Artisan in Concrete
Luca Seminati and Maurizio Pontello, Ideal Work
Introducing decorative concrete in Europe was a big challenge to a market that’s more traditionally known for materials such as natural stone, marble, wood and ceramic. As one of the first companies to use decorative concrete in Italy, Ideal Work — headed by owners Luca Seminati and Maurizio Pontello — recognized its potential and decided to invest in something that it thought had a lot of soul.
“What we loved from the beginning was the passion of the contractors,” says Seminati. “This is the reason we like to deal directly with the contractors and why all our distributors are contractor oriented and not simple traders.”
A former concrete finisher, Pontello has been in the concrete flooring business since he was 17 years old. At the same time, Seminati was working for a company who used to import Marshalltown tools in Europe. In 1997, Pontello and Seminati founded Ideal Work and invested a lot of time and money in training not only themselves but their customers as well.
“We invited a lot of experts from the U.S., like Bob Harris who has been to Italy many times,” says Seminati.
A global presence
Seminati notes the market in Europe is different compared to that of the U.S. so they couldn’t use successful American practices as “models” to help run their business. Unlike the U.S., which is one unified country, he says, Europe comprises several countries with each having has its own culture, regulations and market.
“This means a company like Ideal Work needs to be very flexible to adapt its business to each market,” says Seminati. “We export about 60 percent of our business, so every time we approach a new market, we need to adapt our business model to the location.”
Ideal Work now has about 25 employees and has used an array of concrete solutions for residential, retail and commercial projects in more than 80 countries around the world. Most of its work is in Europe and the Middle East.
“We like to describe ourselves as a company that specializes in innovative surfaces, so our goal is to help customers create their own special surface,” says Seminati.
Much of the company’s business in both production and product sales involves stamped concrete, exposed aggregates, microtoppings, acid stains, artificial rock and polished concrete. Seminati notes that their customers have inspired most of their techniques and products.
“Our role is to collect those ideas, fix them and broadcast them to other Ideal Work partners,” says Seminati.
Currently, Ideal Works is supplying its products to Disneyland Paris and installing SassoItalia, a thinly applied exposed aggregate paving, in a large tourist destination port in southern Italy.
Other projects include two incredible villas in Dubai and Qatar, where the smallest bathroom is said to be as big as a standard apartment. And in the next few weeks, says Seminati, “Our stamped concrete and artificial rock products are going to be used on the first water park in Palestine.”
What has set the company apart over the years is having that “contractor-oriented” mentality, as it believes the industry needs to respect contractors more than it does. Like so many other companies, Ideal Work faces challenges such as recruiting and training enough people to do all the work. As customers’ expectations increase and the quality and number of contractors decrease, it’s hard to keep up.
“This is the reason why we offer to continue training and have technical assistance on-site,” says Seminati. “Our business can grow only if the quality of our customers grow.
On the plus side, one of Ideal Work’s advantages is that it offers a full-package deal. This includes producing its own products, selling its own tools and machines, and offering training and on-site technical assistance. It also offers sale support with dedicated “marketing training.”
“We can do all these things because our company is very focused on cement-based products for decorative concrete,” says Seminati.
In good company
Over the last 20 years, the company has been lucky enough to collaborate with a lot of big name companies in the U.S. such as Brickform, Marshalltown, L&M Construction Chemicals and Laticrete.
“We have to say thank you to a lot of the people in this industry,” says Seminati. “A special thanks goes out to Bob Harris and his wife, Lee Ann.”
Some of Ideal Work’s favorite past projects include the flooring at the Prada Foundation’s contemporary art museum in Milan, Moet & Chandon’s stamped wall cellars in the Champagne region of France, and microtopping at the Basilica of Tongeren museum in Belgium.
With many projects lined up, 2017 looks promising. “In 2016, our business grew more than 35 percent,” says Seminati. “Some new markets in China and the Middle East should double in size in 2017.”
While Seminati is very enthusiastic about how quickly the company’s growing, he also wants to make sure it grows in the right way. He understands that selling products won’t be the only way for business to expand, as there are many other areas that need focus.
“You need to increase the quality and quantity of your customers at the same time,” says Seminati.
To those trying to break into the business, his advice is “training, training, training” as it’s the best investment to your business. He also notes that pricing and quality are key since the market is very competitive now and there is always a cheaper alternative.
“If you want to be successful, you should be the best in your area and you should get enough profit to buy the best products and invest money in your business,” says Seminati.
Looking forward to the future, Ideal Work will be throwing a big celebration in Italy this year in honor of its 20th anniversary and to say thank you to all its customers and people in the industry who have supported the company along the way.