By day, Kyle Hedin is the owner of Illustrious Hardwoods in Mesa, Arizona, and by night, he is host of the Floor Academy Podcast. The podcast covers topics pertinent to the flooring installation community—ranging from business insights to depression and addiction. No matter the topic(s) of the week, the underlying message remains the same: you are worth it—worth the time, effort and energy it takes to strengthen yourself, your craft, your business and your pockets.
FCI: You are a fairly newcomer to the industry (six years). As a business owner, how have you determined the value of your skill and the work that you do and what advice do you have for others in the industry who might be having a difficult time doing the same?
Hedin: In my short time in this industry, I have noticed one thing. Most people complain about low wages but they aren’t really doing anything to get higher wages. I was very fortunate that before I had started my business and was on my own, I found many Facebook groups that were all about flooring. There were a few guys in there encouraging higher wages and better business practices. I immediately hopped on that train. A huge shout-out to James Dowling, founder of the Flooring Installers of America Facebook group, and Ken Ballin for being a guy to shout from the rooftops to know your worth.
It was simple at first. Ask for 10 cents more here or 25 cents more there. Bids kept getting accepted. Push the rates a little higher and see if the work kept coming in. Prices would stall out and the bid would be denied. I would readjust. I would grow. I learned more about marketing, I invested in trainings and certifications. I read about sales techniques, human psychology, and business structures. Clientele could then be prescreened over the phone, more people were weeded out by never stepping foot in their home, and this may sound crazy but I have even recently started charging for consultations. That’s right, estimates are free over the phone but if I am going to show up at your home and measure stuff, then you need to pay me for my time. In fact, that is all we are really doing with any of our businesses. We are all exchanging our time for money. What is your time worth? What is missing a family campout with your family on a weekend worth? What is your future self going to think when your bank account is empty but the years spent on the floor have left you needing medical attention?
A lot of us went out on our own because we saw the boss’s big check from the client or the store. We caught a peek of an invoice. What we didn’t know at the time was all of the extra hours, the extra hats that needed to be worn, or extra expenses to be considered. Someone has to throw out all of the flooring that is in the back of the truck after everyone else goes home. Someone has to market the business and bid the work. Someone has to make sure there is workers’ compensation insurance that gets paid and the taxes are paid for your check every week.
In 2017, my bids were for $1.00 per square foot of floating floor and $1.00 per lineal foot of baseboard to remove it, clean the caulking, install it, and caulk it. In 2021, I am charging $2.50/ sqft and $3.50/lf. Quite the jump in a few years. Carpet was $0.25/sqft to remove and is now at $0.50/sqft. Not as big of a jump, but I know I make more removing it than some guys and gals will make installing it in this country. That blows my mind and makes me sad. I feel for my brothers and sisters out there in this trade.
These rates may be low to some and high to others. I have calculated my rates out and try and compete at the very top of my market though for what I want to earn. I personally believe anyone that runs their own business in the flooring trade shouldn’t struggle to pay themselves a $100k per year salary. In the grand scheme of things it really isn’t that much. You know a trade that isn’t a commodity item no matter what the box stores and retailers want you to think. It is a skilled position and requires time and effort to master when done right. You are sacrificing quality of life in your later years because of the strain on your body. It can be minimized with proper movements and protective gear but it still can take a toll on you. As a business owner there isn’t anyone paying for your retirement. You don’t get a 401k plan, paid benefits, etc. You need to pay for all of this out of your pocket. That being said, it shouldn’t be affecting your take home pay. It needs to be paid by your clients.
My point here is that in order to know our worth, we have to know our numbers. How many square feet of flooring can you average installing in a day? How long does the standard 3x5 tub surround take you to tile? How long does it take to do 100 yards of carpet by yourself with installing new tack strip? You need to do job costing. Track your hours for tasks, track the income you made, track how much supplies you go through for a given project. You can’t be profitable if you don’t know the numbers. You can’t charge your worth if you don’t know what you need to make.
No two businesses are the same. Just because the going rate in your area for carpet is $4.00 per yard doesn’t mean that is what it should pay. What does your individual business model say? There are clients for all types of budgets. You may just need to redesign your business to attract the right ones. Everyone always wants to say that won’t work in my area or I can’t charge that. One last thing before we close this out: with the rising materials costs, the cost of living is ever increasing. Now is not the time to lower your rates to stay busy but to increase them to keep up with inflation. I challenge you to get to the skills to be able to do so. I know they sell luxury cars in your area. They don’t sell the luxury cars for less in your area than they do in mine. Rural areas may not have as much access to high paying clients as major metropolitan cities but the clients exist regardless. How can you get them? Take the time to learn your numbers and then go and earn your worth. You’re worth it!