The right stain on a hardwood floor can do wonders to bring out the natural beauty of the wood. And remember, it's not simply a matter of darkening the wood. Stains are highly versatile decorating tools. Many, such as the Glitsa Swedish finish being applied here, are available in a wide range of wood tones and pastel colors.

The majority of hardwood sales and installations are generated by "natural stained" wood flooring products. Prefinished hardwood flooring sales have historically been dominated with the "neutral color choice." Stocking neutral or natural finished products is a safe and prudent inventory choice. Neutral hardwood flooring creates a harmonious background for most furniture, appliances and painted walls. Big box stores, in most cases will always have an adequate supply of natural products with maybe one additional light stained wood tone for the non-neutral or better yet, non-conformist buyer/consumer. These types of retailers turn a tremendous amount of inventory, therefore, contributing to the perceived popularity of neutral and or natural wood flooring sales. But there is more to the story than that.

Don't underestimate the importance of color in the wood flooring market. It was one of two very distinct wood flooring innovations that literally brought life back to our once fading industry. And I might add, these introductions accompanied the "renovation" of the prefinished portion of the hardwood flooring. Urethane vs. wax was a huge breakthrough. The second was the expansion of various "colors" to enhance the character appearance of hardwood flooring.

In other flooring categories, manufacturers continue to pioneer the introduction of color in their products. They always want something new and compelling. That is how they compete. Imagine how bland their products would be without the zest of color. The same applies to our industry as well. Hardwood flooring in the "raw" is like a fine steak before it's been cooked. I will always remember visiting a steak house in Memphis, Tenn. called the "Butcher Shop" and selecting my steak of choice. Some were thick and others thin. But overall the steaks all had one thing in common, the same general appearance. But once cooked to perfection with your own specification, color and flavor then oh, the aroma brought smiles to many a patron.

Hardwood flooring products are the steaks of the floor covering industry. Stain and finish are the sizzle. Do we want to continue to sell steaks and not romance the sizzle to the potential consumer? Trust me, most consumers hunger for the chance to sit at our hardwood table. Show them everything we have to offer-the entire menu- and not just a few pre-selected samples.

The flip side to prefinished stained hardwood flooring is the job site sanding, staining and finishing of hardwood flooring. Oak is generally the No. 1 recipient of this process. Existing hardwood flooring installations are periodically refinished due to normal wear and tear associated with usage.

A change in décor and or remodeling may require refinishing also. Consumers desiring the special attention and the opportunity to select customize staining and the choice of sheen with regards to gloss levels may also become a factor. As such, prefinished hardwood flooring should not be consider a threat but a reliable source of potential work for professionals who sand and finish. That's the true beauty for renewable hardwood flooring.

And color offers numerous options. Any one particular stain color can be transformed into potentially four or five variations. Using neutral as a base; all stains are suited to custom mixing. For instance, mixing one part neutral with three parts chestnut will deliver a warm and soothing toast color. A word of caution: This practice should be restricted to stains found within the manufacturer's product line. Besides custom tinting, there are also various ways to produce stain shade variations within a one component application.

One recommendation to avoid unevenness and stain blotching requires a final cut with a 100 grit paper on the sanding machine and blending the edger sanding with the buffer and a 120 grit screen.

Water popping, an alternative to bleaching, literally allows the grain to open and provides a deeper penetration for stain which will increase the hue color of the stain. Another technique to increase the depth of the stain color is to burnish the stain with a nonabrasive pad on the buffer. The heat generated drives the pigment of the stain beyond the top surface of the wood flooring. Allow additional time for stain drying and solvent evaporation before applying the first coat of finish.

But don't overdo it. Natural species with their own identifying coloration should not be altered. Why mask a good thing? There are plenty of oaks that need our help to highlight their hidden beauty. And whether you are focused on prefinished or job site samples, make certain samples are amply displayed in your showroom. Better yet, install a walkway leading to your samples displaying the variations of species, stain colors, and finishes. Use color to let consumers know how vibrant and inviting hardwood flooring can be. Wood or Wood Knot invites you to serve a nice juicy "sizzling steak" to your wood-hungry customers. Trust me; you won't get "burned."