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Leading by ‘exSample’

Andrew Biss, director of Strippers Flooring Ltd, explains why it’s important to invest in the collection samples for clients on wood floors.

HAVING been given a platform by the CFJ to discuss something connected with an aspect of the flooring trade, I decided to settle on the subject of ‘samples’. Luckily as a trade journal, I’m hoping that some of you might want to listen to my musings about a subject that’s not a hot topic to discuss at a party or down the pub, but bear with me on this.

Samples of stain and floor finishes are vital to the client experience and satisfaction. My business specialises in the sanding, restoration and finishing of wood floors and many of our clients are tasking us with changing the look.

Now, when you supply carpets or LVT, it’s tangible and you can simply cut endless samples at relatively low-cost and package them up for clients to look at their leisure.

When we create samples, and we provide many of them, it’s a whole different ball game because we’re looking at an existing wood floor. We’re often being asked to make it look like something else, for instance, a different sheen, or less orange, darker or the perennial favourite ‘I’d like my pine floor to look like oak’. Funnily enough, I’ve always thought that if I could create a product that actually made pine look like oak, well enough to fool the trade, then I’d be waving to my next-door neighbours, Elon Musk and Bill Gates on my way to work.

So, my point is that I’m being asked to change something that exists and, already that’s a lot harder than putting down something new. We can make up numerous sample boards all beautifully coated in different products, primers, water-based finishes, oils etc which give clients a really good idea of what could be in their homes. The reality, however, is these samples are not their floors, they’re someone else’s and there’s no guarantee that it will be the finished look they’re after. If our client has a Victorian pine floor, we’ve no way of knowing that just because our sample is also on reclaimed Victorian pine that the two will match. In Victorian times, to the best of my knowledge, the UK sourced vast amounts of timber from Scandinavia, the Soviet Union/Russia, the Baltic States and North America, therefore the assumption that our sample will be a match on a floor that could’ve come from anywhere across a vast swathe of the world’s forests would require some seriously good luck.

Interestingly (well I find it interesting), trees close to a coastline have a significantly higher salt content than inland trees which produce a better-quality wood, Lye. This phenomenon will have a subtle effect on the timber colour and how it reacts with products. What I’m trying to say is that plonking a sample board down on a client’s floor and assuming it’ll match the timber species is rather like assuming you’ve just bought the winning lottery ticket.

We always do samples on the actual floor which can be time consuming as we have to sand away and partially finish part of the existing finish to create an area ready for creating samples.

Now deciding you’re going to put down samples of stain, primer, finish is just the start. In a residential environment you need to consider several factors as to where to site the sample area. We factor in the main area of use and where the floors will be most visible, from sitting on the sofa or looking through the front door into a lovely living space. We’ll always try to leave samples on the floor for 24 hours for the clients to see them at various times of the day with varying natural and artificial light, so the client really gets a feel for the sample and how it’ll look.

When discussing samples with a client, we ask them to consider several factors that affect the look of them:

  • Size – just like a small swatch, think of the sample on a larger scale.
  • Lighting: does the client have warm or cool LED bulbs? This can influence the look.
  • Freshly plastered walls have a huge effect on samples. For example, reflecting pink tones that will simply disappear once painted.
  • Wall/ceiling colours also have an effect.

Another piece of advice that we often give is dark stain on wood floors, despite a common misconception, can make a space look bigger but only if there’s good natural light and ceiling height.

I could go on about the subtleties and importance of samples, but the editor’s marker pen awaits.

I’m proud that I can’t recall a time in the past 26 years where I needed to remove a stain or finish because it’s not as the client imagined. That’s all down to investing in the sample stage.

It’s such a great opportunity to engage with your clients and provide excellent customer service. Ironically, I’ve always believed that when we’ve finished our work that if we’ve done it right then the floor reflects the client’s taste, their furniture, photos, art, etc. If someone walks in and the first thing they notice is the floor then we’ve failed. Noticing the floors first is the sole preserve of us nerds in the industry.
Andrew Biss is director at Strippers Flooring Ltd

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