Sponge for Knowledge: How to ensure that training benefits your business

Getting Equipped in Class

“If I had known how to do it [CCI’s] way, it would have been a lot easier.”

Like many of the students who come to The Concrete Countertop Institute, Matt Shields of Owasso, OK already had experience working with concrete. He ran his own business, Ramcrete Concrete Designs, for more than ten years. CCI’s classes, as Shields hoped, helped him develop very advanced skills in GFRC. In addition to those GFRC skills, Shields learned a great deal about business, and has applied those lessons in ways that have helped his to business grow.

Right before attending CCI’s Ultimate class in 2016, Shields had taken on a precasting job that motivated him to update his skills.

“I went there [to CCI] because of the process that they were teaching,” Shields says. “I wanted to know how to do the GFRC style and to get better at precasting. I had precasted a job before that and we made solid, and heavy, multiple pieces. If I had known how to do it [CCI’s] way, it would have been a lot easier. We were carrying pieces that were basically twice as heavy as we were making in class. I said, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’”

A self-described sponge for knowledge, Shields said he went into class with the right attitude, determined to get as much as he could out of the GFRC training. The benefits of the training turned out to be multifaceted. Since the training, Shields has gotten more attention for his work, has been able to handle customer questions in a way that gives them confidence in his abilities and, importantly, he has been able to charge a fair price for the intricate, knowledge-intensive work that GFRC involves. Those benefits did not take long to manifest after Shields finished his training.

“My Facebook has gone from twenty people liking it to almost three hundred within a couple of months, just because we’re promoting concrete countertops,” Shields says. “People are searching for that and finding it. Last week, I had forty new views on my website from Facebook.”

Shields is able to handle quite a bit of his advertising himself. While a website company handles his web page, Shields takes portfolio pictures himself, posts them on Facebook and sends them off to the website designers to be included in his site.

The increased interest in his work is not solely due to the venues he uses for publicity. Shields credits his improved outreach largely to the quality of the work he’s been able to produce since attending CCI.

The Business Side

‘”This is a high end product, you should not give your training away.”

Quality work, however, requires time and money. In addition to teaching state-of-the-art GFRC skills, Shields noted that Lane Mangum of CCI emphasized the need to run a business in a legitimate way, which means charging appropriate prices for one’s work.

“Lane’s very nice about it,” Shields explains, “but she says, ‘This is a high end product, you should not give your training away.’ Lane’s been out there and has done it and can explain it in a real way,” Shields says. “I liked that part of it. I didn’t expect the business side of it as much as I got.”

Shields said the knowledge and skills he acquired also translated to him being able to outdo his competition in terms of customer service.

“You get the skills to explain things to the client without giving away your secrets,” he says. “When customers call you, they want you to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, the customer will know that. With the education, you can transfer that to working with the client and that’s why people will pay more.”

Shields has only had one client who turned him down over price. Shields didn’t offer a discount and the customer was not receptive to the idea of paying a bit more for a quality product. “He wanted something cheap and that’s probably what he got. He was just interested in one thing: price.”

Shields has stuck to his guns about prices and, because of that, he was able to pay the entire cost of his CCI training with the income from his first job after he graduated, a strong argument for not lowballing work.

Simply because Shields has acquired a range of updated skills and has been able to demand a better price for his work doesn’t mean that Ramcrete now only takes on the priciest jobs. Shields wants to work with customers at all price ranges and is also coming up with new ways to translate his skills into more business. He’s currently in the process of launching a new product that makes outdoor kitchens, a big seller in Shields’s market, more flexible and customizable. The old process Shields used to create outdoor kitchens required hiring a mason and was overly complex. His new product will incorporate all the flexibility and quality of GFRC, along with multiple purchasing options, to make outdoor kitchens more accessible, no matter what the customer might want. Shields is ambitious when it comes to getting his idea to market.

“I want to sell two hundred of these next year,” he says. “That’s less than one per day. I can make that work.”

Advice for New Graduates

Shields has some simple advice for newly-graduated alumni of CCI, and his advice speaks to having skill and integrity as a business person.

“Start making samples,” Shields says when asked what graduates should do first. “Get your hands dirty making this stuff and tell everyone about it. You need to get your mistakes out of the way.”

Shields is not offering armchair advice. Making samples is exactly what he started doing as soon as he returned home from class. Shields compares it to writing out one’s homework after getting home from school. The process of using the knowledge fosters memorization of what was learned and allows the development of better skills. Shields has even gotten sales from pictures of samples he worked on while at CCI.

Shields says there’s another real advantage that comes with being able to show customers samples of your own work. “I do not believe in showing someone else’s work if you didn’t do it,” Shields says. “You’ll set yourself up for failure really fast.” By creating samples and only showing customers projects he’s worked on, Shields can assure customers that he can deliver on what he promises.

In fact, Shields has already gone through several pallets of material since graduating CCI. He strongly advises new graduates to do the same; to not just think about how they want to apply their skills, but to actively do so, right away.

“If you go to class and don’t buy any product and don’t make anything right away, you’ll never do it,” he says.

Click here for more information about CCI training.

How Concrete Commander Built a Successful Creative Concrete Business

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fire-pits-furniture

Creative concrete and wood furniture and fire bowl

In only three years, Concrete Countertop Institute graduate Drew Teaman has managed to build a successful custom concrete business—ConcreteCommander.com—in Jacksonville, Florida. Though easy-going and laid-back in conversation, the story of how he built his business demonstrates a level of flexibility, tenacity and creativity that oftentimes separates successful business owners from those who struggle to get off the ground.

Teaman, with a degree in exercise science, experience as a personal trainer and fifteen years of experience in pharmaceutical sales, doesn’t, at least on the surface, sound like someone who’d be interested in going into GFRC. Before he took up pharmaceutical sales, however, he worked as a salesperson for a company that sold concrete repair products to the military. Eventually, Teaman graduated from both the Ultimate and Advanced Molding technique programs at The Concrete Countertop Institute and launched his own business.

“[At first] I did a lot of DIY stuff, helping people out, and then I got into concrete very, very slowly,” he says. “One day, I decided I was going to go for it and started this thing on my own. Three years later, we own a building and we have six employees.”

Teaman credits a great deal of ConcreteCommander.com’s success to “we,” as opposed to only himself.

“What we’ve done is we’ve really developed some good people,” he says. “We’ve changed some lives in our shop.” With the support of friends and family, and Jeff Girard from CCI when required, Teaman and his team have managed to build not only a sustainable business, but one that continues to grow and evolve.

That successful business didn’t come without an investment of time, effort and some serious financial planning on the part of Teaman. Eventually, he even relocated for the sake of the business. He started out in Indiana, but the climate made the business environment particularly challenging.
“When I was up there, we hit a lull in the winters,” he says. “It was like five months of nothingness.”

