If you ask Ernest Coletta what he wants to be, he will say “a ditch digger.”
If you ask him what he reads at night to relax, he’ll show you a copy of Human Survivability of Extreme Impacts (1963).
And if you join him for breakfast, expect it might be interrupted about 7:45.
And what does any of this have to do with Strati Climbing? Everything.
Hard work. Curiosity. Relationships.
Strati Climbing is the newest incarnation of Futurist Climbing Flooring and Mats, founded in 2010. Strati provides bouldering, roped and home wall flooring. Ernest purchased the company from his business partner in July 2020 and changed the company name.
It was a big decision for a man who would be happy being a ditch digger. Yet it makes perfect sense.
Strati is the expression of a lifelong habit of hard work. Ernest’s valued work crew will tell you he hangs in for the work all the way to the end. If it is 10pm on the jobsite and seams still need to be attached, he will choose staying to finish over doing it the next day. It’s that ditch digger in him. The drive to take a job and do it well until it’s done. No half-dug ditch will do.
His team members share his work ethic and an equally intense drive for quality. After a long day on the job, it’s completely usual to find them, over takeout dinner, talking through the endless details of how to rework an aspect of the day’s work. “The seam near the front desk” will be talked about from all angles, each team member giving input, until they come up with a satisfactory solution. And while you may or may not want to join them for the minutia and length of that conversation, you definitely want that crew on your job.
And that article on Extreme Impacts? It’s about an obsession with flooring materials.
“Strati,” meaning “layers” in Italian, are the layers between the climber and the concrete. Those small pieces of epherma that make all the difference in a critical situation. Foam, vinyl, velcro, carpet. Ernest has a true fascination with these materials and with how they interact with falling. Materials occupy his mind, the sticky notes on his desk, his leisure reading, and his meals (foam talking anyone?).
As for the foam part of the strati, there are less than a handful of companies that make raw foam in the U.S. It is an expensive raw material and in 2020 the price went up several times. Part of what Strati works to do is cushion the client from the rise in foam prices―by increasing efficiency in other areas of design, production or installation―while actually increasing quality (back to materials).
And yet loving the ingredients, as fascinating as they are, isn’t enough to build a company. The final drive comes from a commitment to all the layers of the Strati community: colleagues, staff and clients/friends.
Many days at Strati start with a 7:45am call from the manufacturer. When the phone rings at Ernest’s house, usually in the kitchen during a busy breakfast time, everyone knows who it is. “It’s your twin,” someone will call out. These two men are cut from the same sturdy cloth of decency and integrity―one in Albuquerque and one in America’s heartland.
Strati floors are made in an industrial building full of enormous technicolor spools of vinyl and mountains of foam. Here family members work alongside long-time employees and expert sewers who have decades of experience. Their reservoir of knowledge and skill is what really makes it possible to turn raw materials into quality floors. This is the perfect team to work, and rework, design innovations to perfection.
One of their significant innovations was to move from hand cutting the flooring to installing state-of-the-art laser guided cutting. There was nothing wrong with the hand cutting, in fact it was done brilliantly by dedicated workers. Still, the manufacturing team trusted Ernest to add the laser, at a significant price. It paid off. This innovation―along with a scanning laser that Ernest uses during the design phase―increased precision and sped up manufacturing time, which led to a reduction in cost and increased quality for the customer.
After the floors are cut to precision, they are loaded into contract trucks. The team works all angles to organize trucking that meets installation deadlines and saves money. That’s no small task when trucks are in high demand or when a blizzard is looming on a major trucking route.
When the truck arrives at the worksite, Strati installers get working. These men and women―Scott, Sam, Abel, Steve, Skinny, Shane, Nate, Josef, Livia and two Taylors―work with a deep respect for each other and each individual project. They know exactly what to do. They work hard and fast. They approach each job with an artist’s love of craft.
The flooring arrives at the worksite like a well-organized puzzle, ready to be assembled by the crew. All of the attention that has been paid to materials, design and production pay off. Clients often comment how Strati teams spend less days on the job than other flooring companies. For gyms this means less days of shuttered doors and lost revenues and a faster opening time for new facilities.
From a 100-degree work site in Kentucky to a 40-degree one in NYC, this team perfects flexibility. Good coffee, humor and a love for the customer make it happen. At the end of the job, the staff stand back―hands hurting, backs sore―and feel a marrow level pride in the work. Most of the staff are climbers, so they get it. Their work matters.
Their dedication matters to the customers. Building a gym is a very costly proposition. Strati respects that. Ernest’s relationship with his customer often starts up to a year before the actual installation. He takes as many calls from his customers as they want to make. If the call goes long, he leaves his dark office in the garage and goes and sits in the NM sunshine. These conversations span over months and cover big terrain: flooring colors (green, pink, purple), severely uneven concrete at the job site, construction delays, walkways, wear patterns, human flow in the facility, ADA and fire code compliance, cleaning and maintenance, and ensuring space for lift access. The conversation might end with an “oops, gotta go” when a client ‘s kids get off Zoom school, but it will pick up the next week.
Other common topics are how to avoid costly flooring mistakes, such as paying for too much flooring or not designing enough coverage to protect climbers (Strati follows European standards)―things no customer wants to find out about during the installation phase, especially during a pandemic.
The Strati team has installed floors in some of the highest traffic gyms in the country. Many of these floors keep performing for the gym owners and climbers, while other gyms have had to replace several floors over the same period of time. This means Strati sells less floors but has happy customers.
Thousands of climbers have touched these floors, never knowing what went into them. You could say that a floor is just a floor and a company is just a company. Unless it is not. Unless it is vinyl and foam carved into a utilitarian masterpiece. Unless it’s a ditch dug to perfection.
For more information about Strati Climbing:
Ernest Coletta, Owner
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