Growth, increased profits, value and quality are a few words I hear thrown around in the decorative concrete industry these days. It seems, and rightly so, many want to grow their business and increase their value and sustainability in the marketplace by providing quality work.
I wholeheartedly agree that we should be looking for ways to do this.
My questions are these: Are we taking advantage of what the industry has to offer? Are we changing with the times? Are we looking to what is just beyond the horizon — as in, what is the next new trend — or, instead, are we too preoccupied with looking in the rearview mirror to see if our competition is gaining on us?
Perhaps, we’re so busy we’re like a bicyclist who’s pedaling as fast as he can, all the while watching his feet rather than the road and thinking, “Wow, I’m pedaling really fast” as he plows into a parked car.
Training — whether in a large setting, a small group or one-on-one — can be beneficial and one should make the most of these opportunities.
A fair deal
Solomon Colors/Brickform recently held its second Decorative Concrete Fair. Like the previous year, it was well attended and very well received by those who carved time out of their busy schedules to attend and participate.
The Decorative Concrete Fair was a three-day event held in Springfield, Illinois, that featured industry experts in several different areas. Attendees could participate in classroom presentations that addressed such topics as building a better business, new trends for decorative concrete and how to be “Sealer Savvy.”
At Solomon Color’s multiacre training facility, attendees could “step across” the roped-off demo area and mingle directly with the trainers and presenters. There was ample opportunity to talk with and ask the trainers questions and have a real exchange of ideas.
There were exhibits, demonstrations and trainings on a host of things from vertical stamping and carving, grinding and polishing, and surface prepping to stains, dyes, overlays and reusable polyurethane stencils. Trainers or members of the training staff mingled with attendees and made themselves available long after their individual sessions were complete.
Solomon Colors/Brickform training staff created an outdoor hardscape bar and patio area which served as the location for two impromptu happy hours, one the night before the training fair began and the other in the evening of the fair’s next to the last day. These happy hours (emphasis on hours) served as a great meeting place where contractors could gather and share thoughts and opinions with each other and with the training staff. The conversations were robust, the company extraordinary and all left feeling edified.
Quality training doesn’t always have to be a big event. It can happen at any level with as many people as a venue can hold or as few as one eager contractor. The key to quality training is having a vested interest in the outcome.
What do I mean by this? I started this article by stating that growth, increased profits, quality and sustainability were what the industry desired. I believe many in the industry want these things, but sometimes I question whether we’re fully invested in doing what’s necessary to achieve them.
We say we want to produce quality work, yet we exclude sealing concrete out of our contract because with current VOC laws in many states, sealing has become more difficult. Rather than learning how to work within the laws and how to apply the more difficult VOC-compliant sealers, some have chosen to exclude them altogether.
This has had a negative effect on our industry. It either leaves decorative concrete work “unfinished” or puts the burden on homeowners or building owners to seal their own concrete. We know how that story usually ends.
If we want to produce high-quality work, increase our profitability and build a sustainable industry, we need to learn to adapt with change. Remember, decorative concrete done well is like having a billboard on the side of the road advertising our work. Done poorly, or left unfinished, it is a black mark on our industry.
Be sealer savvy
A supplier recently told me that many of his contractors were no longer going to be offering sealing as part of their business, even though they were providing colored or decorative concrete. He went on to say that these contractors hadn’t learned how to adapt to the newly adopted <100 VOC grams per liter laws.
Even though the law had been changed years ago and training through various contractor and material supplier organizations had been held to educate the local industry about what was coming, many had not paid much attention. This was because there was a “sell through” period of previously manufactured, higher-VOC material available for a specified amount of time.
Now that the “sell through” period had expired, there was a general panic throughout the industry. Hence, the change in direction. After counseling with the local supplier, additional training was immediately offered to contractors who wanted to learn how to properly apply the lower-VOC sealers.
Together we stand
Contractors: Stand up and be heard! Let your supply houses know you want/need more specific training. Then together with your suppliers, let the manufacturers of your preferred products know that you want/need more training.
I can almost guarantee with absolute certainty your preferred manufacturers of decorative products will hear your call. They will answer and provide training to assist you in adapting to the changes affecting our industry so your businesses can thrive.
Here’s some advice: When local, regional or national trainings are offered and resources are spent to provide the best training, please make every attempt to participate. After all, you’re the ones who have been asking for the training.
I get it — we are all busy, especially in a good economy. However, if we take the “long view” approach and look to the future we can all sacrifice a little bit of time now for a better more sustainable future. Don’t be like the bicyclist mentioned earlier who was looking at his pedals and ultimately crashed into the parked car because he wasn’t looking ahead.
We all are in this together and we all have a vested interest in this industry’s success.