Teaman’s long-time friend, Brett, lived in Jacksonville. The two coordinated and Brett visited some home shows to see if the market would be friendly for Teaman. There wasn’t any competition for Teaman in Jacksonville, so the two jumped on the opportunity.

“We made some sales calls, got some jobs and I drove down and brought my equipment,” Teaman says. “I was working back and forth, back and forth, just to keep things going.”

Eventually, the investment paid off and Teaman permanently relocated to Florida. In addition to assembling a great team, Teaman credits some of ConcreteCommander.com’s success to applying the lessons he’d learned in the pharmaceutical business; customer service, in particular.

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fireplace

Custom concrete fireplace surround by Concrete Commander

Concrete Customer Service

Good sales people know that managing expectations is a significant part of customer service, something that, from his many years in sales, Teaman brought to his new business.

“I was in pharmaceuticals for fifteen years,” he says. “We brought in the customer service at that level.”

Sometimes, that means educating customers about what custom concrete work really entails.

“When they [customers] see the website, eighty-percent of the people are going to think that they’re getting a cheap product because it’s concrete,” he says. “They’re tire kicking. They don’t realize that the cost is higher than it is for cheap granite. Sometimes they’re blown away.”

Teaman makes an effort to reach out to the customers so that they understand the work involved with GFRC. “We just walk them through. They’re like ‘Okay, I get it,” he explains. “For most people, they understand that it’s an expensive product because it’s hand made.”

He credits Jeff and Lane of CCI with offering a lot of insight into customer relationships. “Jeff and Lane did a good job of making sure you know how to set those expectations with customers, “he says. “There’s room for variation. This is a custom, hand-made product. As long as the customer understands that, it’s good.”

In addition to helping customers to understand the skill and work involved in creating custom concrete products, Teaman has developed his business so that it’s flexible and sustainable when custom work goes through its predictable spikes and lulls.

“Our goal is to have our custom side, but then we want to have a production line,” he says.

That production line includes products that are of equally high quality to custom work, but come at a more affordable—but not cheap—price. “Our production looks like custom,” he says. “If you want to soup it up, though, we can really make it a piece of art.”

The production line has a great deal of value to the business. Putting a fire bowl on a palate and shipping it to the customer’s door is not difficult for the business and, for the customer, the production line combines high quality with a great deal of convenience.

Where the other aspects of customer service are concerned, ConcreteCommander.com also sets high standards and it pays off in boosting the company’s reputation and customer relations.

“The way we work, we’re really punctual. If we’re going to be late, we’re texting. People are so appreciative of that,” he says. That also extends to website contacts, “When you can follow up within a half an hour, you’ll blow people away.”

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-fire-bowl

Production concrete fire bowl by Concrete Commander

Flexibility and Return on Investment

ConcreteCommander.com’s success did not just drop into Teaman’s lap. Before he launched the business, he had a plan.

“So many businesses fail in twelve to eighteen months,” he says. “I was able to save money to make this work. We prepared for it. That old adage that you have to spend money to make money is true. If you think you need fifty, you might as well have a hundred and then work hard so you don’t even have to spend the fifty.”

Like most of what Teaman has done with his business, the inclusion of production work is part of a broader plan. “That insulates us a bit,” he says. “If custom slows down, we have production.”

Though he graduated from CCI years ago, Teaman still relies on Jeff Girard when he runs into a particularly difficult challenge and, as is the case with his other connections, he attributes some of his success to that relationship. “You surround yourself with greatness,” he says, “and Jeff is one of those people. He’s always there if I have ‘Jeff questions.’ He is of huge value to what we do.”

Planning aside, Teaman still enjoys quite a bit of spontaneity in his business style. Many of the ideas that have helped ConcreteCommander.com to grow were written on napkins and were the results of not only coming up with good plans, but also the results of maintaining good working relationships. In fact, Teaman’s work history is based on fostering productive relationships and being flexible enough to let one opportunity become another.

“If you think about the progression,” he says, “I was a personal trainer for two years out of college. I met the owner of a [concrete] company and helped him rehab his knee. I used a PowerPoint presentation to help with the rehab and he asked if I could come and train his sales reps to use PowerPoint.”

Teaman took the time he spent travelling and training the salesforce to learn the products they sold and came into the concrete company as a salesperson. His eventual move to pharmaceuticals only required sales experience, which he had in abundance by the time he made the move, and he turned pharmaceuticals into a fifteen-year career that, eventually and through a lot of hard work and investment, led to ConcreteCommander.com.
He credits some of his success to tenacity but, in the end, he still comes back to the people he works with, and that doesn’t mean hiring “yes” men. “You need a support network of people to check you; checks and balances,” he says.

He also advises that people going into the custom concrete business anticipate that it will take time to make money. “You have to save money for it to work,” he says.

Nonetheless, he also advises sticking with what works. “We work hard and play hard,” he says. “This started with an idea written on a napkin, and we still work on napkins.”

Learn more about Concrete Commander at www.ConcreteCommander.com.

More work by Concrete Commander in Jacksonville, Florida and beyond:

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen-2

Concrete-Commander-Florida-concrete-outdoor-kitchen-3

Building a Concrete Countertop Business by Building Relationships

Getting training, building a clientele and a portfolio; anyone starting out in concrete countertops certainly has a lot to think about. For Judive and François Jean-Gilles, personal networking has been particularly significant in building their business. Growing their enterprise, Cygne Beton of Quebec, also required the father/daughter team to make connections that crossed both distance and languages, but the effort has certainly paid off in the end.

Judive got interested in the concrete countertop business in 2009. With a degree in business and fifteen years of experience in the banking world, she was well-equipped to launch a new enterprise, but needed to know more about GFRC. Her journey started with a book, but quickly came to incorporate formal training. She found The Concrete Countertop Institute on the web, but distance was an issue.

“I was looking at the 5-day Ultimate class, but it was a lot of money because I’m Canadian and would have had travel expenses,” she said. “So, I tried the online courses (Level 3).” Judive had extensive experience in online training before she started taking classes at CCI, so she took to the online option quickly.

Once the distance barrier was taken care of, there was still a language barrier to deal with. “I used the books Lane and Jeff sent me,” Judive explained. “My father speaks French, so I had to translate. All the information about working with concrete I had to translate. There were other books I didn’t have to translate because they were about marketing, and that’s what I do.”

The effort Judive put into translating the CCI books helped François to take his vast experience working with concrete in a new direction. François had built foundations and houses out of concrete in Haiti, but hadn’t studied concrete in detail before. “We built upon his knowledge,” Judive said. “He had the experience, but now we had the theory.”

Growing a Business Through Partnerships

Between François and Judive’s extensive experience and their training from CCI, they were ready to launch Cygne Beton. As is the case for any fledgling business, however, finding clients was a concern. Fortunately, Judive is a member of several business networking organizations and she leveraged her relationships with other entrepreneurs, fostering partnerships that helped Cygne Beton, and the businesses it partners with, to succeed.

