3 Mistakes that are Making your Concrete Countertop Supplies too Expensive

by Lane Mangum, VP Business Services, The Concrete Countertop Institute

Concrete countertop material costs are cheap. They’re mainly just sand, cement and rocks. Even when you add in all the specialty ingredients and everything you use up while making concrete countertops (melamine and foam for forms, diamond pads that wear out, rubber gloves, etc.), the average cost over time for materials is only about $10 per square foot (for 1.5″ thick precast).

In this article I wrote for Concrete Decor magazine, I compare that to labor costs, which are about double that at maximum efficiency, and explore ways to increase your profitability by keeping labor costs low.

But that doesn’t mean you can totally neglect your material costs. Since we started selling concrete countertop supplies and equipment about a year ago, I’ve seen some issues with how concrete countertop pros are approaching buying supplies.

Mistake #1: Lack of Planning Ahead

This is the big one. I consistently see concrete countertop makers buying small quantities at the last minute.

Even if you don’t get into a situation where you’re paying outrageous amounts for rush shipping, shipping can still increase your material costs substantially. With some items, it’s simply unavoidable. They may be large and bulky and cost more to ship. Often these are items like pozzolan, which are low material cost but high shipping cost, so shipping is unavoidably going being a substantial portion of the cost.

However, you can minimize this cost by buying in bulk. Here’s an example.

Buy 10 bags of VCAS, shipped from NC to the Northeast:

  • $325.00 shipping, $268.70 VCAS = $593.70 total = $59.37 per bag

Buy 28 bags (full pallet) of VCAS, shipped from NC to the Northeast:

  • $425.00 shipping, $752.36 VCAS = $1177.36 total = $42.05 per bag
  • Savings: $17.32 per bag (29%) or $484.96 total.

VCAS has unlimited shelf life, so there is no reason not to buy a full pallet. Think of it this way:

  • Each 175 square feet of 3/4″ thick GFRC should use about 3 bags of VCAS, so 28 bags will make about 1633 square feet.
  • At an average project size of 50 sq ft, that’s almost 33 projects.
  • A busy shop doing 8 projects per month will use this amount in 4 months. Even if you were doing only 4 projects per month, it would take only 8 months to use this much.

Mistake #2: Spending Too Much Time

Your time is worth money. Spending time driving around buying supplies costs you money. Basics such as office supplies can be delivered free of charge the next day by Staples (or your local office supply store may offer this service). Concrete materials such as cement you will need to put some thought into. Here’s an example:

  • The nearest contractor supply store to our shop that sells white cement is 6 miles away. It takes at least 30 minutes to drive there, park, shop and check out, then drive back.
  • The store will deliver on a flat bed truck for a $59 flat fee.
  • 94-lb bags of white cement cost $24.00 each. 35 bags will fit on a pallet.
  • Not adding tax, cost without delivery is $840.00 = $24.00 per bag.
  • Not adding tax, cost with delivery is $899.00 = $25.69 per bag, an additional $1.69 per bag.
  • An additional $1.69 for 94 pounds of cement is not so bad, and the time savings is probably worth the $59.

This is why we have our cement delivered. If we get 2 pallets at a time, the extra cost is only $0.85 per bag.

Mistake #3: Buying Things You Don’t Need

Boys like to buy lots of toys. That shiny new polisher may look exciting, but do you really need it? Is there a real business justification for it?

The example I like to use is the DS3011 planetary polisher. We do sell these, but we encourage only established concrete countertop makers with high throughput to buy them. Think of it like this:

The DS3011 costs $2247. Do you have a business need for it that will give you a return on your investment within about a year? For example, if you’ve identified that the time spent grinding and polishing is a bottleneck in your production, or if your employees are having trouble keeping a single headed grinder flat and causing quality problems, then you have a business need for a 3-headed planetary polisher. Try to quantify just how much time it would save you. Would it make your projects 10% faster? If you have quality problems, how often do they occur? Every 5 or 10 projects?

Keep in mind that you will also have to buy 3 full sets of diamond pads that you use exclusively on the DS3011 so that they wear evenly. That will cost $370.05. So you need to be reasonably sure that having a DS3011 will save you or bring in over $2600 in the next year or so.

