Simplifying the Hardwood Flooring Buying Process with Revel Woods
Managing the end-to-end design process is a massive undertaking. Throw sourcing hardwood flooring into the mix and you’re dealing with a whole other beast. Understanding materials, cost, installation, and maintenance and then delivering that information to your client can feel overwhelming – so overwhelming that one may hesitate to source flooring altogether. However, not offering this service to your client means leaving thousands of dollars on the table.
Enter Revel Woods, your industry guru for all things hardwood flooring. Revel Woods was founded by a small group of hardwood flooring industry veterans who were frustrated with the antiquated nature of the industry. Charged with taking a fresh perspective to the entire process, from education, to the supply chain, to sampling, the online only company was crafted with the goal of making hardwood flooring easier to understand and purchase for the next generation. The team behind Revel Woods has a lifetime of experience in this space and can truly geek out on all things hardwood flooring. Here, John Dupra, Co-Founder of Revel Woods, gets into the nitty gritty and shares the key characteristics of high quality wood, the major myths of hardwood flooring, and their dedication to empowering interior designers with knowledge and flooring to impress your clients.
Revel Woods will be hosting a “Hardwood Flooring 101 for Interior Designers” Ivy Webinar on Wednesday, March 7 at 12:30 PM ET / 9:30 AM PT. Make sure to RSVP with the registration button below!
John – how did you get where you are today?
JD: I was born in Rochester, NY. My parents got married right out of college and didn’t have a lot of money. My father took a part time job with a guy who taught him how to install, sand, and refinish hardwood flooring. It was supposed to be temporary, but when my mother discovered she was pregnant with me (their first child), my father –looking at the family’s increasingly dire financial situation – took a chance and went into business for himself as a flooring contractor.
Growing up, helping my father was my summer job, so I was pretty much raised in this industry. I went to college and got a degree in marketing communications which lead to my first “real” job, a position that combined sales and engineering for Saint-Gobain, a giant multinational corporation that makes the sandpaper used for professional floor sanding (they make a lot more things, that was just my little corner of the world). They moved me to Kansas City, MO and I worked for the company for eight years before finally moving home and joining back up with my father, who had left flooring contracting to start a wholesale distributorship in our hometown of Rochester. It was there that the idea for Revel Woods was born.
What’s Revel Woods’s mission?
JD: To simplify the hardwood flooring buying process.
Hardwood flooring is such a large purchase, with huge ramifications, both positive and negative. It has the single largest effect on the look of a space, it’s expensive and time consuming to install, and getting it wrong can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Making matters more complicated is the fact that what works best is truly situational. There is no “oak is better than maple” type universal truths when it comes to hardwood flooring. The best thing for a small lake house in New Hampshire might not work at all for a ranch in Arizona (when I say won’t “work” I don’t mean purely aesthetically, I mean buckling, cracking, warping type of “not work”). There are so many things you need to know to do this successfully, and you really can’t afford to get it wrong.
We have a lifetime of experience sourcing and selling hardwood flooring. We wanted to use that to create a sourcing tool that shows you options based on yours (or your client’s) exact situation.
“Hardwood flooring is such a large purchase, with huge ramifications, both positive and negative. It has the single largest effect on the look of a space, it’s expensive and time consuming to install, and getting it wrong can cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
From where does Revel Woods source wood?
JD: We have been in the wholesale flooring business for the better part of the last decade, so when we combine that knowledge and experience with our leadership positions in the National Wood Flooring Association, we are fortunate enough to have meaningful sourcing connections all over the world.
When we came up with the concept for Revel Woods, we wanted to do something special. We wanted to target the higher end of the market, so everything we offered to be of the highest possible standard. Every single one of our suppliers is vetted by us personally, we toured their facilities, we studied their materials, and their processes, we even paid attention to how they treated their employees. We developed personal relationships with these suppliers, so they do not see us as simply a source of revenue, but truly believe in what we are doing to advance the entire industry, and have been genuinely invested in our success.
Every one of our chosen suppliers is in the United States or Canada, not just because we believe in North American manufacturing (we do, strongly), but because we wanted to work with people we had a strong connection with. This gives us better access and control over what we are buying, making it far less likely we are going to get a shipment of material where a manufacturing process has been changed or the product is not what we were expecting, and if it ever did happen, getting answers and fixing it wouldn’t require an 18 hour flight to a facility where I don’t speak the language (something that anyone who works with manufacturers knows happens way too often).
The result of that is a level of quality and service that would have been much more difficult to achieve from an overseas supplier. Our customers love us for this approach.
“Every single one of our suppliers is vetted by us personally, we toured their facilities, we studied their materials, and their processes, we even paid attention to how they treated their employees.”
What are the characteristics for high quality wood? And what are the characteristics for low quality wood?
JD: There are so many things that can have an effect on the performance of your floor that get super specific. Many of them will not show up until long after it has been installed such as if it was not properly dried and milled. For example, if the lumber was not dried properly, it could warp due to no fault of the homeowner, but the homeowner will likely have to pay for it. If the floor wasn’t milled properly, it can be incredibly difficult to install, causing the installation prices to increase higher than the difference in higher quality materials would have been.
