Let’s get the question out of the way that you undoubtedly are itching to ask: Is it a jungle out there for California transplant Steve Kroo and Concrete Jungle, his Northridge decorative concrete business? Of course it is, but that’s never stopped this auto painter turned concrete mastermind before. If anything, this just gives the 45-year-old visionary a reason to crank up his innovative radar and center on what he can control.
It’s true, Kroo once painted cars for a living. It wasn’t until he bought his first home in California that his bittersweet love affair with concrete began.
The bitter: With a definitive vision in mind, Kroo wanted to transform his home and yard using various decorative concrete finishes. Certain he could save money doing so, he attempted to do the work himself. To his credit he attended any seminar he could find, limited and simplistic as they were eight years ago, to help achieve this goal. As you might imagine, Kroo fell prey to some of the pitfalls common to this industry when proper product knowledge is lacking.
The sweet: Kroo’s quest to create something different and unique for his home resulted in a passion for decorative concrete, the possibilities of which he learned are limited only by his imagination. That passion drove him to locate the best products available, become proficient in their usage, and to educate and inform every installer he crossed paths with.
Through Concrete Jungle, which is both a specialty contractor and a distributor of decorative concrete materials, he conducts roughly eight workshops a year teaching concrete countertops and floors, and he offers a product expo that provides a sampling of decorative concrete finishes, including microtoppings, overlays, stamping and sprays.
Kroo has built a thriving business from the ground up that includes a 2,200-square-foot warehouse, five employees and the house that originally served as his concrete classroom but now does double duty as his showroom. “I had an actual showroom at one point,” Kroo explains, “but neither the location nor the product we sell was conducive to off-street foot traffic.” In fact, he tended to take clients to his elaborately ornamented home anyway, simply because it contained 5,000 square feet of decorative concrete, representing eight years worth of trial and error and even some unprecedented creativity.
Having built a solid customer base on reputation, referrals and strategic marketing, Concrete Jungle the contractor is now the go-to place for many high-end decorators, architects and contractors alike. Flexibility is key, Kroo says. “Strive for perfection, know your products, build relationships and work your market.” Concrete Jungle targets higher-end businesses and homes ranging from $800,000 into the millions.
“We are fortunate to have what we consider to be the best products available,” says Kroo. That includes products that are recognized by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development), a set of rigorous guidelines for the construction of environmentally sustainable buildings, as well as products specified on ARCAT, which provides building product information for architects and contractors.
But it’s the hard work and dedication to his craft that sets this installer and reseller apart from the rest. “We are not salesmen, but we are individuals that are passionate about the business and are hands on. We are also a small enough company that we can make decisions and execute them faster.”
Product diversity is also important, but not to the point of confusion, says Kroo. “I already feel there are too many products on the market, especially sealers, but of those, the good ones all serve different purposes, so they are all needed.” He’s carefully chosen only products he has successfully used himself, including those sealers that have passed his own rather unconventional testing processes, which include driving over them, dragging chairs and furniture across them, and pressure-washing them.
Wanting to comply with strict California environmental laws and eager to decrease his own carbon footprint (the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities), Kroo strives to do what he can to protect our natural world by streamlining “green” decorative concrete products while maintaining the integrity of the finished product. This is not an easy balance at times, but it’s one that has become far easier to achieve as less harmful, nontoxic products make their way to the marketplace.
The contracting side
Only 25 miles northwest of Hollywood and Los Angeles, Kroo’s contracting service specializes in custom and difficult applications. Partly because of the many unusual requests he receives operating in the land of glam and glitz, he is able to stretch his imagination and create boundless, one-of-a-kind works of art. “We collaborate with anyone who is interested, often partnering with other installers to complete large projects that might not be attainable otherwise,” he says. “We cover a wide range of applications and enjoy a challenge.”
Kroo continues to supervise many of the contractors he has trained in his studio on actual job sites, admitting that this kind of attention didn’t always occur when business was booming. However, now that he has had the opportunity to do so, he sees the trend continuing. “Training invested with an installer is repeat business. These customers deserve special attention, especially compared to the one-time customer.”
Kroo is of the mindset that all of his products need to be fully understood prior to application. Many contractors believe a two-hour crash course is training enough. That’s not the case with the complex and somewhat caustic products necessary to construct extraordinary concrete finishes. The mishandling of product can easily lead to financial damages, and worse, cause serious bodily harm.
The Internet is often an underutilized selling and informational tool for the decorative concrete professional, but not by Kroo. “Customers should be able to have 95 percent of their questions answered on either the reseller’s or installer’s website and the rest clarified by the manufacturer’s site,” he says. His site features an extensive photo gallery, a product guide that specifies prices, warranties and buying procedures, workshop information and registration, and informative article reprints.
Overall, Kroo and his crew (no pun intended) are excited to face the challenges of each new day. They are always looking for new and inventive ways to grow their business and use decorative concrete products. Kroo has been experimenting with concrete furniture and has created pieces that are featured in furniture showrooms in his area. His unique coffee, sofa and end tables are just a few of his offerings — their sleek lines and complex finishes bring an entirely different spin to conventional furniture items. All it took was a little creative manipulation, something every DC professional knows a thing or two about.