Build Your Business on a Foundation of Innovation

For your decorative concrete business to grow, it must be built on a foundation of innovation. If you don’t do so, you will find it increasingly difficult to create lasting value for your business and your customers.

Innovation is defined by the presence of something original or unique in a product, service or strategy. For example, bidding on jobs while planning to use revolutionary products or cutting-edge technology will help decorative concrete contractors better position themselves to successfully navigate their competitive landscape.

Want to know how to find innovative solutions? It may be easier than you think. An effective way to find innovative new materials is to actively engage with exhibitors at decorative concrete trade shows. Too many attendees simply walk around and take in the sights instead of engaging with exhibitors. Probing for information about new solutions will contribute to your company’s growth.

I have attended some of the industry’s largest and most influential trade shows for many years, and I see something new each time I go. It may not always be a revolutionary solution, but even evolutionary (revised or reformulated) products contribute to your business’s much-needed foundation of innovation.

There are other proactive ways to identify innovative products. Position yourself at the end of your favorite manufacturer’s pipeline so new products are rolled out right into your lap. This requires that you maintain a collaborative, feedback-based relationship with decorative product manufacturers. Call them. Work with them. Tell them what works. Tell them what doesn’t work. Any manufacturer worth their salt will make a concerted effort to tailor their products to meet your needs. Just be patient with them because new product development takes time (when done right).

Also, service itself can (and should) be innovative, whether it’s what a manufacturer provides you or what you provide your customers. I know a concrete staining contractor, for example, who partnered with a local interior designer. The contractor now offers property owners the added benefit of an interior design evaluation. The interior designer recommends an appropriate color scheme, furniture layout and fixture placement that compliments the contractor’s decorative project. This makes the product and color selection process more convenient for the customer, who will get much more value out of the contractor’s service. The contractor subsidizes the designer’s evaluation, but the unique service makes a significant contribution to his value proposition, which enables him to charge a premium for a higher-quality service.

Innovating through experimentation
Innovative products are often discovered when contractors experiment with new methods of installation or production. Try combining comparable solutions — many decorative products are compatible. Test various ingredients or materials. You could even manipulate and construct unique tools for installing decorative products. I know of another contractor who modified a weed-whacker by replacing the blade with a soft microfiber pad. It created a dramatic look of mottled depth when used to install his favorite concrete stains. More important, it enabled him to create a consistent faux finish — a marketable look that differentiates his service from his competition. Of course, you should NEVER test your newfound concoction on a customer’s property until it’s proven. Please don’t.

It is critical that you use decorative products that enable you to create your own marketable look or finish, something your competitors cannot easily duplicate.

Remember, if you offer the same decorative finish as every other contractor in your market, you force customers to make their hiring decision based on price or scheduling convenience. You don’t want to lose a job just because the next guy could start earlier than you. Compel your customers to hire you because you offer a beautiful decorative finish that no one else can create. Invest time and resources into developing this type of reputation.

Product-market matching
My definition of innovation includes more than just new tools, techniques or combinations. On each job, you must ensure there is a product-market match — an innovative solution that directly addresses your customer’s real need or pain point.

The new permanent sealer you’re using may be proven to withstand the force of an earthquake, but that means little to customers who will want to change their concrete color every time their walls are repainted. You may also think your extensive experience with concrete stains justifies charging a premium, but if customers hire you simply because they don’t have time to roll out cheap paint themselves, you could be offering “too much value.” True innovation requires that your product not only be unique and differentiated, but also something that specifically satisfies your customers’ needs.

Various strategies can be employed to evaluate whether or not a product-market match exists in what you offer customers. First and foremost, you must ask yourself if you would pay for your own service. If not, why in the world are you trying to sell it to others? Would a focus group of target customers pay for the work that you do? If you’re unsure, then go out and ask what they think about the quality of your work, the type of products you use and the finishes or effects they create. These self-exploratory efforts may seem too easy, but you’d be amazed at how many small-business owners fail to do the basic exercises required to make sure their business succeeds.

New combinations of tools and techniques and product-market matching help you build a solid foundation for eventual success, helping you create lasting value for your business and its customers. That value — your product benefits, your company’s profit margins and a sustainable purchasing volume — will help drive business growth over time. If innovation does not exist in your company, then it’s probably best that you go back to the drawing board and identify what can be done to improve.

Ways to Be Innovative On the Job

• Actively engage with exhibitors at decorative concrete trade shows to identify innovative decorative solutions.

• Collaborate with manufacturers on new product development to see if your decorative product needs can be met.

• Establish strategic alliances with complimentary service partners to boost your value proposition.

• Experiment with new installation methods and combine various decorative products and tools to innovate, as long as the results can be consistently duplicated.

• Use reliable and controllable decorative products to develop your own reliable, unique, marketable finish.

• Candidly talk with customers to learn why exactly they hired you instead of the other guy. The answer is your differentiating value proposition that you should emphasize in your marketing messages.

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