Usually, trying to save money in the wrong areas can be the most expensive mistake you can make. One sign of less expensive flooring is shorter lengths (this does not include fancy patterns like herringbones). If you look at a hardwood floor and the vast majority of pieces are 1’-2’ long, chances are it was the rejected pieces from a mill that they were looking to get rid of. If one of your friends owns a floor like this, be nice to them, they think they got a deal.
On the contrary, longer length boards with little defects (things like holes that make the board not suitable for flooring) are harder to come by. The wider the width, the more difficult it is to find longer boards without defects, it’s just the way trees work. Usually, more premium flooring will have a greater number of longer lengths. Most of Revel Woods wide plank offerings are between 6’-8’ lengths, with the vast majority of boards being 7’-8’ long.
Price is not the only factor as well. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean you’re not getting ripped off. You really need to know who you’re buying from. Ultimately, there’s so much interior designers are responsible for that the best thing to do is to work with a sourcing partner you trust, someone who is not going to steer you towards a problem, and should a problem arise, you know you can count on to fix it. Deal hunting with something as integral and long term to a project as hardwood flooring is a great way to get yourself into serious trouble.
“Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean you’re not getting ripped off. You really need to know who you’re buying from.”
Can you name some of the major myths of hardwood flooring?
JD: A quick look on the internet will show you all kinds of terrible advice. The problem is knowing how to sort the good from the bad. I could probably write a whole series on these. Here are some of my favorites:
Solid hardwood is “real” and engineered hardwood is “fake”
This one bothers me… a lot. From a real estate standpoint, there is no distinction between solid and engineered hardwood. Both will increase the value of your home equally. For the uninitiated, solid flooring is when each board is milled from one solid piece of wood. Engineered flooring is when a thinner (usually between 2-4mm) layer of real hardwood is attached to multiple layers of other species of wood. There are advantages and disadvantages of each and what is better is based purely on your situation.
I think the confusion on this arose with the popularity of laminate flooring. Unlike engineered flooring, the surface of laminate flooring is not real wood. It’s a picture of wood with a coating on top. When you see a knot or streak or anything on an engineered floor, it is a real tree knot, that’s a real piece of wood you are walking on, it’s just not as “thick” as a solid (something you can’t tell without ripping part of the floor up). When you see a knot in a laminate floor (this is also true of any imitation wood product including vinyl and WPC), it’s simply a picture. We call it the toupee of the flooring world. You’ve seen a good toupee right? You still knew it was a toupee though.
The part you have to watch out for in the imitation wood products is that they can be very convincing in small samples (like what you would typically find at a flooring retail store). What happens when you start laying it over a large area, is the patterns start repeating. That cool knot you saw in the sample starts showing up multiple times and it creates a subtle, almost subconscious unsettling feeling. When you look at one of these imitation floors there’s this little thing in the back of your mind that just doesn’t feel “right.”
Bamboo is eco-friendly
This one is tricky. In my experience, bamboo is the diet soda of the flooring world, in that it’s mostly marketing…and chemicals.
Essentially, bamboo as a plant is undeniably awesome. It’s a grass with a hardness that rivals some softer hardwoods. It grows incredibly fast compared to hardwood (5 years vs. ~60 years), so smaller areas can be harvested more often, its root system makes replanting unnecessary, making it both more sustainable and less expensive to consumers than hardwood. So what’s the issue?
First, while it’s true that bamboo grows faster than hardwood, in order to meet the demand for bamboo, many old growth hardwood forests were clear-cut and destroyed to plant new bamboo plantations, which lead to all kinds of soil erosion issues, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and all the other things that the little fairy was trying to prevent in Fern Gully.
Second, since the vast majority of bamboo is sourced in China. In order to get it to the United States, it has to be placed on a giant diesel powered freighter and pushed across the largest ocean in the world. According to one study, it was considered “greener” in Denver, CO to use locally sourced concrete over bamboo flooring based on the carbon emissions involved in the transportation alone.
Finally, Bamboo grows in narrow (compared to trees) shoots, so you can’t just mill it into wider planks without some industrial wizardry (read: processing and lots of glue). Because bamboo mostly comes from China, there are no manufacturing standards when it comes to materials used, so not only do you risk getting your flooring made with a toxic glue, you risk having it made with A LOT of toxic glue.
I’m told you can buy bamboo flooring manufactured without the toxic chemicals, but oftentimes, proof of the manufacturing process is not required, nor easily determinable with some Chinese manufacturers. Ultimately, you might be able to find responsibly sourced bamboo (not just a company claiming that with no real proof), but I source flooring for a living and I couldn’t tell you how to do it. Maybe you’ll get lucky, who knows?
How does Revel Woods typically work with interior designers?
JD: Through our Pro Account, Revel Woods is a tool that interior designers can use to easily source hardwood flooring for their clients anywhere in the US based on the client’s exact needs, and both make money as well as save their clients money in the process.
