After spending 15 years in computer software development, C.J. Salzano was looking for a career change that would let him pursue his creative side.
He began working part time with his brother, Frank Salzano, an engineer who had been in the construction and concrete design industry for several years. “I wasn’t really interested in the structural side,” C.J. says, but “then one day Frank got a call about something called stamped concrete.”
Although his brother wasn’t interested in the decorative side of concrete, he kept getting a lot of calls about stamped concrete. That’s when C.J. realized this was a business opportunity for him.
“My brother is the right-handed brother interested in all things nondecorative. I’m the left-handed brother who always had an itch for sketching, colors and designing fun decorative things,” says Salzano.
Soon, one thing led to another and Salzano found himself purchasing equipment and materials for stamped concrete and hiring an experienced crew to help him out. After only a month of working with his brother, he decided to go on his own and that was the beginning of Salzano Custom Concrete in Centreville, Virginia.
“Here we are, 13 years later, and I am still going at it,” says Salzano. “I think we’ve come a long way, developed lots of good experience and hopefully have established a great reputation.”
Salzano attributes his success to having the courage and bravery to dive into stamped concrete, learn everything he could about it on the fly, and accept help and advice from a well-seasoned and knowledgeable crew. While he’s taken a few training classes along the way, he’s also made several trips to Las Vegas to meet experts.
“Probably three or so times each year, I find myself at a training class or seminar of one sort or another,” says Salzano. “I wouldn’t call any of it formal school training.”
Over the years, Salzano notes, most of his business has been residential concrete work leading him to use various techniques and products, including color hardener, integral color and about 15 different stamps. He also seals a good deal of his work and uses a variety of stains for specialty color work.
Salzano says that residential jobs are the ones that allow him to be most creative.
“Typically on commercial jobs, by the time it gets to us, the design, colors, fun decorative details have already been established by either the owner or architect who are typically not interested in any suggestions we may have,” says Salzano.
Really big jobs
In the Northern Virginia area, Salzano has worked on some really big jobs as far as scale. The largest residential project was a 7,000-square-foot decorative concrete driveway. And last year, his company installed a 6,000-square-foot stamped concrete commercial pool deck.
“I guess the term ‘really big’ is somewhat subjective,” says Salzano. “To me a really big job would be more than 3,000 square feet. We only do one of those each year or so.”
A few years back, they installed a very large multitier backyard patio that had many different elements. To this day, it remains his favorite.
The job pretty much had it all, says Salzano: a feature that accented a very large hot tub, a separate tier for a built-in fire pit and a sitting wall. It also had a pergola, an outdoor kitchen and a patio that resembled a natural Pennsylvania bluestone that featured a unique grouted version of multicolored stamped concrete.
Stencils cut to order
While Salzano Custom Concrete has never created its own tools, it has created its own stencil pattern to fit individual project’s needs.
“For our decorative overlay work it is almost always a stenciled overlay,” says Salzano. “The stencils we use are all custom measured and cut — we never use the stencils that come on a roll.”
Salzano feels that a roll stencil doesn’t provide enough of a natural look. He says they get a much better look cutting and applying a stencil themselves by using stencil tape.
“We do it by hand putting a piece here, another there and ultimately creating our own pattern,” says Salzano.
Some of the biggest challenges Salzano faces are educating customers on what to expect, as customers are accustomed to buying things that are essentially perfect.
“You go into a store and see a table that was made in a factory. You put your hands on it and you look it over before you buy it,” says Salzano. “Even once you get home if there’s a scratch you didn’t see you can take it back to the store and get your money back, or another table.”
With stamped concrete, he notes, it’s a “very different animal” as something handcrafted in your backyard will tend to have imperfections. Because of this, the company does its very best to educate the customers before starting on a project so there are no surprises.
Two things set Salzano Custom Concrete apart: its desire to educate customers through the design and installation process, and its unique multicolored stamped concrete which he came up with on his own.
“While most people use a two-color stamped concrete technique, we go back after it’s been stamped, brush in a special type of grout and by hand stain the stone and in between the stones,” says Salzano.
While he doesn’t do this technique to every stone, about 50 to 80 percent get the accenting treatment. Most of the color happens while they’re pouring the concrete and part of it happens after they walk on it.
“At the end of the project the customers are very happy and appreciative that we took the time to work so closely with them, talking every day through the process, answering questions and just delivering good old-fashioned customer service,” says Salzano.
As a final note, Salzano is very thankful to his family who has “put up” with his crazy lifestyle, as their house always becomes the experimental ground for his projects.
“For better or worse, we have lots of interesting concrete elements at home to enjoy every day,” says Salzano.