Shakespeare wondered what’s in a name, and Elton John Strawderman could likely give him an answer or two.
Yes, his mother did name him after the British superstar, on a dare from a friend, he says, adding it’s often a good conversation starter. However, rather than oversized glasses and platform shoes, the real measure of the man comes from the name of his business.
The founder and owner of Epoxy Artisan in Bradenton, Florida, Strawderman says his goal in life is to be the best craftsman possible with his chosen medium: epoxy on concrete.
Discovering his creative side
Like many others in the industry, Strawderman started out doing a mix of concrete work, from digging footers and laying concrete to doing a little stamping and staining.
“You can do some nice stuff with it, but it was really just a way for me to make money,” he says. “Then, I ran into Gary Jones from Colormaker Floors and started to get into the skim coating and microtopping. It was great, because I could do a lot more with it. As soon as I found that niche where I could be a little creative, it became something I was definitely passionate about.”
It also helped Strawderman realize the products brought something out in him he hadn’t known before. “When it comes to color, I can just see it and I know where to put it so it all works out,” he says.
Clients agree. It’s not uncommon for jobs to take him into the Carolinas and beyond, a fact made more impressive knowing his marketing strategy during Epoxy Artisan’s 24 years has been almost all word-of-mouth, although these days he utilizes some Facebook tools, as well.
First up: Educating clients
“When people first call, they have either seen my work or I’ve been recommended to them, or they’ve seen something that has sparked their interest with an epoxy floor,” Strawderman explains. “Right now, these metallic epoxy floors and the pigmented epoxy floors we do are something of a craze.”
His first job, he says, is to educate clients, which means going in and sitting down with them in their homes.
“They see a picture, but they wonder how it would work in their home, how the colors would work,” he says. “It’s a matter of sitting down and educating them on the process and then developing the color palette for them based on the features of the home. It’s a very thorough process before we actually begin work.”
All in the family
Epoxy Artisan’s clients are almost all residential. He notes the company is small, (his wife, two sons and an occasional helper) and Strawderman isn’t willing to take on commercial projects that he won’t be able to complete at the same high level as his residential jobs. He also says they don’t provide the same level of relationships he likes to have with his clients.
“I guess it’s a bit more intimate because this is where somebody is living,” he says. “We’re leaving our artwork on a floor where somebody is going to see it every day.”
While Epoxy Artisan has certainly done work on some more-expensive homes — the garage for a $15 million home is one of his favorites — he says often what he provides is a higher-end floor for the middle class.
That’s not to say he’s given up on other types of concrete work entirely. The company still does some vertical walls — both interior and exterior — with an emphasis on carving and coloring. He has, however, gotten away from doing stamped concrete.
Strawderman adds that keeping the operation within the family also helps ensure a first-class job. Or, as he puts it, “It seems to make things a lot smoother.”
He gives particular credit to his wife, Kimberly, who he says helps him communicate with his female clients. She also makes sure everyone knows what’s going to happen and everything is lined up and ready to go before the work begins.
And then there’s her one special talent: She helps balance out his tendency to give things away.
“Somebody will say, ‘We have a little bathroom; it’s 40 or 50 square feet,’” he says. “I’m apt to say, ‘Okay, we have extra product anyway.’ But my wife tells me I need to charge for that because we’re doing work.”
Quality is paramount
Strawderman says his main goal with a project is to make sure it’s high-quality work that the client loves. It pains him when something becomes popular and the market becomes flooded with people who may have taken a two-day class and are using lesser-grade materials without understanding the necessary prep and the finer points of the process.
“People see the dollar signs instead of the finished work,” he says. “The craftsmanship starts to fall by the wayside. I believe I’m doing work that’s unique for my client.”
Strawderman continues to take classes, and he doubts he will ever perfect his craft.
“You’re never the best at what you do. I’m always looking to see who’s out there doing something a little different than what we’re doing, and I think that’s great. I’m willing to put pride aside and learn from somebody else. That really helps the industry.” he says.
“The exciting part is getting to mix those metallic colors and start putting them down the way I see them in my head, and then allowing them to do their own work, then waiting those few hours to come back and see how it all changed,” Strawderman says. “It’s not just with the metallics. Even with a nice micro-topping flow you can do some integral coloring and really create some magic.”
For the Epoxy Artisan, it’s all about the finished product. That, and having a happy client.
“We go above and beyond for the clients,” he concludes. “The money comes and goes, but the most joy you can have is the relationship with that particular job and the client you’ve done work for.”