Hardwood Floors Calgary
The Principals of Success – Smith Bros. Floors 96th Anniversary
Honesty and Integrity. These are the two words that reveal volumes about a business and in some cases are the foundation for success. It is those two words that you hear over and over again throughout the history of Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. established in 1918 here in Calgary.
There is nothing fancy about being honest. There is nothing superficial about having integrity. They are two principals that customers respect, rely on and seek. Yet, most business owners won’t say that being honest and having integrity are the key to their success. Smith Bros. Floors will.
The ownership of this company, eatablished in Calgary 100 years ago, has passed through three generations of the Smith family. A lot has changed in the business world since 1918. Manpower has become machine power. A contract has replaced a simple handshake. Ledgers have become elaborate computer programs. Business practices do change, and companies do more, do it faster, and are more efficient than ever. But some things shouldn’t change, and those things are doing what you say and saying what you do. Smith Bros has been doing this for generations.
It was 1911 when a young man named Charles Moses Smith left the town of Lunnenburg Nova Scotia and neaded west. Born in 1887, a short 20 years after the country of Canada itself was born, Charles traveled the original CPR in search of prosperity in the Canadian prairies. He stepped off the train in southern Alberta, and like many other young men he went to the fields to find work.
Charles worked for seven years as a farmer in Three Hills, earning enough money to purchase his own piece of land. He travelled back to Lunnenburg, where he married his sweetheart Edna Victoria Richardson and brought her back to Alberta. It very soon became apparent that life on the farm was not for Edna, so shortly after their return it was decided they would leave their rural environs behind. They purchased a small house at 314 20th Ave. S.W. in the pioneer city of Calgary Alberta.
Charles went to work for his half brother in Calgary doing odd jobs in the construction business. This was where he bacame familiar with the wood flooring trade. After a few months working for his sibling, Edna told Charles that if he could work this hard for someone else, he could certainly make a living working this hard for himself, and at that moment Smith Floors was born. It was 1918.
Smith Floors was as unpretentious a company as they came. The business was run from the Smith’s home in Mission and each day Charles would set off on his bicycle, strapped with a hammer, a hand saw and a box of nails in search of work in the homes being build around the fledgling city.
Charles became very adept at working with wood floors and he managed to find enough jobs word began to spread among the home builders that the young Smith was a hard working, honest man who got the job done and got it done right.
In 1920, Charles welcomed their first son Carl, who was followed by Roy in 1922. Ten years later, Robert, whom everyone would call Bob, was born. Charles was able to hammer out a modest living for his family becoming one of the city’s few true experts in tongue-and-groove flooring.
The early 1920’s were tragic years for economies worldwide, as the Depression ravaged people’s lives. The Turner Valley oil strike in 1937 energized the city, and the prospect of riches in southern Alberta brought a rush of new people, new business and new money to the area. For Smith Floors, that meant a whole crop of new houses would require their services.
As was the common practice of the era, Charles began to involve his sons in the business. Carl and Roy both worked in the business but it was Roy who took a real interest in long term plans for the company and in 1939, Roy and Charles renamed the company C.H.Smith and Son. The start of the Second World War prompted the two older boys to serve their country, with Roy spending three years in the Air Force and Carl, tragically giving his life in the fight for liberty.
In the years following the War, a massive oil strike near Leduc meant once again the Calgary economy would begin to roll. C.M. Smith and Son was by now the biggest wood flooring company in southern Alberta.The 1950’s and 1960’s were heady times for the flooring company. Calgary’s homebuilders were constructing new neighborhoods throughout the city, and where they went, so too didC.M. Smith and Son. In 1955 Charles suffered a stroke and a few years later Roy and Bob took over the business, incorporated it, and renamed it Smith Bros. Floors Ltd.
The brothers had no design on doing anything different with the company than their father had done, and why would they? They knew full well how their father had built the business and there was no need to change the basic principles of the company.
By the 1960’s Smith Bros. Floor Ltd. had a crew of 29 installers and finishers working on hundreds of homes a year. Roy and Bob also constructed an office and warehouse facility at 7128 Fairmount Dr. S.E. where the company has operated from since. For a time, the brothers were unloading a rail car full of wood flooring a week, some 25,000 square feet per carload from a siding track directly adjacent to their property.
Even as busy as Roy and Bob were at that time they still operated the company much as their father had: honest work for honest pay. “Money was never our primary objective, ” recalls Roy. “We maintaned the quality of the work and the honestly and integrity that our father had started.:
Along with the growing economy one of the main reasons Smith Bros. Floor Ltd. was keeping so busy was because all homes required some sort of permanent floor covering to qualify for a mortgage from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Unfortunately for the Smiths, that changed in the mid-1960’s. Manufacturing techniques and improvements in the carpet industry allowed carpet manufacturers to produce in much higher volumes than ever before. This advance in conjunction with the CMHC decision to recognize broadloom as an acceptable floor covering to qualify for a mortgage took some of the air out of the balloon for the Smith family business. Hardwood floor was no longer the standard floor covering in many homes so Roy and Bob decided to supply and install carpet and linoleum for a short time before dropping the service in the mid-1970s.
The company suffered some setbacks in the late 1960s and Smith Bros. had to downsize its work crew, which was not an easy thing to do for Roy and Bob. The employees that remained with the company were provided with steady work because responsibility to, and respect for their employees, was another well-grounded principle for the Smith family.
