In 1971, Robert Freis was working as a buyer for a California building supply company when a customer asked to buy a set of aluminum stamps for a concrete design application.
“The only ones on the market at that time,” Freis recalls, “were made by companies that required the buyer to enter into franchise and licensing agreements and undergo training. I saw no reason why an individual shouldn’t be able to buy this kind of product over the counter.”
Freis began manufacturing and marketing a line of stamping tools under the brand name Brickform. “I was criticized by some people who felt it was wrong to sell this kind of product to those who were not formally trained,” he says. “There were people who failed, but there were many more who mastered the use of these stamping tools and did very well. I likened it to selling hammers to people who aren’t professional carpenters.”
For the first 20 years of the company’s existence, Rafco-Brickform concentrated on stamping tools and mats, color hardeners and release agents, sealers, and acid stains. Then, beginning in the late ’90s, the company broadened its product offerings to include sandblast stencils.
Rafco Products has solidified its position as one of the leading manufacturers of products for the decorative concrete industry.
In 1997, technical representative Glen Roman was recruited by Freis to bring his graphic design expertise to Rafco. “At that time,” reflects Roman, “the company had been working with people in Las Vegas who did much of the stenciling in the casinos, but they were doing it by hand, using light templates. Bob, having the ingenuity, wanted to manufacture that type of product — computer-generated graphic templates ñ to market to the industry. Sandblast design had been used in the glass industry for years, but he saw how we could incorporate the design features of that kind of software into a material that would work for concrete. It’s kind of a specialty product, so it’s not something we sell every day, but when it’s called for, it’s typically a big, impressive job. It’s an exciting, dramatic application.”
Another crucial element of Rafco-Brickform’s success story is its firm commitment to training and education. Roman heads up that effort, teaching many of the classes himself at the company’s distributor locations across the country and overseas. “We feel as a company that it is our responsibility to properly train contractors in the use of our products,” says Roman. “As a rule, we try to encourage contractors to try new products and new applications. By offering our ‘deminars’ and hands-on training programs, we get them past the point of uneasiness.”
Training classes are also a great way to get ideas and feedback from Rafco customers, says Tom Jeffery, director of marketing. “We learn from our customers,” he says. “They teach us new ways and new ideas for using our products in efficient and creative ways.” The deminars are attended by concrete contractors, residential developers, general contractors, landscape contractors and architects.
Just as the decorative industry itself has been growing exponentially, Rafco-Brickform has continued to enjoy significant growth each year. “We’ve grown substantially over the past five years,” says Jeffery, adding that the growth has necessitated continued expansion of the company’s facilities. “We believe our success is due to our customers’ satisfaction with our products’ performance and our technical support.” Rafco employs more than 100 people at four manufacturing and distribution points nationwide, including Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; Milton-Freewater, Ore.; and Houston, Texas. Soon Rafco will be opening a fifth manufacturing and distribution center on the East Coast.
While most of the company’s business is in the U.S., significant success has been found in Europe and, more recently, Asia. Roman says that opportunities for decorative concrete are numerous and lucrative in China and Vietnam. “They’re building whole new cities and gigantic resorts, and they’re using miles and miles of stamped concrete.”
The future looks bright, Jeffery says. “Our product line continues to grow to meet industry needs. We have introduced Brickform Color Hardener, Antique Release, Cem-Coat, Blush-Tone Acid Stain, Sealers, Liquid Color, maintenance products and Sandblast Stencils. New products are on the horizon, and, in fact, we introduced a line of micro-toppings and stampable overlayments at this year’s World of Concrete trade show.”
“We’re always looking for ways to improve productivity, systems and communication while continuing to show industry support,” Freis says. “In fact, on the back of all our business cards, you’ll find our business mission statement: ‘Our customers choose Rafco Products because Rafco consistently provides quality products and services at competitive prices. Top quality materials and responsive personal service are the standards by which Rafco operates. All of our employees understand and believe in our mission.”