By the time he was 22, Mike Meursing was already married and owned his own floor-coating installation business. He was reaching for the stars — but at the same time, he couldn’t help but see the cracks forming under his feet.
It was the heat. Meursing lived in southern California, or as he called it, “the land of the sun.” And when the temperature shot up, he noticed, floor coatings tended to go south. “Coatings had a lot of issues with cracking and leaking,” he says.
Luckily, Meursing was heir to a wealth of expertise in the coating industry. His father was a texture coating manufacturer who successfully launched and sold companies in Canada, Australia and South America. His uncle founded Old Quaker Paint during the Depression, and the brand became a familiar name on the West Coast — so much so that The Sherwin-Williams Co. eventually bought it from the Meursing family.
Mike and his wife, Vicki, took a formula developed by Old Quaker for a fiberglass deck coating and began making and selling it as Versa-Deck.
Fifteen years later, their company, Versatile Building Products Inc., aims to offer almost anything a contractor could brush onto a deck or floor. They want it to be a one-stop shop for floor coatings, whether for waterproofing decks, decorative finishes in homes, or commercial sealers.
The more their business diversified, the more lucrative niches they found. “We did not want to be a one-product company,” Meursing says. “Versa-Deck is just a little blip on the map compared to what we do now.”
In fact, the company’s fastest growing product lines are concrete coatings, which debuted in 1995, and epoxy coatings, introduced in 1998. “There’s a lot of money floating around out there because interest rates are low,” he says. “A customer can go spruce up a garage for $2,000. That’s a small amount of money to pay for it.”
Up to 40 percent of the company’s products are geared to decorative concrete contractors, from decorative overlayments and garage floor coatings to concrete stains and sealers. “You can take some commercial technology, you can modify and tweak it and have something for the decorative concrete industry,” he says.
Meursing says the company’s commercial work is dependent on the aerospace industry in southern California, which suffered a bust in the mid-1990s. High-tech jobs went away, which curbed the demand for concrete coatings in factories and research facilities. But those jobs may be starting to come back, he says.
The company hired a full-time chemist in 2000 to further expand research and development capabilities. “We try to design a product with the end user in mind,” Meursing says. “It’s good to start off with, and then we make it as simple as possible so he doesn’t make mistakes.”
For example, they’ve engineered some of their products so all a contractor has to do is add water. More complicated procedures can invite trouble, Meursing says. “If a worker runs out of admix — ‘I’m just an hourly worker, I don’t care.’”
Another signature Versatile product is Vapor-Stop, an epoxy that requires only two application steps instead of the six-step process that was standard five years ago. It eliminates the need for primer. And it stands up to water vapor, making it ideal for laying tile on top of a floor with moisture issues. “This Vapor-Stop will bond like you won’t believe,” Meursing says.
Versatile is also known for the breadth of its catalog. Almost none of Versatile’s competitors manufacture everything Versatile does.
Mike and Vicki Meursing are still sole owners of their company, which is headquartered in Carson, Calif. They serve as, respectively, president and controller. The company recently moved into new manufacturing digs that are more than twice the size of their old facility. “We filled up the entire place in the first week like we’d been there five years,” Mike says.
Versatile, which employs 16 (not including outside sales representatives) manufactures and packages all its own products. It has obtained certification from the International Conference of Building Officials (now known as ICC Evaluation Service Inc.), which among other things vouches that the company has a system in place that allows for batch tracing. Their books and procedures are audited every three months by an outside lab.
Meursing’s installation business helped him get Versatile off the ground in the early years. “I needed a vehicle to support sales and growth — that was it,” he says. “It’s a good little vehicle.”
Versatile has, on average, doubled its sales every year over the past 10 years, and January’s sales were up 96 percent from the same month in 2003. The company also brought in 10 new distributors last year. Grassroots marketing is crucial to the company’s success, Meursing says. “Getting demand from the contractor, from the end user, has always been our policy. Build something well, things that are easy to use, and they will come.”
But Meursing isn’t planning to grow this quickly forever. In the near future, Versatile will focus on existing product lines rather than launching new ones, he says, adding that the company also plans to expand its offerings in the concrete repair category. “We want to continue doing what we’re doing. We have no plans to do otherwise. I’m still young; my wife is still young. We have about 30 years left in us.”
Early on, he admits, his age was a disadvantage. After all, what could a 22-year-old know about running a company? But he had the energy of youth to compensate, he says. He didn’t mind working 70 to 80 hours a week.
When the time came to bring in employees, he would tend to hire other young people, he noted. “You hire like yourself.” But as he got older, he learned to hire to complement himself. “I think we’re a balanced company,” he says.