“I’m in an organization for women in business and we have a lot of meetings,” Judive said. “We have conferences and other activities. I’ve met a lot of clients and I meet contractors there. I can form partnerships with them and join my knowledge with theirs so that we can work as a team.”

Judive’s partnerships with other businesses have allowed her to offer clients package deals. When a client has a need that she cannot meet, Judive has people to rely upon who can fill in the gap, allowing both businesses to capitalize on opportunities that might otherwise be lost. She detailed one such situation in which her networking managed to turn a meeting with a client that didn’t go so well initially into a sale.

“I felt that the client didn’t really trust me,” she said. “I understand why. He wanted measurements; to know how I was going to do the job. I gave him some measurements, but I saw that he wasn’t happy. So, the next time I went, I took my designer and he was amazed.” Despite the client spending most of that second meeting talking to Judive’s designer, he was elated when Judive came back to discuss the project further. “Everything changed because trust was built,” she said. “He saw that I was well supported, that I have a team with me.”

Judive recommends in-person networking for those launching their own business. “The web is good, but you don’t really build relationships online,” she said. “Before I had a portfolio, how could I advertise on the web? When I have more pictures, however, then I can advertise on the web.”

Also thanks to Judive’s networking, Cygne Beton will soon have a website. One of Judive’s business associates is a web designer and will be putting together a site for Cygne Beton in the near future.

In the meantime, Judive does make use of technology on a person-to-person level. She brings her iPad along with her to meetings with clients, which allows them to see the work she and her father have already completed. Nonetheless, Cygne Beton’s cooperative relationships with complimentary businesses are what helped the enterprise to really take off. “I’m building by giving and receiving,” she said. “Building really healthy relationships with other people who do something complimentary to what you do is really the best thing.”

Launching a business is always a significant undertaking, and the risk can be intimidating, but Judive and François have seen it pay off already and Cygne Beton is poised to grow even more. “It was a big decision,” Judive said, “but I’m so happy I did it.”

If you have any questions please contact us.

Taking a Chance with Custom Concrete Designs

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs in Leominster, MA has a business that’s been steadily building steam since he attended The Concrete Countertop Institute.

Formerly a flatwork concrete contractor, Gillis has been working on artisan concrete projects for major designers in the area he services.

Gillis is currently working on the home of a well-known contractor who has built properties for famous athletes in MA. The home will be part of the Wellesley Kitchen Tour.

“Three thousand designers per year are going to walk through the house. They gave me a master bath, a Jack and Jill bath, a half bath, and a six-foot bar downstairs, all in the same house,” Gillis said.

Gillis has put a lot of effort, and creativity, into building OASIS Custom Concrete Designs. He went to work right away after getting his education at CCI.

Getting Started

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Gillis attended the Pro GRFC with Fabric Forming & Fire Pits class in April 2014. He found the curriculum at CCI to be a bit overwhelming at first, even with many years of experience in concrete work. Not one to back down from a challenge, however, he finished his classes, bought a starter kit and the tools to go along with it and spent the first eight months of his career as a concrete artisan working out of a very modest space.

“I went home and bought a 20’x10’ carport for $300 and that’s where I started,” he said.

By the end of the eight months, he was ready to move to a bigger space.

“I ended up in a building that was owned by a master cabinetmaker,” he said. The cabinetmaker was impressed with Gillis’s pieces, an opportunity that Gillis made the most of.

“I figured I might get some work from this guy,” Gillis said. “Next thing you know, the first week I’m here he’s bringing people up.”

The networking turned out to be a huge boon for Gillis. In addition to the cabinetmaker, Gillis shared the space with carpenters working with reclaimed wood and a variety of other tradespeople. After they passed word about his work to their clients, he found himself getting offers for more projects.

One of the people he was put in contact with had been looking for a long time for someone who could provide concrete countertops. Gillis, because he had worked hard to get his name out, ended up getting that client, which has turned into a lot of projects for OASIS Custom Concrete Designs.

Gaining a Reputation

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

The Showroom Piece

As Gillis picked up more work, his momentum kept growing.

The work Gillis did in a client’s bathroom caught the eye of a tile showroom owner in Newton, MA, a wealthy area of Boston. The shop owner expressed an interest in displaying Gillis’s work.

“I brought him a sink and he put it right by the door in his showroom. If it’s not the first thing you see going in, it’ll be the last thing you see going out,” Gillis said.

He’s also gotten to take his work across the country, delivering a fire pit to a couple in Yuma, Arizona.

The couple happen to both be officers in the Marine Corps. “I’m sure they keep good company,” Gillis said, noting that other military officers might see his work and want a fire pit of their own. He branded the piece, so anyone who sees it will know who to ask.

OASIS Custom Concrete designs has a very detailed Facebook page. Gillis features his work on the page, along with photos and videos of his processes. He currently has several reviews—all five stars—and a following that interacts with his page. He even held a contest to rename some of his sinks, with the winner getting a pair of custom candleholders.

Gillis also networks with other concrete countertop artisans online and regularly gets offers to pick up projects doing flatwork.

“I’m really only sleeping when I fall down in a soft area,” he said.

Though Gillis is accustomed to working with a large crew, his concrete countertop business is a much different endeavor.

“I’m a one-man army,” Gillis said of his work style. “I try to challenge myself, no matter what I do. I try to take on as much responsibility as I can. That’s just who I am.”

Advice for New Artisans

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

By Jason Gillis of OASIS Custom Concrete Designs

Asked what advice he’d give people just starting out as concrete countertop artisans, Gillis said “You’ve got to be confident, because it works. All these other businesses prove it works.”

Formal education also proved to be vital to his success.

“Getting paid education is key,” he said. “Like going to CCI with Jeff and Lane. I don’t think I could have learned it any better than what they taught. The technique you learn at CCI; that’s where the highest end of this trade comes from,” Gillis said. “Jeff’s amazing,” he added, “as is Lane.”

Gillis noted that the skills he learned at The Concrete Countertop Institute were foundational. “CCI is the basic institution for learning this trade,” he said.

Gillis had explored other options for business, but is more than happy with working as a concrete countertop artisan. It was a big change in his life, but one he’s embraced. He highly advised being persistent and not being afraid of taking a chance.

“The only way to make a change is to take a chance,” he said. “The only way to make the change work is to be confident in the change, otherwise you fail and you quit. There is no failure; you only learn. You only fail when you stop trying.”

Building on a Good Reputation

A bathroom remodel by John Cassidy of MP&R in Denton, MD, an alumnus of The Concrete Countertop Institute

John Cassidy of MP&R in Denton, Maryland has been improving people’s living spaces for almost twenty years. He recently added concrete countertops to his repertoire.

Like many of the students who come to The Concrete Countertop Institute, his interest was born out of wanting to improve his own home.

Cassidy and his wife looked at DIY sites and made their first concrete countertop together. “I looked at that and thought ‘I could do that for business, too.’ So, I got the training and set up a shop.”

