By Jim Vlcek, Editor in Chief
The following is a Q&A interview I had recently with polished/decorative concrete contractor, Roy Bowman, chairman of the CPAA and one of the visionary owners of Concrete Visions. Jim Vlcek, Editor-in Chief
JV: What was your pathway into the concrete industry that led you to become one of the most respected polished and decorative concrete installer-contractors in the US?
RB: “I first started in the concrete industry with surface prep equipment in 2000 and did my first polish job in 2002. A friend of mine said L&M had a chemical that would harden concrete and last forever. I called Mike Tucker, the regional sales rep for L&M and he said they had what I needed. So I did my first diamond ground polished floor with their product way back in 2002. Nobody told me that I had to scrub it off when it was done or that the floor would turn white and blotchy. Needless to say, I had to go back and re-polish to fix it. I made very little profit on that first floor, but it taught me some important lessons in this industry. It was that job that officially launched me into the concrete polishing business.
In 2004, I started Concrete Visions with the help of a good friend who's still my business partner, George Gooch. We began polishing 30-40,000 sq. ft. a year. Now we've had years where we have completed more than 700,000 sq. ft. Looking back at the early years, I can say it all followed a weird progression. Having a floor prep company long before starting Concrete Visions, I learned about the advantage of polished concrete because of doing the surface prep. We would prep, and then in four or five years re-prep a floor for epoxy coating. After I did that first polish job, I started preaching about the advantages of diamonds rather than epoxy. I then started to get more and more jobs. It was by the grace of God that we did a good job, did the floor right, and within a year we were doing bigger and more significant jobs. We evolved through the painful learning process and now those types of old jobs that we struggled with are now a piece of cake for us. The first couple of years I thought we were going to starve to death. Finally, we started making money and things took off from there.”
JV: Where do you see the polished and decorative concrete business evolving into over the next 5-10 years?
RB: “The polished concrete business is expanding rapidly. It is the goal of the Concrete Polishing Association Of America (CPAA) to elevate this side of the business to new heights. As the chairman of the CPAA board of directors, I have to say the CPAA has done a lot to develop specifications, technical guidelines, and the development of definitions that reach across an entire industry and are not specific to only one manufacturer's product. A lot of folks have worked hard to make that happen, but probably none as much as our executive director, Brad Burns. It is because of that that we have seen a lot of growth in the overall amount of floor coverage that we do, plus a lot of growth in polishers.
There's a trend right now that anybody who can afford to buy a grinder is a polisher even without training. My concern for this industry for the next five years is too many untrained professionals who are trying to polish concrete and fall far short of being professional. I hope for all of us that this trend doesn't hurt the industry. On the chemical-product side, I have seen a lot of changes and growth with the manufacturers and their products which gives us as contractors a lot more tools to work with. As all of us know, it not only takes a true professional to do the job, it also takes the right products; products that actually work. L&M's products, FGS, SealHard, LionHard are all excellent products. These products have all evolved to meet the demand of the industry, and as the years progress, they make this industry better with more selection and a better end result. We still have a lot of room for growth. There are a lot of others competing for the floor covering dollar—tile, carpet, epoxy, coatings, etc. That's why it's important to develop and maintain an association to continually improve what we do.”
JV: In order of importance, what are the main obstacles to overcome for polished concrete installers when communicating with floor owners?
RB: “On every new construction project, we provide the owner or architect with all the data and requirements for placement of a good substrate to work with. Like artists, a great polished concrete floor is only as good as the 'canvas' we start with. If we get a really bad slab of concrete, it could cost more money to fix it than it's worth. For instance, if they want a beautiful, clean polish but we have to start with a wavy floor that doesn't meet a ff-50 flatness level; you'll get a lot of aggregate exposure that the owner is not going to be pleased with. If they have a rumpled-up slab and they're looking for a real uniform stain color, the finishing process will leave blotchy areas. Because all the coloring dye products are translucent, those blotchy areas will still be there; they'll just be lighter or darker. We are always honest with the floor owners; we mention these things in the up-front meeting. Sometimes they just don't want to hear it though; they think we are miracle workers.”
JV: As the name of your company implies…where will Concrete Visions position its major emphasis for the future?
RB: “I wish I had a good answer for that, but we've expanded into doing a lot of polished floor overlays on floors that could present problems. We have also expanded into a lot more decorative work, not just commercial, straight-up 'grey' polishing. We are very adept and well known for placing multiple colors on floors. I think Concrete Vision's biggest goal is to set our sights on building the company slowly to a medium size level. Right now, we have a total of 10-14 employees, but it fluctuates. A good, manageable goal for us would be 20-25 employees. I don't really aspire to be a large, national company. I want to be able to service my customers with a high degree of professionalism and top quality service. Another goal for our future is the 'maintenance' side of the business, providing an option for our customers to do the maintenance for them. It's not what we really want to do, but a lot of maintenance companies out there either don't know how to properly clean concrete floors, or they don't care to get into this side of the business plus the fact that they're not getting paid to wax the floor now.”
JV: In a nutshell, what are the three major strengths that separate Concrete Visions from your competition?
RB: “Number one: Attention to detail.
Number two: The willingness to solve problems if they happen.
Number three: Flexibility.”
JV: What words of wisdom would you like to send to your counterparts in this industry?
RB: “I would like them to continue to educate themselves on polished concrete craftsmanship, the products and proper use of products, on the industry and products as they change. Also, to be careful of unrealistic expectations that they give the customer about the floor. Deliver the expectations honestly and properly so that there are no surprises with the end result.”
JV: What encouraging words can you give to other contractors in this business?
RB: “You never lose money on jobs you don't do. Don't bid the jobs too cheap. Get the value for what you're doing. Too many of my competitors have gone out of business by not managing this properly. The industry is growing year-after-year. Owners see the value in what we're doing. If we set our values to do the best jobs we can, we won't have to worry about the competition.”
JV: How important is the word “Professional” to you and your company?
RB: “Extremely important! It's imperative that we project ourselves as a professional company. Not all companies have done this and they've gone out of business. Our employees show up in clean uniforms with our company logos. We always keep our equipment to a high level of maintenance. We attend all of the safety meetings. We keep our vehicles clean and our job sites impeccable to the best of our ability. We also try to work professionally with the other subs on the jobsite, and respect the work that they do as well. This kind of attitude has kept us in the game as a 'preferred contractor' to the general contractors. Show up on time, do what we say we're going to do, and clean up after ourselves. We're not going to fight with the other sub over what's right or wrong. We're not going to be a liability to them on the jobsite. We want to send a good feeling to our customer, whether they are the GC or the floor owner.”
JV: What are you personally doing to grow your business in the future?
RB: “Right now, I'm spending a lot of time and effort with the CPAA. Giving you an analogy, currently, the industry is about like a 'medium pizza. If I get only one slice (one company) it's a pretty good slice. But, if I can grow the industry/involvement through awareness, educational involvement, etc. with the floor owners, customers, architects, specifiers, designers, engineers, etc. I expand the industry. If I make the industry grow, the pizza gets bigger and my slice gets bigger as well. I strongly feel that that pizza will get exponentially bigger as this industry grows. I also know there will be more slices in that pizza and that'll be good for all of us.”
© 2013 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Fall 2013.