Consider wood floor finishes. For years, wax was the one and only finish that was available. It was never considered a choice -- just a given. Over time, this shortsighted approach to floor finishes allowed far too many consumer hardwood sales to slip away.

A finisher applies ZAR Ultra Polyurethane to a hardwood installation. Photo courtesy of United Gilsonite Laboratories.

The hardwood flooring industry continues to set benchmarks with regard to product development. At one time, believe it or not, many within the industry's hardwood segment were guilty of not fully considering the consumer's needs. In addition, many of these same wood floor professional were oblivious to the great strides in product improvement that manufacturers of alternative flooring were making.

Granted, compared to our ever-changing competition, those of us in the hardwood industry have always been considered somewhat conservative in our approach. Be that as it may, this still does not constitute an excuse for burying our heads in the sand.

Even today, our product advancements are still considered simplistic compared to the more dramatic product developments seen in alternative floor coverings. But, I might add, that's not necessarily all bad. Potential customers who understand and appreciate hardwood flooring products are basically "fundamental naturalists."

Consider wood floor finishes, for instance. For years, wax was the one and only finish that was available. It was never considered a choice -- just a given. Over time, this shortsighted approach to floor finishes allowed far too many consumer hardwood sales to slip away.

In fact, our steadfast adherence to wax finishes nearly put hardwood on a fast track to the bottom of floor covering sales rankings. Increasingly, consumers grew tired of the tedious, fatiguing task of getting on their hands and knees to apply wax, and then finishing up the job with an under-powered household buffer. Before long, many of these people decided to purchase non-wood flooring products that could be maintained with an "on your feet" upright vacuum sweeper.

Thankfully, change on our part was inevitable. Our industry had no alternative but to regroup. It did so by offering truly protective top coatings that simultaneously eliminated the need for the intensive maintenance that had always been associated with wax-finished products.

The transition began in the 1960s when polyurethane was introduced for jobsite finishing applications. But frequently, along with progress comes new challenges. The forgiving process of waxing, which allows stripping and subsequent reapplication, had been replaced with an initial what-you-see-is-what-you-get urethane coat of finish.

In an ideal world, every jobsite finish application goes off without a hitch - the product applies smoothly and evenly, and leaves no brush or applicator marks, bubbles or holidays. (A "holiday," in case you're unfamiliar with this deceptively pleasant-sounding term, essentially translates to "you missed a spot.") In addition, the finish would stay down, and exhibit no peeling or premature wear. The customer would be delighted and you, the dealer/contractor, would be monetarily compensated for services rendered.

Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world and sometimes finish applications turn out less than perfect. That's when the finger pointing begins. It seems there's always enough blame to go around - sometimes it falls on the manufacturer and is then passed on to the mechanic and, if all else fails, finally to the boss who issued improper instructions. And certainly, one shouldn't expect support from the end user; she just wants the problem corrected.

Most finish manufacturers provide troubleshooting documents that can be helpful in identifying the source of a problem. Manufacturers and distributors will usually work with you to resolve the complaint. Sometimes the problem lies with the product itself, but a significant number of finish-related problems can be attributed to application issues.

When researching the potential causes of a finish complaint, the dealer/contractor should consider various common scenarios before enlisting the aid of the manufacturer and/or distributor. It may be possible that the problem was caused by one or more of the following:

1. Deviating from the manufacturer specifications or recommendations.

2. Allowing insufficient drying times between coats of finish. High humidity will increase the dry-time cycle.

3. Application of insufficient abrasion between coats of finish.

4. Use of contaminated brushes and/or applicators with products from a different manufacturer.

5. Altering the finish formulation with additional driers to decrease the required dry-time cycle. Adding additional solvents can also decrease dry time. However, this also will decrease the solid-substance content which, in turn, can decrease the durability of the finish.

6. Lack of product knowledge and/or employing application techniques that are inappropriate for a particular finish product.

7. The traditional rule of thumb is: the thicker the finish, the longer the drying time. The product's coverage rate, expressed in square feet, is always specified by the manufacturer. Always abide by the coverage rate.

In defense of the dealer/contractor, a lot of the application errors that do occur can be traced to the changes in finish technology and formulations over the past couple of decades. Knowledge is vital to a proper and successful finish application.

Mechanics accustomed to applying oil-modified polyurethane, for example, will usually encounter problems if they employ the same application techniques with a water-based finish. Flooring professionals in our industry not only want to know but also have a right to know why something goes wrong. No one wants to repeat a mistake.

Another issue of concern is compatibility. Most manufacturers, accept a competitor's stain product -- when properly cured -- for use with their own individual finishes. But to be absolutely sure that this is the case in a particular situation, refer to the manufacturer's specifications. Certain finish manufactures do require that their own stain-and-finish system be utilized throughout the entire jobsite finishing process.

Today's consumers look to the professional dealer/contractor for advice and their own personal preferences of a quality finish. The end results of a successful jobsite finishing process begin with addressing the consumer's expectations prior to undertaking the job.

Troubleshooting complaints should constitute a very minor aspect of your business endeavors. If you're spending more time responding to complaints and less time selling your expertise, correct the problem internally. Hopefully, Wood or Wood Knot has brought some "clarity" to your individual finish issues. Remember, our industry can be quite rewarding but it never promised to be "crystal clear."