In addition to concrete countertops, Cassidy provides complete bathroom and kitchen remodels, custom cabinetry and more.

“Basically everything except for the electrical and the plumbing and the HVAC,” he said.

While his remodeling services have been the mainstay of his business, concrete countertops are becoming more popular. Cassidy is one of the very few concrete countertop artisans near Denton.

“When I started, the biggest reason I decided to do it was I looked around and the closest places I could find that did concrete countertops were four hours away,” he said.

An Adaptable Professional and an Adaptable Material

Cassidy’s broad range of skills have proven useful in running a business. The flexibility inherent to concrete plays into that.

“There are a lot of different things you can do [with concrete]. I’ve got four or five different custom moldings that are things you couldn’t possibly get with granite. You can inlay just about anything that won’t get damaged by the moisture from the concrete to personalize it even more.”

Cassidy explained how an entire space can be unified by customizing the concrete to go with existing features in the room, such as the decorative elements on trim and door molding.

“You can actually use the same design and make a mold so you can have that on the edge of the countertop, too, and make it all work together. I did a countertop where I had an Italian ivy design built into the edge. You can see and feel it on there.”

The featured images show a bathroom that Cassidy completely remodeled. The homeowner wanted a Moroccan theme, which evolved as the project went on. The end result incorporates several creative elements, including the LED inlays, tile and, of course, the custom concrete work shown in the pictures.

Studying at the Institute

By John Cassidy, MP&R

When Cassidy came to The Concrete Countertop Institute, he didn’t have a great deal of experience working with the material, aside from “pouring concrete to hold up fence posts,” he said.

“When I went there pretty much everybody except for me and another guy—who was actually a helicopter pilot up until that time—had a lot of experience with concrete. A couple of them already had countertop businesses and were looking to further their education.”

Cassidy’s skills in making molds, however, did prove very useful during his studies. He said that any skills one has will be applicable, and that having experience beforehand isn’t necessarily the most important factor involved in learning to work with concrete countertops.

“I think the biggest thing with the concrete is being creative,” Cassidy said. “Because if you’re not creative, you’re just making a plain slab of concrete.”

As for the classes, Cassidy said that, once he got into the program at The Concrete Countertop Institute, “Jeff was very thorough about explaining everything, right down to the smallest detail. He makes it pretty easy. I thought he was a very good teacher; I was very happy with the class.”

Cassidy acknowledged that there is some creativity that can go into granite countertops, but that concrete wins out. “They can’t do inlays, or the custom edges,” he noted, “to be able to do that stuff, for me, that’s where that creativity comes from and where it’s used.”

Cassidy works with his customers to come up with designs, taking their ideas and offering even more personalized options if they’re interested.

Advice for Those Starting Out

john-cassidy-custom-concrete-bathroom-4

Cassidy likely has a different situation than many people starting out in the concrete countertop business. He has already built and sustained his business largely on word-of-mouth advertising and is in the process of developing a web presence. He already has a listing on The Concrete Countertop Institute’s Find a Professional page.

For those starting out, he advises making sure that one’s customers are happy, which can result in word-of-mouth recommendations.

“To me that’s always been a big thing, because that’s how I work,” he said.

Relying on his reputation, in fact, has helped him to stand out from competitors, even when his market was saturated with other service providers.

His commitment to customer service is demonstrated in the bathroom pictures. He actually built two vanities for the project.

The first vanity constructed for the featured bathroom  remodel.

The first vanity constructed for the featured bathroom remodel.

The second and final vanity for the bathroom, built to replace the first which the customer felt was "too busy."

The second and final vanity for the bathroom, built to replace the first which the customer felt was “too busy.”

The first vanity incorporated turquoise rivers but, when it was completed, the customer felt it was too busy. Cassidy built another for them, shown in the pictures.

“In the end, they were happy that I didn’t complain and I got paid for both of them, so it didn’t hurt me at all,” he said. “Just making sure the customer got exactly what they wanted made me happier about it, and that got me other business.”

HGTV Show Featuring Concrete Countertops

Three CCI alumni were recently featured on the television show “Love It or List It”, filmed in Raleigh, NC.

HGTV project team

About the Team

All of the professionals who worked on this special project are graduates of CCI’s Ultimate Concrete Countertop Training (shown from left to right):

Onyx Castings logo

Greg Robbins of Onyx Castings in Okanagan, BC

Click here to read more about Greg.

Onyx Castings concrete fireplace
ArtHouse Custom Concrete

Carl Zunker of Arthouse Custom Concrete in Miamisburg, OH

 

ArtHouse Custom Concrete kitchen

About Love It or List It

Love It or List It airs on the Canadian channels W Network and OWN Canada and the U.S. channel HGTV. In the U.S., Love It or List It is produced by Big Coat Productions, with whom CCI and alumni coordinated.

According to the Big Coat Productions website, “Love It or List It is a primetime reality series about homeowners faced with the toughest decisions of their life. Will they Stay or will they Go? How far will they go to get their ultimate dream home? Each episode is filled with the stress of major renovations, the temptation of beautiful new real estate, and the fierce rivalry between our designer and our real estate agent; both of them willing to go to any length for the homeowner’s allegiance. In the end, the homeowners must decide do we Love It enough to stay or is it time to move and List It?”

About the Episode

The episode that CCI alumni participated in is described as follows on the HGTV website: “Dave and Sonya have spent 8 years battling a never-ending to do list in their Mid Century home. Graphic designer Dave loves the feel of the house but Sonya is fed up with the issues that constantly appear. Will David find them a functioning home without the to do list or will Hilary make them fall in love all over again by reinventing many of the home’s hotly debated spaces?”

The episode first aired on HGTV in the U.S. at 9:00pm Eastern on June 29. 2015.

Click here for before and after photos of the project and details about all of the companies involved in the project.

 

Here’s a post from the Love It or List It Facebook page where they’re touching the concrete countertops!

Love-It-or-List-It-Facebook-post

About the Project

The team created a concrete countertop and backsplash for the kitchen. The 80 square foot project was a typical kitchen remodel, except that the deadlines were determined by the filming schedule and were quite compressed. The schedule was:

  • Template on Wednesday
  • Form on Thursday
  • Cast on Friday
  • Strip and process on Saturday
  • Seal on Sunday
  • Installation was the following Friday due to scheduling of the other trades

The host of the show wanted a natural gray for the countertop, plus a full height backsplash behind the sink and an end panel on the peninsula. When we templated, the cabinets were a natural wood color, but we knew they were to be painted a dark gray and the walls white. The host provided a gray paint sample.

We discussed various ideas for the backsplash, and decided to make the countertops in a smooth, uniform medium gray and the backsplash in a lighter gray with more of a rough cast look.

Here are some photos of the overall process:

Templating

Templating

Forming

Mixing

Casting

Curing

Finished slabs ready for sealing

Rapid Production using CSA Cement

We were able to cast 80 square feet of concrete on Friday and strip and process on Saturday by using CSA cement from Rapid Set, pictured here.

