By Rebecca Hazen
Reinel Solano, a Houston businessman with a background in the oil industry, has recently started a new career path as a franchise business manager with Floor Coverings International.
Solano, who is openly gay, has been an active member of Houston’s LGBT community, including having served as a leader of his former oil company’s Pride group.
Originally from Colombia, Solano moved to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, receiving a master of science degree in petroleum engineering. “My hometown in Colombia is an oil town,” he explains. “I grew up around the industry.”
Solano’s love of challenging work is what first attracted him to the oil and gas industry. “When I graduated from high school, I was told that an oil career was challenging and difficult,” he says. “Well, [I said,] let’s go for it.”
Many of Solano’s co-workers in Colombia had come to the United States to attend graduate school, and he wanted to be competitive and have the same advantages. “I came here with a suitcase and $9,000 for my tuition, and I made it happen,” he explains. “I went to school, got a great job, and succeeded in achieving the American dream.”
Solano moved to Houston 15 years ago and ended up working at BP for his entire career, advancing to a team-leader position for the last four years. “I really enjoyed my time in the industry,” he says. “It was very interesting.”
However, due to the industry’s downturn, Solano ended up losing his job at BP. In fact, Solano estimates that 50 to 60 percent of people in the company lost their jobs “It is very hard to get a job in that field right now,” he emphasizes.
After evaluating how the skills he had acquired could be applied to another field, Solano decided to get a franchise business. “I wanted to have a second adventure in my life,” Solano explains.
“I researched different franchises, and Floor Coverings International was the one that I felt had good leadership,” Solano adds. “They were always innovating, and there was a lot of potential for growing the company.” He has been with their Houston Heights location for six months now.
Solano may be biased, but he believes that his firm is “the best flooring company in North America.” They handle the installation of products such as hardwood, carpet, stone tile, laminates, vinyl, and area rugs. “The company offers quality products and great customer service,” Solano says. “We help customers with a consultation, make them feel really comfortable, and find solutions for them. I am proud of the values of the company.”
Since a home renovation project can be a disruptive process in someone’s life, Solano believes it is important to be close to the customer from the beginning to the end of the renovation.
As a business manager, Solano focuses on marketing and sales, working with two office assistants and a team of installers.
When asked to compare his two career paths, Solano replies, “At BP, I was going to the same office day in and day out, [but now] every day is a new day. I have to create my [own] agenda for the day.”
Solano is always networking with designers, real-estate agents, and people who work in the home-services business. He says that he loves meeting so many new people.
While the technical challenges were greater in the oil industry, he points out that every business is a challenge in its own way, and that you are always solving problems.
In his new position with Floor Coverings International, Solano also finds that his friends can now appreciate the kind of work he does. “I relate with people more, because a regular person wouldn’t necessarily care about or understand the oil industry,” he says. “But when you talk to people about floors, your friends are more interested! I am able to share that knowledge now.”
Solano thinks that it has been a very interesting experience being a business owner in Houston, and he has discovered a completely new group of people who are also business owners. “Before, most of my friends were people within the oil industry, and I didn’t know people who are trying to run their own businesses,” Solano explains. “You see how much energy and life [Houston entrepreneurs have]. With this business, I am able to represent the company within the community and do things such as sponsor events. It has been very motivating, and we all help each other. It was challenging in the beginning, but it is very rewarding. It gives you determination.”
Solano is a member of the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, and he just became a member of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “I was very involved with the LGBT community at BP, [but after losing] a bit of momentum, I need to reengage.”
Floor Coverings International Houston Heights is located at 2040 N Loop W #302 and serves customers in the Garden Oaks, Kirby, West University, and Museum District areas of Houston. Solano can be reached at 832.305.5204 and [email protected] For more information, visit houstonheights.floorcoveringsinternational.com.
Rebecca Hazen is a journalist and photographer who recently relocated to Houston, originally from rural Pennsylvania. She is an avid traveler, scrapbooker, and history buff.