This private residence in Des Moines, Iowa, features a striking mixed-species hardwood installation featuring Maple and Steamed Walnut. The floor was site finished with Basic Coatings' Commercial Catalyzed Sealer and 2K Select finish.

Susan Ford
As hardwood flooring sales continue to increase, it's well worth your while to consider a unique marketing differential -- specifically, site finished vs. prefinished flooring. Comparing site installations and finishing to factory-applied finishes (prefinished) will highlight the differences and help you apply them to your wood flooring business.

Today, a variety of options exist among available species and grades of wood as well as borders and medallions. In addition, the ability to mix species and widths of boards translates to greater potential for custom projects that ultimately can add to your profitability.

Another notable advantage of a site-finished wood installation is the uniform, monolithic film over the entire floor. When properly sanded and finished with quality materials, most installers will attest that a wood floor is protected as well, if not better, than a factory-finished floor. Factory finish is applied only to the top of the floor boards, which makes cracks between the boards vulnerable areas.

Also, installing unfinished flooring rather than prefinished alternatives enables the retailer/contractor to establish his own brand and keep his company's name front and center in the local market. If you opt to sell a prefinished floor, the quality and appearance of the resulting installation largely is attributed to the manufacturer of the product.

Discussing site installation with your customer offers you the opportunity to highlight your crew's expertise and craftsmanship, as well as differentiate your operation from competitors who sell wood flooring. With an unfinished installation, you're helping the customer create her dream floor, rather than simply choosing between the predetermined looks of prefinished flooring. Understanding and being able to explain the features and benefits of the raw materials gives you the expertise to effectively promote the right combination of products.

Begin the sales process by determining where the floor will be located, they type of use to which it will be subject and the look your customer desires. This information will be the most important factor in determining the type of wood and other materials to be used. Consider other options that will help you satisfy the customer's needs, while adding to your bottom line, such as:

Stains. Offered as an up-sell item, stain allows customers a chance to customize the color of their floor. While prefinished stained flooring is available, it doesn't constitute an add-on opportunity. In addition, staining a site-finished installation allows you to exactly match the floor with homeowner's cabinets or other interior elements.

Sealers. While price points vary, sealers help control costs because they're less expensive than a finish or topcoat. The more expensive products may be catalyzed to improve chemical resistance and wear properties -- a feature you can use to up-sell your customer.

Finish or topcoat. These products are offered in various technologies, performance levels, sheens, and price points. In general, it's understood that price, ultimately, is related to the quality of the finish. Be sure you know the features and benefits of the finishes you offer. If possible, provide samples for your customers so they can see the differences in color when choosing between water-based and oil-based systems.

With site-finished wood floors, you and your customer can have a lot of fun with the ever-changing choices. Talk with your material suppliers and manufacturers to maximize your wood flooring knowledge. Your investment in time and information will set your business apart and make you more successful.