Rapid Set Cement-All in concrete countertops

We used ice as a set retarder, because the weather was quite warm. Click here for more information about using ice as a set retarder with CSA cement. There are several other articles about CSA cement here.

Creating the Backsplash

To give the backsplash more of a rough cast concrete look, we did not spray a mist coat as with the rest of the slabs. Instead, we hand packed a face coat, leaving fissures in the surface, which we later filled in with a lighter colored grout, to further lighten the color and provide more contrast with the countertop.

Casting the backsplash

Casting the backsplash

Stripping the form

Stripping the form

The texture of the backsplash as cast

The texture of the backsplash as cast

The finished color of the grouted backsplash

The finished color of the grouted backsplash

Collaboration with Creative Concrete Professionals

The project went really well, and we enjoyed having these alumni back in town. Nathan even had an installation of 2 concrete bartops at a local Raleigh restaurant, Taverna Agora. And we enjoyed having dinner at my house and relaxing by the concrete fire pit with a few beers. It was a privilege to work with these three creative concrete professionals. Thank you Nathan, Rob and Carl!

Checking out Nathan's installation at the local restaurant Taverna Agora

Checking out Nathan’s installation at the local restaurant Taverna Agora

Dinner at my house

Dinner at my house

Enjoying a beer by the concrete fire pit in my back yard

Enjoying a beer by the concrete fire pit in my back yard

Rock Solid Concrete Artisans: Reinventing a Skill

Rock Solid Concrete Artisans

Nathan Smith of Rock Solid Concrete Artisans in Charlotte, NC, went back to working with concrete, but in a different way than he started.

He started working with concrete alongside his parents when he was twelve years old. After serving his nation in the US Army as a medic from 1998 through 2005, he stayed in the medical field for a while, but later decided to go back to his roots.

“I really didn’t like the healthcare field on the civilian side,” he said. “I grew up doing concrete work and I really missed working with my hands and wanted to get back into it.”

Nathan launched Rock Solid Concrete Artisans in 2013. By 2014, his brother had come onboard and, this year, the pair has seen a noticeable increase in the amount of business they’re getting.

Combining a versatile material with a flexible attitude and approach to the business have proven to be a winning formula for growth.

On Being Flexible

Concrete countertops are widely marketed based on the degree of flexibility they offer, something Nathan acknowledges as a major selling point, even though concrete work—at least at an artisan level—is not inexpensive.

“It’s really more of a customization thing,” he said, “being able to do something a bit different than what everyone else is doing.”

One of Rock Solid Concrete Artisan’s projects, a bar top with a Greek design, demonstrates that. There are two versions, one blue and one green. Both are distinctive, and the selection of concrete came from the client’s need to have specific features incorporated in the design.

rock solid concrete artisans bartop taverna agora

“The designer had used concrete in the past. That was the first time they used us,” Nathan explained. “The reason was that they wanted to be able to incorporate the drink rail into the countertop and to have the Greek key emblem.”

The project was completed in approximately one week, as the final details weren’t delivered until then, making for a short deadline. For Rock Solid Concrete Artisans, such tight deadlines aren’t uncommon, but the company has adapted to accommodate them.

“We usually stay awake really late at night for about a week and get everything knocked out for them,” Nathan said.

The result was excellent, despite the tight schedule. Nathan says that being able to deliver exactly what a customer had in mind is one of the best parts of the job.

“When you deliver the countertop and see the customer’s reaction to it, a lot of people can’t believe it’s concrete,’” he said. “That’s where you get the most gratification, when you finish the project and look at it and you’re happy with your work.”

Nathan said, in his experience, familiarity with concrete countertops varies among the public. Some people are surprised to find out what can be done with the material. The best customers, however, are typically very well informed by the time they get in touch.

“Anybody that calls me has usually done their homework,” he said.

Concrete countertops have become particularly popular in high-end homes. Ramp sinks have been big sellers, as well. Nathan’s company recently installed one for a brewery.

Rock Solid Concrete Artisans

Expanding an Existing Skill

Nathan’s background in concrete prior to moving into countertops involved doing brick work, driveways and similar jobs. His first project building a countertop was for his own use, based on a CCI home course, which he modified a bit by casting the piece in place rather than in his garage. Casting it in place left him with a result that he wasn’t entirely happy with. That motivated him to take more courses from CCI to hone his skills.

Rock Solid Concrete Artisans

“My projects after that turned out really good,” he said. “That’s when I decided to start my own business.”

As some advice for those just starting out, Nathan recommends growing intelligently.

“Don’t try to jump into a shop right away. If you’ve got a garage, work out of that for a while if you can and do a few small projects for friends and family members. Really hone your skills,” he advises.

“After you’ve gotten more projects and a portfolio, then maybe think about moving up to a larger space.”

Onyx Castings: Building a Solid Brand

BasinSinkWeb

Rob Martin of Onyx Castings in British Colombia is building a solid brand, but doing so takes creativity and a lot of work.

“The biggest challenge for us is getting out there,” he said. “Advertising is very expensive.”

The company has found a way to get its name known, however: frequently attending trade shows and building up a reputation via word of mouth. “If you do a good job for someone and they absolutely love it, they’ll sell your work for you,” Rob said.

Quality work and their smart outreach strategies have helped Onyx Castings to grow steadily over the past two years, under the guidance of Rob and business partner Greg Robbins.

Working with Customers

Like many businesses that create and sell concrete countertops, Onyx Castings has its fair share of prospective customers who are unaware at first of their vast customization options.

“We can make whatever you want. When you tell people that, you can kind of see their heads explode,” Rob explained. “By getting to know them, spending some time with them, we can tailor to what they’re interested in.”

Some potential clients don’t realize the level of craftsmanship involved in creating custom countertops. According to Rob, explaining that there’s not only a great deal of skilled work, but also education involved, makes a big impression.

Onyx Castings

“People like to hear that,” he said, “that you went down and took a course from someone who does this professionally, as well.”

Onyx Castings makes small samples, about the size of a hockey puck, that allow customers at tradeshows to get an idea of their options. If they have something different in mind, Onyx will make them another sample, for a price, and no one seems to mind paying it.

Showing up year after year at the tradeshows helps Onyx Castings to build public familiarity with their brand. “People remember us,” Rob said. “As soon as we do the tradeshows, we’re smashing out quotes.”

Even customers that might not respond immediately will sometimes contact Onyx Castings months after the show, remembering the company’s name.

Substance Matters

Onyx Castings

Onyx Castings doesn’t take every job that comes along, putting client satisfaction before cranking out as many jobs as possible. “If you want granite, you should get granite,” Rob explained, relating a story about a client that seemed to be heading in that direction.

The client, however, maintained that they really loved concrete.

