Schmidt Custom Floors

Manufacturers & Makers

An interview with Wayne Lepak

SCHMIDT CUSTOM FLOORING WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN

Tell us about your business.

Schmidt Custom Floors was started in 1968 by the father of President Tim Schmidt. The company grew from the family garage to a storefront focusing strictly on hardwood floors. In 2008, they started to branch out into other types of flooring — carpet, tile, vinyl, and athletic flooring. In 2011, we started Handcrafted by Schmidt. This line of made-to-order flooring differentiates us in the marketplace because of the unique and premium quality of solid hardwood, but also because we use old-world hand-scraping techniques we learned from the Amish. Handcrafted is for people who want something unique or different than what they typically find in stores. Wisconsin Urban Wood is sold as part of the Handcrafted by Schmidt line.

What inspired you to start working with urban wood?

We get a number of customers asking for reclaimed wood, and urban wood is another specialty item that has a nice story customers want. Urban wood flooring hasn’t been around for that long. In some cases, we introduce it to customers who have never heard of it before. We also offer urban wood availability to architects and design professionals in search of it.

How does the process work?

We present urban wood flooring to our customers proactively through marketing materials and sales people, and reactively if a customer comes in looking for a unique and/or environmentally sustainable product. In our sales process of getting to know each customer, we create a checklist of flooring products that may be a good fit for them. When urban wood is selected as the flooring choice, we work with Wudeward Urban Forest Products and Wisconsin Urban Wood to get raw lumber made from logs and then dried. Then we have a partnership with a flooring mill in north-central Wisconsin that cuts the raw lumber into flooring. We install the flooring and finish it to our customer’s liking.

Do the options vary because the inventory varies?

We have about four species available at any time, common trees you find in Wisconsin residential areas such as maple, ash, elm, oak, and sometimes walnut. The availability does vary. Urban wood is a small part of our business right now because we offer hundreds of different flooring options. Urban wood inventory availability can be an issue at times because flooring options are few.

Who are your ideal customers?

Commercial and residential clients who are looking for a local product. Businesses whose brand or draw is Wisconsin related, like a brewery or a restaurant, would most likely have a larger interest in urban wood because it becomes part of their story and customer experience. Same with people who want to feature local, sustainable materials in their home. They are most likely to have a larger interest in knowing logs from their community were converted into good lumber that was used for millwork, flooring, and possibly furniture as part of their personal story.

How do you promote your business to these ideal customers?

We are the exclusive flooring supplier of Wisconsin Urban Wood. It’s a specialty product they can only get through us, which in itself is a good advertisement. Our marketing messages are that we are the sole providers and that we custom- manufacture the flooring from urban wood lumber for each project. We are hoping to have the opportunity to offer our own pre-finished flooring in the future. In that case, we could have some readily available right from the store. Pre-finished would expand our urban wood customer base to those who prefer not to have the blotches or sanding marks that can at times come with unfinished flooring projects.

What can the industry do to help?

Work with us to create demand. If people come into our showroom with an idea of what urban wood is, or with the curiosity to learn more about it, we can easily sell it from there. When people are interested and asking about it, it eliminates a lot of the process.

Name your top challenges working with urban wood.

Our main challenge is that most of the product is mill run and determined by the yield of the log, so we have varying widths in the boards. Some are 3 inches wide, some 4 inches and others 5 inches, which is different than the normal hardwood floor where all boards are the same width. People can request a specific width, but the price is 30 percent more. Price, in general, is another challenge because we don’t have enough urban wood sold. The more we can sell, the more inventory we have to work with and that helps get the price down. We feel the price is OK right now for customers where unique, local, or sustainable is a priority, but for some who are first introduced to it when meeting with a sales person, it may be out of their budget yet.

Name your top benefits of working with urban wood

The interesting story and the credibility it provides our company. We used urban wood flooring in a Parade of Homes model home and got a lot of questions from people. As awareness of it grows, more and more people are interested.

Join the Movement

Our mission is to inform, collaborate, and connect to build business and consumer confidence in the urban wood industry. Whether you are looking to expand your existing model or want to start a new business dedicated to urban wood, click here to see how we can help you be successful.

The Urban Wood Network is made up of individual and organizational efforts in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin, working in cooperation to connect and enhance the full circle of sustainable urban forestry. This website was created as part of the grant project, Bringing Urban Forestry Full Circle: Localized Approaches for Capturing Value and Enhancing Public Benefits from Urban Forests, funded by the U.S. Forest Service. The Urban Wood Network provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics.