d have to ask you to pay your own way to get there.” Sam launched into the details until Josh interrupted. “Yeah, I’ll do it. And I’ll try to get some other guys to go along, too.”
Josh brought some of his competitors with him to help install the new flooring at the orphanage. Josh did happen to mention to Sam one condition. “I’ll go as long as I don’t have to see a kid.” Sam agreed. But while at Shepherd’s Field, it wasn’t too long before Josh was playing with the children. And eventually adopted a young boy named Axel.
“We enjoy each other. We enjoy our work,” is a typical answer to questions about the Real Wood Floors’ work atmosphere. Fun serves as an essential core value at RWF.
And talking about having fun or loosening up doesn’t mean a corporate picnic (though there’s nothing wrong with that). At Real Wood Floors, a communal lunch is served in house every Friday.
This fun can be exemplified by the characteristic of lingering after work. In the cooler months, it’s not uncommon for a bonfire to be blazing in the evening. Or exemplified by having a wine-tasting event with a three-piece jazz ensemble for the retail store managers. Or unicycle-riding challenges (which the author of this post failed) or a quick match of corn hole when inspiration is needed.
About five years ago, a former Olympic wrestler from Poland visited our headquarters. Challenges were made. The sixty-year-old wrestler lost his shirt, then took to the floor with one of our very own. The winner? We’ll save that for another post.
Who We Are
Our core values emanate from who we are at Real Wood Floors, not merely who we want to be, or who we think our customers would like us to be. It wouldn’t be fair to say they’re only reflective though. Sometimes it helps to have a reminder of who we are. These values have permeated through our company and saturated how we conduct business.
We’ve decided to hire or not hire, given these values. We choose how to approach product development and how to engage with customers and suppliers. We celebrate these core values, and celebrate them in our amazing team.