Matt Casey joined the Bona team in 2005 as a customer service representative. Over the course of his nearly 20-year stint, he has held a number of roles from technical services to training to sales and marketing. He also learned to install hardwood flooring as well as sanding and finishing. Having one foot planted in each side of the business means he is capable of providing input on product development and application. This ability comes in handy when working with everyone in the flooring industry—his favorite part.  

“It's been fun to see the tangible impact of some of those customers throughout the years,” Casey said. “I see men and women throughout the industry, their eyes light up when they do see that impact they're having with their clients. I'm in a unique position where I get the best of both worlds. I might be in the office several days in a row, while the next week I'm out in the field, working hand in hand with contractors. For me, personally, I feel lucky to get the best of both worlds there.” 

He has witnessed a multitude of contractor challenges as well as the evolution of new product solutions. Here, he details the current state of sustainability in the wood products industry, offering a few tips on how to work smarter not harder.  

The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below. 

FLOOR Trends & Installation: What have you seen evolve over the last 18 years?   

Casey: I think one of the biggest changes has been from an expectation standpoint, both from the homeowner or that end user and the contractor. The expectations of the consumer have definitely evolved of what that contractor experience is like. I remember sitting at a table with sticky notes, writing up an estimate with the contractor 15 years ago versus now, obviously, things have become more digital. That end user wants more of a smooth, quick experience. Oftentimes they've done a lot of their research already. The clients are more educated and they know more of what that end result will be.  

Also, from a contractor standpoint, the products that the contractors are using day in and day out [have changed]. I'd say this generation of contractors is much more aware of the products they're using and the effects that they can have, not only for their clients, but also on themselves and their crews as well.

FTI: Can you talk a little bit more about those products and what you are seeing change as far as what contractors are wanting or needing? 

Casey: I think things that used to be upgrades and upsells for their customers like dust containment systems, waterborne finishes and low VOC products are in more demand and are expected today versus than when there was more education needed. The homeowners were aware that they might be able to get through that sand and finish process without all the dust all over the place and without hanging plastic and things of that nature.  

Sustainability has always been a part of the industry, but today it's more ingrained within all of our business, meaning, from a manufacturer perspective, it's really a part of Bona manufacturing low VOC products—durable, beautiful finishes that the end user can be confident that they’re safe in their home.  

Think about how often we're on our floors. We're walking on our floors every day. The kiddos are crawling on the floors. Our pets are sleeping on those floors. What's off gassing from those floors? I think that's where one of the biggest improvements in our industry has come is those low VOC finishes that used to be connotated with giving something up if you're using a sustainable, greener product. These days that's absolutely not the case.  

Waterborne finishes have come a long way with dust containment and a lot of the other products. Stains, sealers, adhesives—all of those products have made changes from the manufacturing side to be greener and have some positive impact on our environment versus the other way around. 

FTI: Can you talk about Bona’s Certified Craftsman Program? 

Casey: It's been about 14 years since we launched this program—back in early 2010—with the premise being training, education and meeting those expectations that we've talked about a little bit in in this conversation. 

Utilizing the Bona brand, a lot of homeowners throughout the U.S. might know Bona from the retail side and have that cleaner under the sink. We had hundreds of contractors utilizing our professional products from the equipment and dust containment all the way through to the stains and finishes. So, our goal there was to train these high-quality contractors and essentially connect them with the homeowner. That's what it's been about is providing homeowners with a trusted contractor that does not only have the experience, but also takes pride in their work and is able to offer that lifetime support that we chatted about. 

FTI: Let's jump back to the sustainability in the products—low VOCs, everything going green. What are you seeing on this topic in the industry? 

Casey: We're seeing a lot of legislation change where specific states are changing their VOC laws, which is directly impacting what contractors are sanding and finishing floors with. On the West Coast, that's been happening for several years, but over the last couple of months, even the state of Ohio just kicked in their VOC laws. 

In 2009, when I was in the Chicago market, Illinois kicked in those laws and state after state, were seeing VOC regulations come into play. The lowering of VOCs, which is all about that indoor air quality and a big focus for a finish manufacturer. That impacts the contractors offering to the consumer.  

On the other side of that, consumers are more educated than ever on the impact of what products their contractors are using in their home and some of those long-term effects. It carries over more than just the VOCs of those floors. But, again, how can I continue to maintain floors safely for family? 

Then, when those days of renovation are due, what are my options? In the hardwood flooring industry there's more deep cleaning options, more recoating options than ever before to freshen up that surface versus tearing out that floor and needing replacement. 

FTI: What are some misconceptions that consumers have about these types of products? 

Casey: I think the durability and performance is definitely at the top. The way that waterborne finishes have advanced even in just the last decade is really impressive. There are several one-component and two-component low VOC waterborne finishes out there that hold up and are much more durable than a lot of the oil based polyurethane counterparts. So that oil to water shift we saw beginning 20 years ago, it's still a part of our conversations today. I think there's definitely some regional influence there as well in the U.S. and Canada and some markets that are catching up. 

FTI: What else should we think about when we consider how to work smarter and not harder? 

Casey: Both products and including equipment have really come a long way. From the dust containment side, there are portable options now for all hardwood flooring contractors out there that make them easier to use and easier to make a part of their business. In turn, we're getting better end results out there in the field. The consumer is having a better experience with the install, sand and finish process because of some of those advancements in dust containment. Even the sanding equipment itself is now manufactured for dust containment, meaning they're more efficient when hooked up to a vacuum system. So, we're seeing situations where airborne dust is not a factor. When that used to be the number one concern for a homeowner and really one of the reasons why maybe they weren't having a sand and finish complete. So, there's options out there for the contractor and offering to their customers so that's really not as much of a concern as it once has been. 

We haven't talked about continued education at all, and I think in our industry, it's such an important piece of the pie, not only to stay up to speed with what products and systems are available out there, but the trends within the market place with things like color and stain. It seems like every handful of years we see those trends changing. So, that continuing education aspect, even for a contractor that's been in the industry for 30 years, is such an important factor not only for them working efficiently and profitably on their job sites, but also so that their end users and clients have a better experience as well.  

Another advantage of continuing education would really be not only keeping up with the products and trends in our industry, but also making those connections with other professionals. The power of the network has become very strong over the years within the contractors in Bona’s Certified Craftsmen Program. It's great to see contractors lean on each other from coast to coast—run ideas by each other on how they're estimating jobs, how they're completing jobs, how they pay their crews—all those things you can chat about with fellow professionals. That's really a big advantage of continued education as well.  

One last thing is the importance of the homeowners demanding these high-performing, low VOC, safe products, but also the importance of the architect and design community. They really have a big impact on the hardwood flooring industry and the flooring industry overall. Specifying waterborne products, both in residential and commercial environments. Low VOC stain options, low VOC adhesives—all those things are options now, and we often see spec sheets from a couple of decades ago. So, updating that and making sure that that final outcome is what we're all looking for and ensuring a healthy install and refinishing process is all a part of that as well.