“There were times when the men took home more money than the owners did, but we endured” says Roy. “We always thought of the long term, so a few setbacks didn’t upset us too much.”
Around 1980, hardwood floors began to make their comeback as home designers once again returned to including hardwood in their plans. This development started a resurgence within the wood flooring industry and for Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. By now there were many more product options in terms of actual woods, colours and finishes, and prefinished floors were becoming another quality alternative. Hardwood no longer required regular waxing treatments in order to maintain them. The new finishes, being easier to keep, caused people to again choose hardwood over their other floor coverings.Asthma and allergy sufferers were recognizing that the clean hardwood surface provided a positive impact on their health.
The economic bust slowed the growth of the business that was brought on by the increased demand for wood flooring in 1982. The passage of the National Energy Program coincided with a significant downturn in the Calgary economy that would take years to build up again. Some of Calgary’s largest home builders, which build the houses of the Leduc era boom, failed and went backrupt.
However, out of the ashes came a whole new crop of home builders full of energy and new ideas. It was these companies that lead the charge out of the recession, and when they began to build their homes a lot of them called on Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. for their work.
By the time the business began to recover, the third generation of Smith’s were already in volved in the business. Roy’s son Paul had been going to job sites since he was four years old and by the time he was in high school he was nailing floors right beside his father. He spent his summers installing gymnasium floors across southern Alberta, which was a big piece of the business during the summer months. Roy did not pressure his son at all to join the family business and Paul went on to attend the University of Calgary.
“All my life I had been around the family business, yet my Dad never pressed me to get on board,” says Paul. “When my grandfather owned the business it was quite common for sons to take over from their fathers, but for me I didn’t feel initially the desire to one day own the business. That would change, of course.”
Soon after he graduated with his economics degree Paul decided to join the family enterprise. At the same time, Kent Archer, who dated Paul’s sister Melodie when they were attending university and would later marry her, joined the company as a part-time installer. As the company approached the 1990s Paul and Kent became fast friends and it was these two young men that would eventually take over the business.
1990 marked another period of transition for the flooring trades, as hardwood became more popular. Competition was strong and prices began to drop and in fact, would not return to their previous level. That created brand new challenges for the business.
Home designers were also getting more creative with their floor plans, exchanging the relatively square rooms of the past for new angles and creating nooks and enclaves all over the home.
“Installing and finishing wood flooring became more of a production,” says Kent. “As people became more educated, they wanted to see unique things in their homes, including a variety of stain colours, exotic wood species, custom features and inlays. We had to make sure we had the materials on hand and the skills to install, finish, and service these types of floors.”
Just because Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. is a company built on traditional values and business principles does not mean it resisted changes within the industry. Conversely, the fact is the company is so rich in experience that it can be on the leading edge of new developments. Many of the installers and finishers had remained with the Smith family for years, and in conjuction with Roy and Bob, passed on their experience to the younger employees. Paul and Kent were among these employees at the time and reveled at the opportunity to add their own creativity to their products.
“We really got into custom flooring in a big way. It is probably what we enjoy doing the most and there is nobody better at doing custom work,” says Paul. “It’s a different business for us. There is more interaction with the homeowner and home designers. We enjoy sitting down with people and discussing all the possibilities they have with wood flooring.”
The company’s volume began to increase in 1996 as Calgary’s housing market began to skyrocket. Kent and Paul decided to renovate their building in 1996 in order to modernize the offices and add a showroom. When it was completed, there was 3,000 square feet of warehouse space including a new shop and 1,200 square feet of showroom and office space.
As volumes increased, a real challenge for the business was to manage an increasing product line and work schedule and make sure eveything and everyone was where they were supposed to be in order to complete the jobs. For that task, the partners began to introduce computer technology to the operation.
Fortunately for Kent and Paul, they had the person to do the job already on the payroll in the name of Stephen O’Grady. Stephen was part of the company’s extended family, having married Kent’s sister Karen in 1985. He also had a degree in economics, was a tireless worker, as well as being very well versed in computers. Having worked within the company for years, Stephen was well aware of where technology could help the operation.
“There is more pressure in our business than ever before. Customers are more educated, making specific requirements and therefore we have to be more efficient to manage the volume we do,” says Stephen. “The key is scheduling, making sure the right people with the right materials are there at the right time. With thousands of quotes a year being done, that is way too much information to try and keep on paper.”
The computer system that now helps manage Smith Bros. was largely designed and installed by Stephen. It is a truly state of the art Macintosh environment with the capacity to manage scheduling, inventory, ordering, accounting, payroll and also contains detailed customer files.
Paul and Kent attribute the company’s ability to manage its volume to the performance of their new operating systems.
“It has really made all the difference. We have all the information at our finger tips and that makes us a flooring contractor that is very easy to do business with,” says Paul.
Indeed a lot of things have changed since Charles Smith would ride to work on his bicycle. After nearly 60 years of work, Roy and Bob (both deceased now) would still come into the office each day to make sure the boys are holding the fort. A quality hardwood floor still takes the right material, an experienced hand and a commitment to quality. And, above all else, the success of Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. depends on the principles instilled over the 100 years of business.
“Kent and I are in the business for the long term, and, like my grandfather and my father, getting rich quick is not our biggest priority,” says Paul. “We really enjoy being involved with all types of hardwood flooring projects. We are thrilled to see our employees do well and we greatly appreciate our customers. In the end though, it comes back to two things: honesty and integrity. Those two things will never change.”
– Smith Bros Floors – Hardwood Floors Calgary