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Wisconsin: Not the Epicenter for Decorative Concrete

Kitchen Concrete Countertop from Specialized Construction Services with a waterfall edge. Looks like marble.

Situated between Madison and Milwaukee, Wardall is busy with residential and commercial projects across a broad geographic region year-round.

"In Wisconsin, we’re never on the cutting edge of things," says Shawn Wardall, president of Specialized Construction Services Inc. in Waterloo, Wis. "New things start on the East and West Coasts and migrate here. That aspect of being behind the curve is one of the greatest business challenges we have." But tackling that challenge consistently, every day, is propelling, he says, and has ultimately led him to succeed.

Shawn Wardall posing with his hands behind him.Wardall says people in his area read about decorative concrete in home and lifestyle magazines or see television segments about it on HGTV, so homeowners and the design community are aware of it, and they want it. "But I find they really don’t understand it, so I spend a lot of time educating them."

With his business situated between Madison and Milwaukee, Wardall racks up the miles on his vehicle. He is busy with residential and commercial projects across a broad geographic region year-round, something a lot of northern concrete contractors can’t say. "About 85 percent of my work is interior," he reports.

Perhaps what helps keep him on the cutting edge is that he’s relatively new to decorative concrete, so as he learned his craft he learned the latest technology, techniques and procedures. But don’t scoff at his "youth" in the industry; his background is solidly in construction, giving him a strong foundation on which to build his decorative concrete business.

Specialized Construction Services - "I was introduced to the construction industry 30 years ago," Wardall explains. His uncle was a general contractor. Wardall started by sweeping floors and moved up through the ranks. Then, for many years, he worked for a large general contractor as a project manager.

"I was introduced to the construction industry 30 years ago," Wardall explains. His uncle was a general contractor. Wardall started by sweeping floors and moved up through the ranks. Then, for many years, he worked for a large general contractor as a project manager. That’s when he dipped his toe in concrete, so to speak. "We were bidding on a job that included stained concrete. We threw in an extra $1 per square foot to cover it. I quickly learned that $1 a square foot extra wasn’t enough," he recalls.

Since then his business focus is decorative concrete, and his personal focus is on concrete artistry. One of his favorite aspects of the job is working with his customers, figuring out what they want and then matching products and processes to give them the results they’re looking for.

His interest was further piqued when he went to Georgia to attend an L.M. Scofield seminar.

His interest was further piqued when he went to Georgia to attend an L.M. Scofield seminar. A couple more decorative concrete projects followed, but he needed to leave the general contracting firm to do more. So in 2000, he launched a contracting business with three partners. Within a span of three years, he saw the number of decorative concrete projects double but, still, he wanted more. Again, the general contracting aspect of the business limited those aspirations. To really focus on decorative concrete he would have to strike out on his own to do it — and he did, in 2003.

So in 2000, he launched a contracting business with three partners. Within a span of three years, he saw the number of decorative concrete projects double but, still, he wanted more. Again, the general contracting aspect of the business limited those aspirations. To really focus on decorative concrete he would have to strike out on his own to do it — and he did, in 2003

In the upper Midwest, the residential market for decorative concrete has been strong for about six years, but it seems to be flattening out, he says. Fortunately, commercial projects have increased to offset that, he says, and he’s finding a lot of opportunity in this market segment

Since then his business focus is decorative concrete, and his personal focus is on concrete artistry. One of his favorite aspects of the job is working with his customers, figuring out what they want and then matching products and processes to give them the results they’re looking for. "I work with a lot of different manufacturers to match up the product to the design concept and expectations of the customer," Wardall says.

In the upper Midwest, the residential market for decorative concrete has been strong for about six years, but it seems to be flattening out, he says. Fortunately, commercial projects have increased to offset that, he says, and he’s finding a lot of opportunity in this market segment. "My current work is predominately staining applications — they are more familiar with staining. But they’re not quite as familiar with overlays, so I have a lot of opportunity to educate business owners and designers as to what you can do with overlays."

Wardall practices on his own house first. "My house is my research and development lab," he says. "We bought a house in the country and my first project was applying an overlay on my front walk. A lot of people said it wouldn’t last in our climate, but it has lasted and it still looks good.

Wardall points to a couple of recent projects that were particularly challenging and fun, both involving a theme concept that appears to be growing in popularity: interior street scenes.

Wardall practices on his own house first. "My house is my research and development lab," he says. "We bought a house in the country and my first project was applying an overlay on my front walk. A lot of people said it wouldn’t last in our climate, but it has lasted and it still looks good."

Since then, renovation projects at his house have turned into decorative concrete experiments and often, he’s challenged to try things that others say won’t work. "I’m very motivated and I enjoy the challenge," he says.

Wardall points to a couple of recent projects that were particularly challenging and fun, both involving a theme concept that appears to be growing in popularity: interior street scenes. He just completed a project for Epic Systems, a computer software company, where they wanted the main entry area to look like a street in New York City. It was a three-story space, so there were skyscrapers painted on the walls as well as build-outs of storefronts. "I worked on the floor, creating a surface that included a street and sidewalks. When you’re there you really have the feel that you’re walking down a street in New York," he says.

Specialized Construction Services - What’s ahead for this budding concrete artist? "I think the future is quite bright," Wardall says. "I try to meet with people and plant seeds for the future. I make my work a calling card for the future.

Fortunately, commercial projects have increased to offset that, he says, and he’s finding a lot of opportunity in this market segment. “My current work is predominately staining applications — they are more familiar with staining.

In a residential project, he worked with a team of other artists to achieve a historic Milwaukee street scene effect. It included murals, old-fashioned street lights, and a cobblestone-stenciled street.

What’s ahead for this budding concrete artist? "I think the future is quite bright," Wardall says. "I try to meet with people and plant seeds for the future. I make my work a calling card for the future. When I’m working, I’m creating a new expectation level and a new awareness of what’s available. I believe I’m the only full-service decorative concrete artisan-contractor in the area."

We bought a house in the country and my first project was applying an overlay on my front walk. A lot of people said it wouldn’t last in our climate, but it has lasted and it still looks good.”

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