Caleb Lawson, owner and president of Price Concrete Studio in Orlando, Florida, didn’t picture himself as a concrete artisan when he was growing up. Unlike many in the industry, his background isn’t in concrete or construction. In fact, his life seemed preordained for something far different.
“My father was an attorney and now sits as a justice on the Florida State Supreme Court,” Lawson says. “I always thought I was going to be a lawyer and maybe a judge someday myself.”
Lawson took all the steps to become a lawyer: majoring in political science at the University of Central Florida and then taking the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). It was only when he’d completed the LSAT that he realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. What he really wanted was something more hands on.
“I always enjoyed working with my hands,” says Lawson. “When I was younger, I refurbished a lot of different cars, and I loved the challenge of making something work at its ultimate capacity. It wasn’t just the labor part though. I liked the mental challenge just as much.”
So, the logical path for Lawson to take would have been to find some way to make his passion for cars his livelihood, right? He didn’t go in that direction either.
Sold on education and GFRC
It happened that Lawson was friends with a successful concrete artisan who was planning to get out of concrete and concentrate more on building a high-end general contracting business. Lawson asked Chuck Price, the founder of Price Concrete, if he could mentor under him with an eye toward buying the business.
Lawson bought the business in 2013 and was on his way — well, kind of.
“At first everything we were doing was wet cast,” says Lawson. “It turned out to be harder than I thought. Our products broke a lot when we pulled the forms or tried to move them. It was frustrating. I asked Price for help, but he was too busy with his new business.”
Price suggested that Lawson investigate attending some training classes at The Concrete Countertop Institute owned by Jeff Girard. Lawson took the advice and attended the institute. He really hasn’t looked back since.
“I can’t say enough about how learning at CCI transformed my business,” he says. “First of all, once I saw the potential of using GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) I was sold on it. GFRC is far stronger than the wet cast countertops, and the potential for artistic expression was mind-blowing. It allows us to be far more innovative.”
In fact, Lawson believes so much in the power of education that he teamed up with CCI and hosted and co-taught the “Ultimate” class in February at his Orlando institute. He says he’s humbled to teach alongside Girard, whom he considers a pioneer in the industry.
Lawson says that using GFRC has allowed Price Studio to more than double the size of the pieces they make in the shop. He says it’s so much stronger that breakage is no longer a problem. In addition to that, the creativity they can now incorporate sets them apart from their competitors.
Lunch, learn and whiskey
But it’s not all about GFRC. Lawson has a clear understanding of what it takes to build and develop relationships with architects, contractors and customers.
“When I noticed the potential of what we could offer to customers, it was frustrating that they couldn’t always see it too,” says Lawson.
Lawson decided to find a way to educate prospective customers about the potential of what Price Studio could offer. He opted to offer education outreach to architects, designers and contractors by hosting “lunch and learn” events. At those events, Price Concrete Studio provides lunch for groups of potential clients. In exchange, Lawson gets an hour to tell attendees about what custom concrete can add to their projects.
“A lot of people still view concrete as a product used for flat work, like patios, driveways and maybe basic countertops,” he says. “It’s my job to introduce them to new ideas and encourage them to collaborate on outside-the-box design ideas.”
That approach has yielded some amazing results, from a lounge chair design bathtub to a whiskey-bottle shelf incorporated into a countertop’s waterfall leg design.
Speaking of whiskey, Lawson is something of an aficionado. He contends that good whiskey is like snowflakes — no two bottles are exactly alike.
“Everything good has a story,” he says. “I just happen to believe that good whiskey and good concrete go well together. Each product is unique and special.”
Really special but simple
One thing a lot of concrete artisans run into is the question of business sustainability — how to slow down the pressure of having to find the next project. Lawson has come up with a plan for that, too.
“We’re working toward developing a line of standardized products that we can produce with reusable forms. Once we do that, we can take orders and ship products anywhere,” he says.
Price Concrete currently offers a Leah Vessel sink with an optional matching center shelf, a drum table and custom whiskey glasses bearing the company brand. Lawson intends to expand on this side of the business.
To that end, Lawson is expanding certain products to a separate company, Tub Brand, where he will offer standard size bathtubs in a variety of colors, shapes and finishes. His first tub, “The Craftsman Edition,” was featured in the 2019 show home for the Southeast Building Conference. That same tub is now for sale on his website and also should be featured in the 2020 SEBC show in Kissimmee, Florida, in July.
“I really believe that if we can develop enough products, with enough demand, that will allow us to work on projects that are really special.”
“Really special” is kind of a mantra for Lawson. He says he gets a great deal of joy from working with customers who allow him to explore his full range of artistic license. His goal is that his pieces always make a statement for each client’s home or business.
Some of Lawson’s work can be found at the new Galaxy’s Edge area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, and they will soon be unveiling an intricate sculpture base for a piece outside the entry of Orlando’s new soccer stadium. He says they’re using some “really out-of-the-box” colors for that one.
All the steps Lawson has taken to build Price Studios are paying dividends. “Business is just crazy,” he says. “Things come in waves and we just do them all.”
Lawson believes in three basic principles and sticks to them:
- Only excellent work will do.
- We’re all created to create things of beauty.
- Nothing less than the best effort is acceptable.
Simple beliefs, but they work.