“We said, ‘Okay, we’ll make you some samples,’ and they loved it. We got the job anyway. We’re trying to make relationships with people and give them what they want and make them smile and be happy. That’s what concrete’s all about,” he said.

As part of helping clients to get what they want, Onyx Castings provides a great deal of information on concrete for their potential customers. Their website is particularly well-developed, with a blog, plenty of portfolio images and a breakdown of the process involved when working with the company.

The Value of Experimenting

Onyx Castings

The crew at Onyx Castings spends a lot of time experimenting and learning. They don’t expect every result to be perfect the first time and, if necessary, they’ll start a project over to get what the customer wants.

“Concrete’s a very interesting product. It can throw a curveball at you, even if you’ve done the same recipe a hundred times. Breaking a few eggs is acceptable,” Rob said.

In addition to being honest with customers, Rob recommends constantly developing one’s knowledge and technique.

“There are lots of new products coming out all the time. To develop a practice and maintain that, but not test and try out the new things that come out is foolish and you’ll fall behind.” He mentioned that there are a lot of people going to CCI taking the courses, and that it’s up to the individual to make the most of what they learn.

“Whether you take it and run with it or sit back is up to you,” he said. “If you sit back, the people who take it and run with it are going to surpass you.”

Know Your Market: A key to success as a creative concrete professional

SAK Concrete Designs based on The Concrete Countertop Institute Fire Table Plan

Starting out as a creative concrete professional can be challenging. Sean Kimber, owner of SAK Concrete Designs in Vancouver, however, seems to have found his niche, and he didn’t have to underprice his work to be competitive.

Thorough research into the market, the ability to recognize opportunities and offering a quality product have proven to be a winning formula for Kimber.

Kimber uses fire pit plans and other materials from The Concrete Countertop Institute, and he’s been quite successful at selling them, even while competing with much larger businesses.

Finding Opportunities in a Competitive Market

The trend in Vancouver, which is going through a real estate boom, is to build big. That means homeowners spend a lot of money customizing their properties.

“We have a huge influx of offshore money. When they’ve got a three-million dollar house, it’s nothing for them to spend a hundred thousand on landscaping alone,” said Kimber, “so a high-priced fire table is something that’s totally justifiable in my area.”

Kimber has managed to price his products competitively without going too low. He does a brisk business in fire tables, fire pits and even antique dressers outfitted with concrete sinks.

“What I like to do is go out and find antique dressers from the forties and fifties that are made out of solid wood. I take the tops off of them and I reconfigure the drawers so that it makes room for the plumbing. I put a concrete integral sink and countertop on top of it. Then I sell that to the high-end shabby chic furniture stores that are really popular in Vancouver and the lower mainland where I live,” he said. “People see it and they know it’s one of a kind and that no one else is going to have it.”

SAK Concrete Designs antique vanity concrete sink

 

The demand for these products is much higher than it is for concrete countertops in his area.

“Nobody I know of [in Vancouver] is doing a steady business in concrete countertops,” he said. “In four years I’ve done two kitchen countertops.”

Kimber has found, however, that his customers are more than willing to pay for something a bit different than what their neighbors might have.

“People like to one-up each other here. If they can find something that no one else is going to have, they’re just over the moon. A lot of people; they really don’t care what it costs, as long as it’s within reason.”

Kimber has managed to expand his business by customizing fire tables and other products, as well, providing a level of flexibility that his larger competitors simply cannot match.

Being Artistic Can Be Profitable

Fire Table by SAK Designs

Kimber didn’t stumble upon this market by accident. He did a great deal of research and realized that no one was doing what he’s doing now.

For example, he calculated the material and time cost involved in making a concrete fire pit and came up with a suitable price, a basic cost-plus pricing strategy. When he called around to his competition to get their prices, he was shocked at what they charged for essentially mass-produced products. This enabled him to use a value pricing strategy, as well.

“My stuff is way more artistic, it’s more custom,” Kimber said. “These other companies, they make maybe six different styles and it’s available in four different colors. I can do any color you want, I can adjust the size to whatever dimensions. With the other companies, if you want something special, like if you want the top to be bigger, the pricing goes through the roof.”

Kimber’s strategy is, quite simply, smart. His prices are lower than his competition’s, but he’s flexible in what he offers. Rather than undercutting, he’s outcompeting. Many of Kimber’s clients come to him after seeing what his competition has to offer and end up going with Kimber’s broader selection of options.

Tips from a Successful Entrepreneur

Fire Table by SAK Concrete Designs

“Know your market,” Kimber said, is his biggest tip for people starting out.

As for dealing with a situation where a creative concrete professional might feel they have to undercut prices to stay in business, Kimber has one other piece of advice. “When you know your worth, you’ll stop offering people deals.”

It’s a useful observation, indeed, and it’s worked well for SAK Concrete Designs.

Lights, Concrete, Creativity: Interview with Brent Indenbosch

Brent Indenbosch, an alumnus of The Concrete Countertop Institute, has a creative streak. As just one example of that, he recently crafted a very striking bathroom countertop, featured in a kitchen and bath show, that brings to light his penchant for creatively applying what he’s learned; quite literally, in fact.

Several of his other pieces speak to his creativity, as well, and his impressive use of his skills.

Fire table by Diamond Finish Concrete Countertops

We got a chance to talk to him about how he’s been using what he’s learned, about going into business for one’s self and about expanding his repertoire in the future.

Bringing Together the Old and the New

Indenbosch is in the process of growing his own business, Diamond Finish Concrete Countertops in Agassiz, BC outside of Vancouver, but he has a long history in contracting. Moving from working on driveways and other projects into countertops has allowed him to be more creative.

One of Indenbosch’s most striking creations is a bathroom countertop that channels light through the surface using rather cutting-edge technology.

Fiber optic bathroom concrete countertop by Brent Indenbosch

“That was all fiber optics and they’re all connected to the same illuminator,” Indenbosch explained. “There’s probably about 300 or 400 feet of fiber optics in that. There’s one little LED light bulb in there and the light shines through; kind of like water going through a hose.”

Indenbosch has shown equal creativity with other designs, incorporating pebbles and other materials into his countertops to create some very striking effects. Some modifications are more practical; incorporating features such as towel holders into countertops, for example.

Indenbosch has been able to expand his business and his body of work. His projects include bathroom vanities, ranging from classic designs to very modern and sleek examples in stately gray tones. He’s also created a number of fire tables and other dramatic pieces.

Fiber optic concrete bathroom countertop by Brent Indenbosch

Ability is one thing, but one must have the means to manifest their best ideas into something real, and something saleable, of course. To that end, Indenbosch offers some excellent advice to those who might be considering starting up their own businesses, or even applying the skills they’ve learned just for themselves.

Have the Right Tools

“Make sure you’re prepared to invest in the right tools,” Indenbosch replied when asked about what he’d advise people before starting out.

“You need a decently sized shop,” he added, emphasizing that space is an important consideration when creating pieces.

