‘It just kept growing’

By Mike Lewis
Ralph Dorsey and his late brother, Wayne, formed Dorsey Brothers flooring company in Hagerstown in 1965. Wayne died in March 2018. Ralph, who will be 81 in June, reports for work each day at about 7 a.m. On a break, he prefers a cup of decaf tea.

Ralph Dorsey, co-owner, Dorsey Brothers

By Mike Lewis

Coffee Break

Ralph Dorsey will celebrate his 81st birthday in June, but he’s still showing up for work at 7 a.m., paging through paperwork, driving a forklift and helping unload trucks that deliver supplies to his business, Dorsey Brothers.

“I enjoy it. I do,” Dorsey said.

Ralph and his late brother, Wayne, started the company more than 50 years ago. Back then, they focused on floors. These days, the company still sells and installs all manner of flooring, and it has expanded to also offer bathroom remodels from start to finish, as well as countertops, wall coverings and other work for residential, educational and commercial buildings.

Ralph Dorsey said he was working as a carpenter decades ago when some contractors urged him to become a floor refinisher. Those contractors saw a need in the area, he said, so he spent a little time learning the ropes. He soon branched out on his own.

“I went and borrowed the money and bought all the equipment and started. … It just kept growing, and we just kept adding things,” he said.

Some of that growth was spurred when the company moved in 1974 into its current space on U.S. 40 just east of Hagerstown, Md. About 15 people work at the company, he said, although Dorsey Brothers has a larger impact than that on area employment.

“We’ve got subcontractors that we sub work out to,” he said. “We do a lot of commercial work now.”

The company works with all of the major general contractors in the area, while trying to keep worksites within about 50 miles from home.

“We’ve got enough (work) around here,” he said.

Wayne Dorsey died in 2018. His widow, Marlene Dorsey, is one of four owners in the family business, Ralph Dorsey said. The other two are Ralph’s son, Harold Dorsey, and daughter, Sandy VanReenan.

On a break, do you reach for coffee, tea, soda, water … ?

Most mornings I drink decaf tea. If I’m traveling I’ll drink decaf coffee. But I prefer tea.

An average day for you includes … ?

Most days I’m up at 6 a.m. and get into the office around 7 a.m. to help get the installation crews loaded out for the day. After that I may be running to pick up materials, or driving our forklift, unloading a delivery truck that’s shown up with materials. Then I may write up orders that have come in the week before, so we can keep the flow of work going smoothly.

Up until a little over a year ago, my brother, Wayne Dorsey, would be the one that did a lot of the “running.” But, sadly, Wayne passed a little over a year ago. We both started the company in 1965, just the two of us.

How has Dorsey Brothers changed with the times to last more than a half-century?

When we started our business, all we did was wood floor refinishing. After we got established we decided to branch out and do ceramic tile, carpet and sheet vinyl. As time went on and we moved into our new building in 1974, we had room to add more products. We started offering pre-finished hardwood floors, wallpaper, window treatments, draperies and eventually partnered with a local company and we now offer granite, quartz and solid-surface countertops. One of the services that we offer, that has really taken off for us is, complete bathroom remodeling. Many of our older clients are having the bath tubs removed and having us put in walk-in showers. They are finding it safer and easier for them to get in and out of.

Looking at the next few years, what are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges your business could face?

As far as challenges, by far the biggest is finding people to do the installation. We are even willing to do on-the-job training. It seems not many are even interested in learning a trade. It is hard work, for sure. And it’s totally hands-on. There isn’t much education offered to learn how to be a flooring mechanic. That’s why we are willing to do on-the-job training.

As far as opportunities, we see our market getting stronger. We have seen several flooring stores in the Tri-State area close. That just means more work for the rest of us. The new home construction market has taken off again. It was non-existent for a while. So we are very optimistic for the future.

What do you wish more people knew about your business?

That we are family-owned and -operated and always have been. It’s personal for us. If a project doesn’t go as it should, it’s our name on the line. That’s why we work so hard at doing the best job possible.

Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

I love when Little League season comes around. Dorsey Brothers has sponsored a team at Valley Little League since 1992. That’s 27 years of sitting in the stands and cheering on our team. I’ve also been a member of the Funkstown Lion’s Club for 40 years. It’s a lot of work, but the Lion’s Club does a lot of good for the community in the way of donations and scholarship.

Want to share a cup of coffee (or tea, like Ralph Dorsey) with our readers? Send an email to facetime@crossroadsbizjour nal.com or call reporter Mike Lewis at 301-791-7482.