Sometime in the last decade, decorative concrete stopped being a niche product, and became recognized as a mainstream hardscapes / flooring option.
While those in the industry are biased, and would say it occurred far earlier, the truth is that sometime in the last 10 years architects, home owners, and building managers acknowledged decorative concrete as equal to conventional flooring and hardscapes such as wood, tile, vinyl, pavers, and plain concrete. This recognition is a double-edged sword, which cuts both ways. On one side, the decorative concrete market is no longer viewed as a niche market, once classified as “specialty” and “artistic.” This means the decorative concrete market is now on a level playing field with all the traditional flooring and hardscapes products and systems, no longer having an advantage solely because it's unique.
This also means the job of selling just became that much more difficult for those in the decorative industry, as they need to work that much harder to get their product selected from a broad field of established competitors. On the other side of that edge, the benefits of being mainstream bring recognition and respect for products and systems that not so long ago may have been passed over as being “too new” or “unproven.” Product recognition and acceptance has opened new markets for many decorative concrete systems that did not exist a few years ago.
Decorative concrete sets trends among top flooring choices
Now listed among top choices for flooring and hardscapes, decorative concrete also has the ability to set trends and be a leader in a large and diverse industry. As mentioned, gone are the days of achieving success just because you stain or stamp concrete. From the design community to the residential homeowners, the desire runs deep for new trends in exceptional floor finishes. Since the products and systems themselves have graduated to mainstream, this means the color, design, finish and quality must differentiate themselves from the competition, not just the general concept of “decorative concrete.” This is where being aware of and utilizing current trends plays an important part in the future success of your business and the decorative concrete industry as a whole. The decorative concrete industry must now compete against established corporations in the flooring and hardscapes industry that have millions to spend on marketing and trendsetting. How can a relatively small industry by comparison compete against these giants? The same way the industry achieved equal status with these giants in the first place: creativity, originality, durability, and providing something these other “manufactured products” cannot—one-of-a-kind finishes unique to the project and/or individual.
In early 2010, I was contracted by concretenetwork.com to begin a multi-year project of writing a series of books outlining current trends within each decorative concrete market segment. Over the last four years, I have had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of top industry installers and experts on the subject of what is trending in their particular region and market specialty. While there were some regional anomalies, as a whole the industry is experiencing similar trends across the entire US marketplace. It was not long into the research before two distinct trends—macro-trends and micro-trends—became apparent.
Macro-trends: Clean, bold, bright, and warm
“Macro-trends are those that crossed product lines and were relevant in all regions. The common macro-trends I found in most decorative concrete work today included clean linear patterns, large bold designs, brighter and warmer colors, industrial gray finishes, and the drive toward using eco-friendly or sustainable products and systems. It is interesting to note that in many cases a current trend is less about a new product or system, and more about taking proven techniques from the past and updating them with new design techniques and colors, creating the trend of today. This can be clearly seen in the stamped concrete industry where the process of stamping has not changed, but rather the trend is all about large, bold, linear patterns and softer, natural colors. These new, large, bold designs replaced the smaller, busy patterns that were popular a decade ago. In the stain market, the macro-trend is all about environmentally-friendly products and systems that have spurred industrial gray finishes, along with more vivid colors not readily available with older stain technology.
A macro-trend all to its own, polished concrete is the hottest trend in decorative concrete. It's only been 14 years since Home Depot tested the concept of polishing concrete floors to save money on maintenance and lighting. Their success ushered in the age of polishing concrete as a mainstream flooring option, and the industry has not looked back.
Micro-trends: exposed aggregate and microtoppings
While macro-trends affect popularity and what is trending across all market segments, micro-trends impact specific markets or regions. In my research, I found that exposed aggregate is a micro-trend within the integrally colored concrete market segment in certain regions of the country. Exposing glass, metal and other recycled material is part of the exposed aggregate trend that is growing in popularity. Another prominent micro-trend is the growing popularity of microtopping flooring in both residential and commercial applications. The broad spectrum of available colors, along with the ease of application and variety of finishes has made microtoppings a trend-setting flooring system that is growing in popularity. Along with colors, the level of gloss, specifically the trend toward matte and satin finishes, is a micro-trend that is growing in popularity. While gloss sealers are still the most popular, the trend with sealers is definitely moving toward more natural finishes with less shine.
No matter the type of decorative concrete work you are involved with, trends impact the bottom line. Being aware of what is trending in a particular market, or across all market segments, will allow you to be better prepared when competing against other flooring and hardscapes systems.
About the Author
Chris is a frequent presenter at the World of Concrete trade show and has written extensively on different aspects of Architectural Concrete for various magazines including: Concrete Expressions, Concrete Homes, Concrete Décor, and Concrete Products. He authors a column in Concrete Decor magazine called Trowel and Error as well as managing a blog on ConcreteNetwork.com called Sullivan's Corner which deals with solving decorative concrete technical issues.
Chris has over 300 published articles dealing with the proper installation of all facets of decorative concrete as well as solving common installation issues. He recently published his 4th book on current trends in decorative concrete. Chris received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992 and is a member of the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC) and American Concrete Institute (ACI).
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