“Concrete,” says decorative concrete impresario Shawn Halverson, “seems to follow me around.”
Halverson, CEO of Surfacing Solutions Inc.in Temecula, California, talks about the time some years ago when he took a break from construction after working in the structural concrete industry for about 21 years, beginning in the mid-1970s. Then, this phenomenon called decorative concrete emerged as a major player in the trade, and Halverson became intrigued.
The lure of the trade
“Back in the ’80s, we would do large shopping centers, and you’d see exposed aggregate” — in those days the latest big thing and a primitive, early form of decorative concrete, you might say.
Halverson, who at that time was installing residential and commercial foundations, also was hearing inquiries from customers about decorative driveways and patios, and thought, “Could I do something like that?”
And that’s how decorative concrete entered the picture for Halverson — in the form of exposed aggregate, stamps, barbecues and masonry structures.
Halverson took a break from concrete construction soon after, but it pulled him back in. By that time, the decorative concrete revolution was on, and Halverson signed on to be all-in.
“I envisioned taking decorative concrete to a new level, so I started Surfacing Solutions in 1999,” he says. Originally, the business focused on consulting, staining and installing garage coatings, which numbered in the hundreds.
After starting out as a solo act, Halverson hired three men, each with unique technique expertise. This led him to expand and diversify into countertops, furniture, tables, residential and commercial flooring, microtoppings, epoxy coatings and stamped overlays. The business grew rapidly, fueled by the most basic marketing magic of all: referrals.
Polishing and expanding
Then along came polished concrete to “light a new fire” in the industry.
“I bought a machine and tools from a friend going out of business, and he taught me the basics. Soon I was blending the polishing with decorative applications, and realized the possibilities are endless.”
Polished concrete, he says, has brought the company to a whole new level. And polishing has, by far, grown rapidly to dominate Surfacing Solutions’ business portfolio.
With demand and workload on the rise, Halverson’s father-in-law, Keith Cantillon — who has a background in the general contracting and concrete trades — joined the team. He provided expertise in scheduling and running the crews, and freed up time for Halverson to lead an expansion into the commercial market.
Sharpening the focus
Expansion all by itself doesn’t guarantee success, Halverson learned. Looking to sharpen the focus and streamline the range of options for clients, Surfacing Solutions embraced a “mentoring” program called MAP — management action planning.
“Our mentor, Lee Froshheiser, was a very successful CEO, and he and his team helped us to focus on what our vital operations are,” Halverson says. In the first three years under the MAP blueprint, the company turned in 100-percent growth each year, “all during the dreaded recession years of 2007-2010. We were growing when others were going out of business.”
Froshheiser and MAP “laid the groundwork for us to measure and score ourselves,” Halverson explains, to keep the business on track for success.
“We were spread out too thin, so we focused on what we could manage the best.”
This sharpening of focus led to a dominant role for polishing as far and away the company’s major business — growing to command some 85 percent of the work. A few other specialties occupy smaller roles — staining, epoxies, coatings and rehabbing stamped concrete.
Also figuring prominently in the company’s track record of success is a young man named Mike Peterson, who came on board in the early 2000s and helped the company reach a new level of craftsmanship.
Halverson says Peterson only stuck around for a couple of years but his creativity was “mind blowing.” It left clients in disbelief and awe about some of the unique decorative treatments and detailed work the company was turning out, thanks to “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Halverson’s wife,Tiffany, joined her husband at Surfacing Solutions in 2012, after managing another company they had owned. With Surfacing Solutions, she focuses on marketing, customer service and employee enthusiasm.
“We are always looking at ways to strengthen our client relationships. We know it is key to our success,” she says. “Growth is one of our core values, and ways to expand our knowledge and improve personally and in our industry are always on the agenda. We work on being open-minded, keeping our team inspired and having as much fun as possible along the way.”
Epic and intricate
If asked to talk about projects that stand out from Halverson’s decades in the trade, “where to begin?” might well be the expected response.
Still, he singles out an epic polishing job at San Marcos High School — “the first job where we did multiple levels in multiple buildings and were on site for over a year. That job showed us how much we were capable of and that polish was absolutely our strength in the industry.”
Memorable for contrasting reasons was the company’s expertise at Shepherd Church in the Simi Valley area — an intricate design involving colors and shapes, where collaboration was paramount. A top foreman, Marco Loredo, demonstrated why his patient and focus-on-detail approach made the project really shine.
“This project was a great example of what we can do as a team,” Halverson says.
Asked what sets his work apart, he cites several factors, with “a vast background in concrete” and a team focused on quality at the top of the list.
“Not many decorative concrete applicators have the history we have in pouring, finishing and technical aspects of concrete,” says Halverson, who currently serves as director of the American Society of Concrete Contractors Concrete Polishing Council.
Also top priorities are:
Safety. “I have to give credit to our operations leader and business partner, Keith Cantillon, and give him the recognition for all he has instilled in our crews in regard to safety. He talks safety to our teams each day. We not only teach our own guys better safety practices, but we set goals each month. The company also brings in outside trainers and consultants to provide the latest and greatest training.”
Quality. “Our goal is always to exceed expectations. Just doing the job is not sufficient for anyone on our team. We want to surpass customer expectations.”
Job-site flow. “Our team in the filed does its very best to accommodate and work well with others to make sure every company can continue to work in a flow and get the job done. We strive to be team players all around.”
To contractors new to the industry, Halverson draws upon his years in the trade to offer some advice starting with “Come work for us.”
That aside, he cautions, “This is a tough and competitive business. Poor quality may get you paid today but not for long.
“We as an industry can establish ourselves as a premier flooring option to owners and architects,” he continues. Unfortunately, “too many folks get in this business for the quick buck, and many times they cut corners or take shortcuts. This will not help sustain polishing for long. Quality should be on everyone’s minds. Setting and exceeding expectations is the best way to build a business.”
All photos courtesy of Surfacing Solutions Inc.