Reflecting on Polished Concrete and How To Continue Improving Your Skills

We’re good, but we’re not perfect. Once we start thinking that we know everything, or that polished concrete is right for every situation, then we are in trouble. In this economy, we cannot afford a single misstep. Now is the time to focus on running a business correctly, and that includes being aboveboard and ethical in dealings with our customers and vendors.

I’ve enjoyed earning my living in this industry since 2000, and this column is the start of my fifth year writing for Concrete Decor. This year will be the harshest environment for the concrete industry in decades, yet those who focus on polished concrete have the ability to outshine the other areas, as restoration is an integral strength of ours.

It is important to reflect on what polished concrete delivers to our customers. Too often we forget our strengths and foundation, and when we’re not thinking clearly, or are too harried, our weakness can cause us to take the easy way out. Please remember that ease very rarely equals performance, and that performance is a key component of our industry.

Recently, L&M Construction Chemicals completed its first certification training for 2009. Because of existing economic conditions we felt more compelled than usual to stress the foundation and strengths of our industry. Anytime an industry grows, there will be individuals who are going to take shortcuts, knowingly or not. We were committed to providing our new certified installers with a good start to minimize the bumps that they will encounter down the road. Regardless of the industry, all manufacturers should be dedicated resource centers for their customers.

As you grow your business, it will be necessary to make many decisions. With the proper education you will be prepared to make the right decisions. Think about the following four questions:

1. Should you feel comfortable skipping diamond-grinding steps? Not if you understand scratch patterns (See “Polished Perspectives,” February/March 2005).

2. Do you understand the chemical activity that occurs between a silicate (sodium, potassium or lithium) and the calcium hydroxide formed during hydration of the concrete? If so, then you will understand the direct correlation between length of time and the ability of the silicate and calcium hydroxide to form calcium silicate hydrate.

3. Do you know that there is a connection between hydration, the creation of calcium hydroxide and the strength of the concrete? You had better, because this process is the basis for the performance that you promised your customer.

4. Can you polish concrete without the addition of a chemical densifier? Sure, but you won’t if you truly know what a chemical densifier delivers in addition to strength and increased abrasion resistance features such as elimination of dusting and increased repellence.

Polished concrete began as a means to fix spalling and dusting concrete. Today polished concrete is also recognized for its ability to deliver strength and abrasion resistance, create a design-oriented floor with concrete dyes, stains, integral colors and dry-shake hardeners, and be the greenest, most sustainable flooring option available. As for life-cycle costing, no one beats us.

For all of these attributes to translate into real-life benefits for our customers, a performance-driven flooring system has to be delivered. Compromising performance is not an option.

Before you can deliver the product that you have promised, it is essential that you know and understand the basis for the claims that you are making. For instance, the correct means to verify the abrasion resistance of your concrete floor is ASTM C779, aptly titled “Standard Test Method for Abrasion Resistance of Horizontal Concrete Surfaces.” Do your homework. Make sure the information that you have provided is correct, and equally importantly, that testing is run correctly. Ask for independent third-party testing such as that from CTL Laboratories. As I stated in this column in May 2008, be wary of unsupported results. Don’t do your customer and yourself a disservice by taking the easy way out.

Over the past decade our industry has become more proficient, more professional. As you move forward into 2009, remember what I said about ease not equaling performance. If it is so simple that anyone can do it, then why should your customer hire you, a certified professional, when they can just as easily call a temporary employment agency?

Through natural selection, our industry will most likely lose more installers than we gain, and that is not necessarily bad. Fight the inevitable by being a person and company with knowledge and integrity. Fight the urge to skip steps or deliver sub-par work, even once, or you could very well become one of those companies we say goodbye to in 2009. Think long-term, not short-term, both for yourself and the industry, so that we may all have a successful year.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s World of Concrete in Las Vegas, and good luck in the coming year.

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