Diamond Finish Concrete Countertops shop

He’s currently planning on expanding the size of his own shop to accommodate business growth.

Indenbosch also recommended being aware of the time involved in creating a given project, as they can sometimes be surprisingly demanding in that regard.

Even though he’s gotten Diamond Finish Concrete Countertops off the ground, and is planning on expanding, he keeps very busy, working at his own business and keeping other jobs going, as well, a transition many contractors will be familiar with.

As a part of building up his business, Indenbosch plans on expanding his education further, and for good reason.

Back to School

“I’m really looking forward to going back [to CCI] again,” Indenbosch said. Indenbosch believes that the real world experience he’s acquired since attending The Concrete Countertop Institute will help him to get more out of further education. He noted that having experience certainly gives one an edge in knowing which questions to ask.

That experience has also given him an opportunity to explore his various options in business.

“I’m kind of trying it all, seeing where my expertise is,” he said.

He also noted that learning a trade takes a combination of formal and experiential education. “You can teach someone, but everyone’s kind of different, so you have to figure some of it out yourself.”

Judging by his work, Indenbosch is figuring it out quite well.

Make Every Concrete Countertop Project a Great One

We love catching up with our alumni and seeing their success on tricky projects. CCI alumnus Mark Schreck of Mark Schreck Concrete Designs in Olympia, WA recently completed a gorgeous outdoor kitchen for a house on the Puget Sound. We are pleased to be able to share some of his story and photos of this amazing project here. Great work Mark; thanks for sharing!

outdoor kitchen lightened

Freedom Isn’t Always the Easiest Choice

Like any concrete artisan Mark loves to stretch his wings and try new ideas, so when the clients for his outdoor kitchen project wanted him to take the reins he was excited. The client wanted a rustic, natural feel to their countertops (perhaps a rough finish with a slate-like feel), but Mark had a bit of a different vision. He explained that a smooth finish would be easier to keep clean, important for an outdoor kitchen, but integrated a chiseled edge to give the finished piece a rugged feel. The clients were a dream to work with. They told him, “You’re the artisan; do what you think is best.”

While Mark loved the freedom this project afforded, he found himself worrying about the choices he made. He knew that he loved the project and eagerly hoped his clients would too. The outdoor kitchen was in a large, upscale home, and he knew that this project could make or break his business. The clients were ecstatic with what he created and have enlisted his help creating a wet bar, desk, 2 bathroom countertops, and a 7’ diameter outdoor table (you can see the progress on this stunning table on Mark’s business’ Facebook page).

Growing His Business One Project at a Time

This project will certainly lead to more work for Mark both with these clients and with others. He’s found that the best way to grow a concrete countertop business is through quality work. This particular job came about when the home’s builder got in touch. The builder (Mark’s former high school principal by the way) received Mark’s card and gave him a call. Mark explains, “Referrals are essential in this business. It just takes 2 or 3 bad jobs and you’re done.”

outdoor kitchen sink edge detail

Mark has found that his training with CCI has been a huge asset for avoiding mistakes and ensuring that each job is a success. When he attended the Ultimate Class with us about 2 years ago he had zero concrete experience, not even a mix design. During the course he learned what he needed to do to get started and came home and jumped right in.

“Seeing how a working shop was laid out helped me to design my shop when I got home. I used a modified version of the mix from the class and relied on the materials list to find the things I needed. Jeff has been a huge help; he’s always willing to get in contact and troubleshoot. His mentorship has saved me from countless mistakes.”

outdoor kitchen sink close up

If he were doing things again he’d play around with concrete a bit more before coming to class. His advice to someone just starting out is simple, “Try a few projects around the house and get some questions. Then come to training. You’ll get more out of the course if you realize how hard it is. Things look so easy in class; it isn’t until you try for yourself that you discover what you need to know.” He also stresses the importance of training, “If you want to be successful you have to get training. If you come out and take the class and use the things you’re taught, you can be successful right from the start.”

Always Ready to Learn More about Concrete Countertops

CCI alumnus Caleb Lawson has one goal for the future: to be the guy people call when they need concrete countertops, in central Florida and throughout the Eastern U.S. He wants contractors, consumers, and others in his area to know that he’s the one to choose for quality countertops done right the first time. He works toward this goal with each and every project. When you see his work, you’ll know this goal is certainly achievable. Gorgeous!image1
An Old Plantation House

I had the opportunity to talk with him about a recent project he completed for an old plantation house in Ormond Beach, FL. This gorgeous home once sat in an orange grove. Caleb created the concrete pieces for the outdoor kitchen cabana including a countertop, sink, hearth, and mantle. Each piece is comprised of 3 ½ inch foam core GFRC, stained to a lovely deep brown.

As you look at the photo below take a quick peek at the hearth just below the fireplace. Not only is the piece an odd shape, it is over 16 feet long. The hearth was constructed as a singular concrete piece, the longest Caleb has ever created. Getting this oddly shaped, long piece from the shop to the install was certainly a challenge; the piece wouldn’t even fit completely in his trailer.

image3These concrete pieces were heavy. Caleb estimates that the largest one probably weighed close to 1000 pounds, even using GFRC (can you imagine how much it would weigh if it were solid concrete?). The pieces were transported by laying them on their side in a drywall cart, an interesting challenge with the size and shape of some of the pieces. One of the pieces was too tall to fit through the door. Luckily everything made it from the shop to the outdoor kitchen without cracking.

Willing to Show Up, Ready to Work

This contractor behind this job found Caleb through Google. He’d been looking for a local concrete manufacturer and had called a few other guys in the area. Caleb was told that they had been having a hard time getting people to actually show up to the job site. When the contractor contacted Caleb he was happy to come out and ready to jump right into this project.

Goals for the Future

Looking forward, Caleb plans to continue growing his business. He’s the owner of Price Concrete Studio, a business that’s been around for 12 years (he’s been the owner for 2). He has two employees (just hired the 2nd one) at the moment. As his business moves forward, he hopes to continue to grow and to receive recognition for his work. He wants to be the concrete manufacturer you choose when you want the best, not when you’re looking for the cheapest. He’s looking to continually learn new things, expand his skills, and evolve his business.

Don’t Skip the Education

When asked for his best advice for those just getting started with concrete countertops Caleb didn’t hesitate at all before saying, “Education”. He explained, “I couldn’t do what I am doing at all, let alone well, without the education and training I’ve received.”

Caleb came into this business with almost no knowledge of the construction industry. He tinkered around a bit on his own and then came to our Ultimate class last October. Since then, his business has taken off and his knowledge continues to grow. In addition to his training he credits his success with his willingness to ask questions and do research. He believes that being willing to recognize there is more to learn is essential. There is always more to learn.

Thank you Caleb for sharing your story with us!

