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Pros and Cons of Specializing in Decorative Concrete

Part Time or Full Time?
I have to guess some, maybe even most, of Concrete Decor’s readers enjoy the benefits of the decorative business as only a part of their contracting services. You may very well be one of the many who are wondering if you should make the leap to specialize in decorative work full time or simply offer it as one of many services.

Before you burn the ships and take this leap of faith let me show you the pros and cons of both. It really wasn’t long ago that I asked myself this question, so I can completely relate to your concerns. Let me say this: There is nothing wrong with running decorative work in a supplemental fashion.

Your volume or percentage of decorative work should be dictated by your local market. Let me be perfectly clear. Please don’t go out and purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment and product with a “Field of Dreams” illusion. A build-it-and-they-will-come attitude is asking a lot of any market. Talk with any business owner that has 36 locations around the state and he will tell you the importance of market timing.

I can assure you he only opened a second location after hundreds of folks complained about driving from across the county to shop at his store. We will talk more about this later.

Pros
I try to see the bright side, so let’s look at the “pros” first. It is very possible you may be in a market that simply doesn’t have anyone installing decorative concrete. If you’re building homes or doing remodeling projects, the only way to incorporate decorative concrete may be to train your crew to do the work.

Bringing in someone from miles away is sometimes not a good idea for a number of reasons. Scheduling, warranty, repairs and maintenance are all things that make long-distance contracting a challenge. Having your crew learn a decorative trade may be the only way to get the job done. Adding decorative offerings will also give your business the benefit of something fresh and new to keep potential clients talking. Tell people you’re a builder and compare it to telling folks you do decorative concrete. Most people can’t get enough of the decorative art scene at their favorite restaurant or business.

Being able to say your company offers this type of service will only add credibility. Competition separation is another reason to add decorative concrete to your business, and this is especially true if you live in a small or rural market. Giving your client an option to tile or granite may be the edge needed to land the next home-improvement project.

Being the only source will certainly make your company a shoo-in. Your market may be a little skeptical of decorative concrete at first, but it will be your job to help educate them. It should help to let the skeptics know that the decorative side of concrete is the fastest growing segment of the concrete industry. From billion-dollar resorts to theme parks, decorative concrete is the right choice from coast to coast.

The good news is that some people can be a little competitive with their neighbors. Do one or two quality jobs for the Joneses and rest assured your phone will start ringing off the hook. Part-time decorative crews seem to stay fresh and motivated. My crew has stamped concrete 32 of the last 33 workdays, and believe me when I say that it can be challenging to stay fresh and creative.

A crew that installed cabinets last week and stained a concrete floor this week seems to feed off this variety. Most workers attracted to the construction trades are types that enjoy new projects and tasks. The last “pro” is the most important. Doing decorative work part time gives you and your crew an opportunity to see if it is for you. Decorative work can be a big investment and I would make sure it’s the right fit for your business before you make it. For every jaw-dropping project you see in this great magazine, I will assure you there is another project that is bad. High-quality decorative projects sit smack dab at the intersection of tenacity and opportunity, and exposure may just leave you exposed.

Cons
I would like to skip this part, but I can’t show heads without tails. Ask any performer, athlete or champion, and they will tell you that they didn’t reach their full potential until they were 100 percent committed. There is no substitute to consistency and repetition regardless of the trade. Mastering the decorative concrete trade will be much easier when it is your specialty. This market, and its products, is consistently changing and improving. The only way to be on the ground floor of these improvements is to be on the ground floor.

Full-time decorative contractors find it much easier to organize tools and materials needed for the task. A crew that overlays or stains concrete daily will simply add job-specific items as needed. A part-time crew will have to unload a table saw to allow room for a rented floor-buffing machine. Part-time crews take time to fall into rhythm and generate momentum and may appear slightly rusty between decorative jobs.

There should be fewer mistakes with a full-time crew. I wish that I had a dollar for every time a client has said, “You do this every day so do what you feel is best.” This trust will usually come only with a reputation of specializing. It just seems that clients are a little more at ease with contractors who specialize in decorative concrete. Not in every case, but most often this is true.
Spreading the cost of decorative equipment and training over multiple full-time projects is much easier than with part-time installations. Polishing machines, stamp tools and other decorative equipment can be a big investment. Quality work requires the right tools, with few exceptions.

Bottom line
Let’s go back to your local market dictating the amount of decorative jobs your company installs. I can clearly remember when it was time for me to take the plunge to turning my company into a full-time decorative business. Our phone inquires started to tilt toward decorative-typed projects. I was passing on high-profit decorative projects because my plate was full with traditional jobs.

The problem was that these traditional jobs paid much less and were more competitive. Your market should do the same when and if the timing is right. Work hard to track all incoming calls and inquires to see the direction of your market. Be sure to slide more decorative projects into your schedule and move more traditional projects out. Time this right or you will find competition moving in.

There is room at the decorative table for whatever fits you and your crew best. The important thing is to deliver quality installations and let your work speak for itself. Let me know how it goes.

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