Hardwood flooring is beautiful and distinctive, but with that unique aesthetic appeal comes the importance of maintenance. Retailers and contractors say any customer who purchases a hardwood floor needs to also know its limitations, as well as basic information like when it’s time to sweep it and when it’s time to have the floor refinished. If treated properly, the hardwood flooring will remain the centerpiece of the customer’s home, office, etc.—and not the subject of an angry callback.

According to Eric Nolin, sales representative for SVB Wood Floors, based in Grandview, Mo., one of the best ways to satisfy hardwood customers is to educate them on how to properly care for their floors. “The biggest thing is let them know they need to regularly vacuum, sweep or dust-mop their floor at least once a week. When they do want to use a cleaner, make sure it’s specifically made for that type of floor.”

He said this attitude should also extend to any hardwood floor cleaning kits the retailer or contractor packages as part of the sale. “Make sure you’re using the correct one. Also, instruct customers not to overuse the product. That’s the biggest problem I see [people] make. They’re spritzing the cleaner all over the floor, but in the kits that come with a microfiber mop, the instructions say to wet and wring out the mop, then spritz the mop itself. You do not want to overspread the cleaner on the floor—you’ll end up with this horrible haze, and at that point you’re no longer cleaning the floor; you’re coating it.”

If customers know they’re going to need to refinish the floor, they need to make sure they stay away from products with acrylic wax. These make it hard for a urethane finish to bond to the floor, Nolin noted. “This happens often, and it’s the result of looking stuff up on the Internet or talking to a friend instead of speaking directly with the professional who helped put in the floor. Make sure to let the customer know if there is ever a problem to please call. Position yourself as the expert, and make them confident you’re giving them the best direction to take.”

He also stressed the importance of giving customers the correct expectations for their floor. “Every job I go on, I make sure the customer understands this product is going to ‘live’ in their home. There are certain guidelines for humidity that must be met, or else that floor is guaranteed to have shrinking or expansion problems, depending on the season.”

Nolin added the ease of performing spot repairs will depend entirely on the type of finish. “If you have a prefinished floor with aluminum oxide, ceramic or titanium, it is not going to be easy to touch up. You don’t have the exact finish the manufacturer was using; you can’t easily keep the ceramic or titanium suspended while coating, and you are not going to achieve the same sheen levels.

“However,” he added, “with a site-finished floor, if you see a scratch you can probably isolate the board. But even then, techniques will vary depending on whether the floor has a water-based finish, an oil-modified finish or was finished with Tung oil.”

Wren Thompson, owner of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Hardwood Refinishers and Installations, said it is essential to explain to the customer a hardwood floor is not bulletproof. “Whenever we do a site-finished floor, we always take a cleaning kit with us on the job, and we tell the customer this floor is not made of diamonds. You can scratch these floors. They need to be cleaned regularly.”

He tells customers walking around with their shoes on inside is like strapping sandpaper to their feet. “Any time you come in from outside, you’re bringing in fine gravel and particulates. When you shuffle around on the hardwood, your feet are basically acting like sandpaper. If customers don’t take time to clean their floors, every time they take a step they’re abrading the floor.”

This is a key reason why experts recommend the use of walk-off mats—regardless of whether it is a residential or commercial setting. While a definite necessity to prolonging the life of a floor, these products also make great add-on sales for dealers and contractors.

DIY Maintenance

Retailers should instruct customers to do their research if they want to tackle maintaining the floor themselves, Thompson stated. “A lot of times, customers think hardwood is supposed to cost a lot of money but the cleaners should not. So they go out and buy something cheap at the store. One couple we visited had been cleaning their floor for over two years with [a product you can buy at the local grocery store]. It was so thick you could scratch it with your fingernail. We used several solvents to get the coating off, and once that was done we still could not get a good bond.

“We told them this was going to have to be refinished,” he continued. “If they only knew you can’t buy a $5 fix in a store for thousands of dollars worth of hardwood. It’s a hard lesson to learn.”

He noted experts should handle any buffing, recoating and refinishing. “What customers need to understand is once that finish coat gets worn off, anything can damage a hardwood floor. Sometimes we have people waiting until the floor starts turning gray or black before giving us a call, thinking now is the time to act. Actually, they should have called us two years ago to get the floors refinished.”

Chris Zizza, president of C&R Flooring in Westwood, Mass., said contractors and retailers should always be proactive about maintenance, “but the vast majority of them fail at doing it. They don’t keep the database, or they keep the database but they don’t reach out. I think that’s because of the fears associated with maintenance, whether doing a buff and recoat to refresh the floor, or a complete resand and refinish.”

He suggested consumers and contractors alike should always read the label. “For example, Bona has these great hardwood cleaners and it also has Bona Polish, which is a great DIY maintenance product, but it also has wax in it, so end users need to understand if they use it you’re not going to be able to come in and do a recoat. You’re going to have to resand the floor.”

As for how often consumers need to recoat their floors, Zizza offers this rule of thumb: “If they choose to have their hardwood in a kitchen or a high-traffic area, I tell them to mark their calendar 10 to 12 months out. The time to do a maintenance coat is when the finish looks scuffed and dull. If they’re looking at a gray floor, that means they’ve gone through the finish layer. That’s when you’re going to end up sanding the floor.”

Zizza recommended retailers and contractors always refer customers to the consumer website of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) at woodfloors.org. “All the information is there, from maintenance tips to humidification requirements. What I like about that page is the NWFA is not trying to sell you a specific product—it just wants to give you the right answer.” 

Business Best Practice: Go Mobile

One of the most important parts of running a business is interacting with customers, but when the paperwork and meetings start piling up, sometimes it’s difficult to find time outside of the office. Chris Zizza, president of C&R Flooring in Westwood, Mass., says the answer is simple: Bring the office with you.

Two years ago, Zizza purchased a custom van and filled it with electronics. “It’s fully functional with a laptop, full Wi-Fi through cellular, a desk, a printer and some other things. The advantage of it is in the past I’d be in Boston doing a measure, and then have to run back to the office in Westwood for a scheduling meeting, and then run back out to Boston for another measure. Now I can simply park and have my meeting while saving fuel and time. With this van I cover all six New England states, plus New York and New Jersey.”

Zizza noted retailers and contractors should always find ways to differentiate themselves while bettering their business. “I 100% recommend this set-up to any contractor or retailer. It’s so important to be on the cutting-edge in today’s market. This van gets conversations going, and the time saved gets me more jobs.”

—Michael Chmielecki