A half-size basketball court with hardwood floor dominates the showroom at a Princeton business, inviting visitors to try to swish a basketball through the basket at one end.
The name of the business is FLR Sanders, which installs, renovates and maintains gymnasium and specialty floors in a five-state region including Minnesota. The business’s roots go back to 1993 when its founder, Kevin Covlin, had a subcontracting business installing residential wood floors.
The ownership now consists of Kevin and his wife Debbie Covlin, and longtime employee Barry Ramage Jr., who the Covlins call Junior.
Flying incident led to business plan
Debbie Covlin became a partner in the business a year or so after she took a medical leave from a job as a pilot captain of an Airbus A320 jet liner. During a particular flight in 1999, changes in air pressure damaged inner parts of her ears so she had to give up her medical certificate for piloting, she said. She had already been doing bookkeeping for Kevin Covlin’s flooring business and while mulling over what to do next for a career, she decided to become a partner in the flooring business.
Debbie Covlin , a native of Hope, N.D., and Kevin Covlin, a native of southern Saskatchewan, met at a church convention in Emo, Ontario, in 1984 and married in 1985.
Her business degree at the University of North Dakota gave her bookkeeping and marketing skills, which were very useful for the couple in about 2000. That was when she became the business partner and they decided to have their own flooring business rather than just be a flooring subcontractor. This was also the time the couple decided to move from their home at Wonder Lake, near Chicago, to Spencer Brook Township east of Princeton.
The couple’s new property had some acreage, and they ran their new business in outbuildings there for about seven years.
Debbie Covlin said that as the business expanded, she and Kevin decided it would make more sense if they had one structure to work out of, so they had a 10,000-square-foot building constructed in the industrial park north of Princeton city limits between Rum River Drive North and the Highway 169 bypass. Ramage, by then, was moving into the partnership.
Besides the half basketball court and work areas, the building has a conference room with samples of the different hardwood floor systems to order and photos of about a dozen projects the business has completed, most of them gymnasium floors.
The basketball floor in the FLR Sanders building is in itself a sampler. The floor of hard maple has nine sections, each one with a different subfloor system to give an idea of how different kinds floors respond to jumping and the bouncing of balls.
What makes the difference in the bounce, Debbie and Kevin Covlin explain, is the kind of subfloor. Many wrongly believe that a floor with up and down movement or shock absorption when it is jumped on will assist the player like a trampoline, Kevin Covlin said. But the best floor for helping a jump shot or for getting a good ball bounce, he said, is the floor with no movement up and down. When a player pushes off from a solid floor, the surface pushes the energy back outward, he explained.
If a gym had a floor meant only for volleyball, then the ideal floor would be more of the shock-absorbing type, while if it is meant to be used for basketball, then it would be a floor with no sponge in it, Kevin Covlin noted.
One of the more complex floor systems that FLR Sanders installs is one with a humidity meter in the subfloor that activates a subfloor ventilation system when the humidity exceeds a certain limit.
Three major floor systems with variations
FLR Sanders offers three major floor systems – floating, fixed and fixed resilient – and within each system are variations to make a total of about 30 different floors to order from. Besides that, the company’s graphic art designer, Mike Young, works with clients to design whatever logo and color combinations they want for their floors.
One of the photos at FLR Sanders is of the former Des Moines library, a grand, old structure now occupied by the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. The FLR Sanders crew two years ago installed 10,000 square feet of wood flooring on the first three levels of the four-story building. The National Building Association named it the Top Project for Iowa, and the work also received the Platinum Leed honor for meeting certain criteria including the recovery of historical materials, Debbie Covlin noted.
The new wood flooring that the FLR Sanders crew installed helped return old world craftsmanship to the historic structure, she added.
Just a few of the educational facilities where the company has had projects, whether it be installation or maintenance, include Mankato State University, St. Cloud State University and the school districts of Princeton, Cambridge-Isanti, St. Francis and Milaca.
Debbie Covlin couldn’t say what FLR Sanders project is the most memorable for her so far, but said the former Des Moines library building is a standout.
She does know what she likes most about her work in the business.
“I really enjoy working with our employees,” she said. “They are a talented group.”
FLR Sanders has 15 full-time employees year-round, plus it supplements the crew during the summer (its busiest season), with about 25 or more part-time workers.
Northern-grown, hard maple is the wood that the business commonly installs in its floors, one exception being the white oak floors installed in the Des Moines building.
Important to the business is its floor maintenance contracts. It currently has one with the Princeton school district.
The business also makes vinyl templates needed for applying designs and logos on wood floors for other flooring businesses.
Asked about trends in the business, Kevin and Debbie Covlin said they are seeing customers seeking ever more specialty designs, and Debbie Covlin said she thinks FLR Sanders has perpetuated much of that trend.
Kevin Covlin said that when athletic teams go from school to school to play games, they will notice the gym floors and as a result there have been a lot of cases of schools trying to outdo other schools in their gym floor. It doesn’t mean necessarily building a new floor; it could just mean stripping and sanding and applying new designs and refinishing. Often the process involves staining some parts darker than others.
Kevin Covlin noted that when he first began working in the business, the plans were to mostly have the basic lines and borders needed for athletic events such as basketball. But sometime after the early 2000s, calls increased for more specialized designs with fancy logos and colors, he said.
“We really push the art work,” Kevin Covlin added. “There’s no limit to what we can do. We get the logo from the school and sometimes they don’t know what they want. Then (designer) Mike (Young) starts playing with it and sends them a layout. As soon as you give them an idea of what it can actually look like, the gears start turning in their heads.”
Sometimes the back and forth between the designer and the client is a few times, while sometimes it can go to 30 times, Kevin Covlin said.
Photos in the conference room show gym floors with fancy abstract designs of raptors and other birds and names like the Cardinals at the high school gym in Ellendale, N.D., the Winhawk logo at Winona High, or the Vikings emblem at Bethany Lutheran College. It was the company’s project at Pierz High School where it first did fading of colors on the floor borders, going from black to red.
The 37,000-square-foot gym floor at East Ridge High School is the largest floor that FLR Sanders has done, Kevin Covlin said, noting that it has room for six full basketball courts.
When asked how their business has been going, Kevin Covlin put it this way: “This has been good for us. It’s not been a real huge growth, but a nice, steady growth since about 2000.”
But Kevin and Debbie Covlin also seem to find something else in their work – satisfaction in what they are doing. Both indicated they enjoy the work for the design possibilities that come with each new job and Kevin Covlin said it also provides good jobs for college kids during the summer.
Kevin also talked about the personal feeling he gets from the business.
“I take every floor I work on personally,” he said. “That’s our floor. We take pride in it.”