Smoothing out the Rough Spots
“What do you do when the family business gets thrust into your lap unexpectedly?” Karen Galebach Haldeman asked. “You do a lot of soul searching, praying, and decision making!”
Galebach’s Floor Finishing, Inc. was founded in 1924 by John K. Galebach, a carpenter who, because he disliked hand-scraping floors so much, decided to take a chance and purchase one of the first electric floor-sanding machines, putting it to use and thus beginning what would become a successful family-run business.
His son, Harold, who grew up watching his father’s hard work, graduated business school and served in the Air Force before he joined the family business in 1948. When his father retired, he took over the business.
Harold’s son John, who also grew up in the family business, joined the company after college graduation, and then in 1989, took over when his father retired. He was the third-generation operator of Galebach’s Floor Finishing, Inc. until his shocking death in 1997.
“On a family camping trip he was stung by a bee,” Galebach Haldeman, John’s wife, said. “He died within minutes. It was like a cloud descended upon our lives and everything became surreal and foggy … for a long time.”
John was only 45 at the time. They had two young sons at home, they were in the middle of restoring an old Victorian home in Landisville, and Galebach Haldeman was in her 17th year as a florist, managing a Royer’s Flowers shop in Lancaster.
“They say you should not make any ‘meaningful’ decisions for at last a year after your spouse dies,” she said. “Nice thought, but not possible. Suddenly everything changed for me. If I had a nickel for every time I had to retell the story of what happened that day … but I think that is what finally got me out of that cloud. Telling the story and crying.”
Life goes on, though, and Galebach Haldeman’s customers, their employees, her employer, and most importantly, her family, all wanted to know the plan. It was time for her to make a decision about the possibility of taking over for her late husband.
“Could I do this?” Galebach Haldeman remembers thinking. “I knew nothing about floors, but I did have experience in running a business … so I took the plunge and said, ‘Yes, I can do this!’”
Her father-in-law was an invaluable resource and mentor in sales for the first few years, helping her with providing clients with quotes, learning how to measure, and knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how to price.
“My mother-in-law, Dorothy, showed me how to do the books, and my employees showed me the process. I worked with them for the first five years or so, actually doing the work,” Galebach Haldeman said.
She also did a lot of research, reading everything she could find about wooden floors. She took classes and sought the advice of those who had been in the business for a long time.
Her personal life took a turn in 2001 when she married Mark Haldeman, owner of Haldeman Mechanical, Inc.
“Now we had to run two businesses!” she said. But somehow “the house got finished, the children grew up, and the phone is still ringing with customers wanting their floors done! Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. It took a lot of planning and determination.”
Her hard work paid off. Now, 18 years later, Galebach Haldeman said that Galebach’s Floor Finishing, Inc. has doubled in size and has done more than 5,500 jobs.
Galebach Haldeman found out the hard way just how difficult running your own business can be, and she admits that if she knew then what she knows now, she probably would not have done it.
“I jumped fearlessly into a man’s world,” she said. “The saving grace was that this was an established business and I did not have to advertise much.”
She has come to value greatly the relationships developed over the years with local tradesmen and knows that their support helped give her the confidence she needed at the time when she needed it the most.
“They accepted me as ‘one of them,’ and the work continued to flow our way,” she said.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges. One of the biggest issues Galebach Haldeman faced was not long after her husband’s death when the Galebach’s Furniture Store in Lancaster, run by relatives of her family, sold the company and went out of business.
“I remember there being people on street corners with signs reading ‘Galebach’s going out of business.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s just great. People will think it’s us,’” said Galebach Haldeman. It was one of her biggest lessons in the importance of effective advertising and how to go about that facet of running your own business.
Galebach Haldeman still enjoys meeting clients in their homes and helping them figure out what will be the perfect fit for their needs and their families. But she also knows that without dedicated employees, Galebach’s Floor Finishing, Inc. wouldn’t continue to experience the success it has enjoyed since 1924.
“They are great guys and will go the extra mile to make sure the customers are pleased,” she said. “They are true craftsmen and I am very proud of them.”
Beyond her work with the business, Galebach Haldeman likes to stay involved with the community through various fundraisers and Special Olympics, in which her youngest son is also involved. She enjoys traveling and just spending time with her husband.
“We always have lots to talk about with two businesses going!” laughed Galebach Haldeman.
Through all her struggles, Galebach Haldeman has found strength in her faith and the love and support of family and friends, and so, to that end, she has claimed as her life scripture Proverbs 3:5-6, which says: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him. And He shall direct thy paths. (KJV)” BW