Designers who have pro accounts are given direct access to me and our network of professionals. I spend a lot of time answering any and all questions about flooring, ours as well as others. Personally I love it, most designers have such a unique perspective and I learn so much from them.
I also think interior designers are the future of home goods purchases in the United States.
When we started this project, it began by asking ourselves a question, “What does this industry look like in five years?” We know that large home goods has been slower to move to eCommerce than other industries, but there is no real reason to think it wouldn’t happen. And with the rise of the internet, the regional boundaries and limitations start to dissolve, and choice increases exponentially.
Once you no longer have only two stores in town to choose your flooring, you suddenly can get anything you want – from just about anywhere you want – and a well known phenomenon called the paralysis of choice sets in. As a consumer, the task of trying to source every possible item for a remodeling project suddenly becomes completely and utterly overwhelming.
This is where the interior design community is going to be even more critical. Not only can a competent designer cut through the clutter and put together an aesthetic that will make the space look amazing (in a fraction of the time), but also, will know where the best places to get everything is. The homeowner will not have to spend hours upon hours researching every possible website that sells home goods to see if it is in fact legit. If the designer works with the right partners, it should be less expensive to purchase these goods through the designer, so the money saved more than pays for the designer’s services.
Using an interior designer should be easier, faster, produce better results, and be less expensive than a homeowner trying to do it all him or herself. Once that message becomes even more ubiquitous, the interior design community should explode even further.
Our goal is to empower the interior design community to be able to sell a large item that may have previously been too difficult to source, like hardwood flooring. This easily creates a whole new dimension of service interior designers can offer their clients.
“If the designer works with the right partners, it should be less expensive to purchase these goods through the designer, so the money saved more than pays for the designer’s services.”
Can you offer interior designers some tips of best practices for sourcing fine hardwood flooring?
JD: Hardwood flooring is such a huge part of any project, and the costs of getting it wrong can be astronomical both in terms of dollars and the negative effect it can have on your client’s experience – and ultimately – your reputation, that interior designers are really left with three options.
Become an expert – This is a great option, but it is incredibly time consuming and expensive. If the designer is not sourcing flooring for every job, it’s had to justify the expense in both money and time.
Avoid it altogether – Currently, this is the most popular option. This is a perfectly reasonable, but unfortunate approach because being able to offer full design and sourcing options to one’s clients is a huge advantage over “decorators.”
Find the right partner – This option offers the best of all worlds. Any good designer knows having the right partners is everything, not just for sourcing the right product, but also being able to service the products long after the sale is made, and serving as a resource to both you and your clients throughout the entire process. This is difficult though because not every market may have the best partners locally. Hardwood flooring is a small industry and there are really only a small number of us who are truly experts.
Based on your knowledge, how has technology impacted the home remodeling and interior design business?
JD: The rise of the internet has essentially reduced or completely eliminated the regional limitations of commerce. Through technology like video conferencing and online shopping, consumers and designers alike are no longer limited to “whomever is close by.” If the best designer for my needs in Rochester, NY happens to live in Kansas City, we can work together without having to travel. And if that designer in Kansas City knows the best cabinets for my specific project come from a manufacturer in Portland, OR, I get the best possible result.
Technology has made the options available to the consumer almost limitless. As a consumer, I’m not limited to only working with designers in my town who source from suppliers in my town. The increased choices and competition is better for everyone.
In your opinion, why should interior designers embrace tools such as Ivy to bring their business operations online?
JD: It’s no surprise to anyone that interior design (and home goods in general) are going to continue to move online. More designers are going to work not only with remote clients, but also with remote vendors. The internet allows us to work with the right partners, no matter where they are, and does not limit us to our local markets.
Tools like Ivy streamline the process so designers can focus on doing what they are best at. If you’re a designer who likes to work with a specific type of client or project, there may only be so many in your local market. By having your business online, you can not only work with clients who are anywhere, you yourself can also work from anywhere, giving you that much more freedom and flexibility.
All of Revel Woods’s management systems, from billing, to shipping, to inventory, are all specialized cloud-based services. We are big believers in it.
“Tools like Ivy streamline the process so designers can focus on doing what they are best at.”
What’s Revel Woods’s focus for 2018?
JD: Our goal is to become the premium brand of hardwood flooring in the United States, to make having a Revel Woods floor the next great home status symbol. We want to be the primary resource for the interior design community, a partner to interior designers, so they can source premium hardwood flooring, quickly, easily, responsibly and at a reasonable price for any client in the United States.
Revel Woods is the first online hardwood flooring company built with the high-end residential interior designer in mind. We soft launched in 2017 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. We have doubled down and reinvested in making our site better, easier to use, and even more designer friendly for 2018. We believe so much in the interior designer community that we are investing heavily to help them as much as possible.
Here at Ivy, we’re more than just an interior design software. Our mission is to provide interior designers with the community, resources and tools needed to manage your business beautifully. Are you searching for a business management tool to help streamline your workflow as an interior designer?