  • If it allows you to produce projects 10% faster and you can increase your production from 8 projects per month to almost 9, then you’ve increased your revenue by almost $5000 per month (average project size).
  • If it prevents a disastrous quality problem on just one project, it’s saved you about $5000. If those problems were occurring often, it will quickly save you many thousands of dollars.

The DS3011 is sounding pretty good right now, but keep in mind that you might not have the problems mentioned. Your market area might prefer a cream finish, and you hardly ever do any real grinding. The point is to put in the thought to make sure that you have a real, quantitative business need for a piece of equipment before buying it.

If you plan ahead and buy in bulk, manage your time efficiently, and think through a business case for any large purchases, the savings will add up to many thousands more dollars in your pocket.

Making Beautiful Concrete Countertops in Haiti – Not Easy, but Worth It

Here at The Concrete Countertop Institute we have the pleasure of meeting students from around the world, each becoming a concrete ambassador of sorts when they head back home and start creating their works of art. Every country (whether it be the United States, Australia, or somewhere else) has its challenges and we love watching our students rise the opportunity to succeed. I recently had the chance to catch up with CCI student Tamika Craan who lives and works in Haiti. I’m excited to share some of her beautiful creations and her story with you today.

This stunning countertop was made using precast vibrated concrete.

Inspired by Television to Make a Change

When we think of sitting in front of a TV set rarely do think that a life changing moment is coming our way, but that’s exactly what happened to Tamika as she enjoyed a program about concrete sinks with her father-in-law on HGTV. As they watched the install of a decorative sink and countertop, he suggested that she start a decorative concrete business in Haiti. Tamika wasn’t convinced at first, but was curious enough to do a bit of research. The more she researched, the more interested she became and soon decided to make a go of it.

This beautiful outdoor table is made from foam cored GFRC.

This beautiful outdoor table is made from foam cored GFRC. The hardest part of this job was getting the table in place as it had to be transported up a very tight staircase before arriving at its rooftop home.

With a lifelong passion for construction (both her parents were civil engineers) and a degree in construction management from Florida International University she had the background needed to really dive in. She attended the Ultimate Concrete Countertop class with us in October 2012 and hasn’t looked back since.

Concrete in Haiti is Harder than You’d Think

Concrete is used for many construction projects in Haiti, so Tamika assumed a decorative concrete business would be easy, but decorative concrete isn’t the same as the plain gray stuff you see on the ground. Getting supplies is a major issue for her business. She explains, “The biggest challenge I find on every single project has to do with supply. Sometimes when a client asks me about the production time, I often have to add the time it will take me to buy my products online, and receive them in Haiti.” This can add weeks or months to a project.

This black bar top was created for Carafe and is displayed in the bar in one of Haiti's biggest hotels. The client wanted a large curved black bar with few seams. The total piece measures 21 feet and is made in three sections (1- 16 foot piece and 2- 2.5 foot pieces).

This black bar top was created for Carafe and is displayed in the bar in one of Haiti’s biggest hotels. The client wanted a large curved black bar with few seams. The total piece measures 21 feet and is made in three sections (1- 16 foot piece and 2- 2.5 foot pieces).

Supplies aren’t the only difficulty working in Haiti. Internet connectivity can also be an issue, especially in some parts of the country. And of course, there’s the challenge of building the market and educating potential clients. But, in spite of the challenges the market is developing and Tamika’s decorative concrete business DecoBton (named for the French word for concrete, “beton”) is growing.

This is one of Tamika's biggest projects to date and was her first time creating a mold for a curved piece.

This is one of Tamika’s biggest projects to date and was her first time creating a mold for a curved piece.

DecoBton hasn’t done much advertising at all, relying solely on social media, an expo or two, and word of mouth to grow the business. Tamika is excited at the prospects, “The market potential is definitely there, and we’re happy to be a part of this new wave of innovation in Haiti.”

The countertop was made using GFRC to reduce the weight, but still required 12 men to carry it into place. Transporting the supersized countertop up curved staircases to the third floor was a challenge (and a scary experience for Tamika).

The countertop was made using GFRC to reduce the weight, but still required 12 men to carry it into place. Transporting the supersized countertop up curved staircases to the third floor was a challenge (and a scary experience for Tamika).

To all our students around the world, we thank you for your hard work and diligence in spreading the word about concrete countertops in your area. Tamika and her company DecoBton are certainly doing their part in Haiti. View her website at www.decobton.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your work with us today!

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