Crazy About Concrete Countertops

Concrete is an amazing medium for countertops. You know it and I know it, but one of the biggest challenges of growing a concrete countertop business is helping consumers and business owners near you to know that too. We caught up with Nathan Keida, a student in our Ultimate Class last year, recently and he shared some of the challenges he’s faced as he’s worked toward growing his business Stoneworks Concrete Artisans in upstate New York.

“People Look at You Like You’re Crazy”

Nathan is passionate about concrete. You can hear it in his voice as he talks about his latest project or growing his business. Right now he’s working concrete on the side and a regular job during the day, but he hopes to soon have the opportunity to focus all his efforts on concrete.

This was the first job Nathan completed, a precast reception desk for a chiropractic office.

This was the first job Nathan completed, a precast reception desk for a chiropractic office.

One of the primary methods Nathan uses to grow his business is word of mouth. He does jobs for friends and family and the occasional person he randomly meets. As he talks about his new found passion he’s noticed that in his area concrete countertops need quite a bit of explanation. He explains, “When I tell people I’m making concrete countertops they look at me like I’m crazy.” Although it might take a bit of explaining, he’s found that once people realize what you can do with concrete they are pretty impressed. Design-wise his area might be a bit behind, but he’s excited to help them discover concrete countertops.

You Learn a Ton in Class and Even More Once You’re Home

Exposed crushed mirror makes this countertop really sparkle.

Exposed crushed mirror makes this countertop really sparkle.

For the last six years Nathan’s been working in masonry, which he enjoyed, but it wasn’t until he helped his boss pour concrete countertops for his kitchen that he realized his love for concrete. When the job was complete he found himself missing concrete and he knew that he had do more with this medium. He found The Concrete Countertop Institute and signed up for classes.

Before joining us for the Ultimate Class Nathan had a bit of experience with concrete, but he found the real learning started when he got home. As he worked with various mix designs and created his first few countertops the principles he learned in class started to come together. Over the last year he’s been perfecting his technique as he grows his business.

We're loving the color on this precast coffee table with a brass owl inlay. Gorgeous work!

We’re loving the color on this precast coffee table with a brass owl inlay. Gorgeous work!

Although he’s learned a ton in the last year, he’s excited to explore new avenues in concrete as well. “I mostly do countertops, but I’d love to get into doing more of the furniture stuff as well.”

Thank you so much Nathan for sharing your work with us. Word of mouth speaks volumes, but we’re certain that your stunning pieces will also do their part in helping you to find new customers as you focus all your efforts on concrete.

Building the Concrete Benchtop Industry in Australia One Stunning Project at a Time

Mitchell Bink, a Concrete Countertop Institute student living and working near Canberra  Australia, has known he wanted to work with concrete for years. Long before he joined us for the 5 day Ultimate course last year, he was tinkering around making concrete creations on his own. He wanted to make a business out of this newfound passion, but also knew his product wasn’t yet up to the high standards he sets for himself, so he waited until he had the training and skills to do concrete countertops (benchtops, as the Australians call them) right. That time is now, and business is thriving.

Just a few weeks ago he hired his first worker to keep up with the growing demand for his products. Each week the phone rings a few times more than the week before. Business is booming, and when you see Mitchell’s stunning countertops you’ll surely know why. Isn’t his work gorgeous?

His Biggest Project to Date

The architects at this cafe love the look of concrete making Mitchell's work a prominent part of the overall design.

The architects at this cafe love the look of concrete making Mitchell’s work a prominent part of the overall design.

Mitchell shared with me some of his experiences working on a recent project for a local café. The architects behind the project loved concrete benchtops and wanted the modern looking café to feature a lot of concrete work. Mitchell created the countertops, benchtops, and tabletops for this cute café.

These delicious pastries look even more sumptuous displayed on a concrete countertop.

These delicious pastries look even more sumptuous displayed on a concrete countertop.

The sheer magnitude of this project made it quite the logistical challenge. Mitchell needed to create a lot of big pieces, and he didn’t have much time to do it as the job required a very short turnaround. Not only is this job Mitchell’s biggest project to date, but it will remain an excellent exposure opportunity both for the beauty of concrete and for Mitchell’s skill in working with it.

This large countertop is just one of the many pieces required for this huge installation.

This large countertop is just one of the many pieces required for this huge installation.

Try and Try Again

Looking back over his journey over the past year, Mitchell is excited about where things are headed and how far he has come. His favorite part of taking training courses is coming back to his own environment afterwards and putting his new training to practice. It is one thing to learn how to do something, but until you actually try it in your own shop it is just knowledge, not yet a skill.

We love how the concrete pieces really tie the whole design of this cafe together.

We love how the concrete pieces really tie the whole design of this cafe together.

High Standards Build the Concrete Industry One Project at a Time

He hopes that fellow concrete artisans will aspire to high standards and quality work. “It doesn’t help anyone if you produce products that aren’t up to par. It makes the industry look bad.” Before his training with us he knew his product was lacking and so he waited. Now that he’s seeing success, he’s glad he did, because he can create countertops that customers will love and avoid dreaded callbacks due to cracking and other problems.

photo 3

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a meal at this beautiful countertop?

Thank you Mitchell for sharing your latest project with us.

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!

Concrete – The Perfect Reason to Get Your Hands Dirty

After completing his training, CCI student Duncan Susag decided to jump right in and start doing concrete full time. Prior to taking the Ultimate course with us he’d gotten his business license, and shortly after arriving home he started making the preparations to make concrete his main endeavor. Three years later he’s still working with concrete full time and has added a gorgeous Tacoma WA showroom to delight and inspire his clients.

This gorgeous green concrete table doubles as a magazine rack

This gorgeous green concrete table doubles as a magazine rack.

Getting His Hands Dirty and Loving It

Duncan loves getting his hands dirty and being a major part in the creation of each piece he produces. He has part time help at times, but the majority of his work he does alone and likes it that way. When talking about expansion he mentions that he wants to stay small, “With a larger shop you’re managing people, not getting your hands dirty.” He hopes to spend his concrete career elbow deep in concrete, creating art and delighting clients with his work… and with pieces like these, who wouldn’t be delighted?

This beauty of a desk is Duncan's own desk, found in his office. Including his company logo makes this piece extra special.

This beauty of a desk is Duncan’s own desk, found in his office. Including his company logo makes this piece extra special.

Using His Showroom to Inspire and Educate

Duncan has found that one of his biggest challenges is building clientele and educating potential customers about the benefits of concrete. This is one reason why his showroom is such an advantage. Unlike many concrete countertop showrooms, Duncan has chosen to combine retail, ready to own pieces with his countertop samples. Clients can come in and see the possibilities of concrete as they walk through his displays of stunning modern tables and unique artistic pieces. Duncan doesn’t just teach about concrete with words; his showroom is concrete proof of what he can do and how this medium can be used to beautify and accentuate homes and businesses.

Speaking of his showroom Duncan said, “The furnishings and artistic offerings are  my creative outlet… My idea was to create some pieces that  would show the uniqueness and versatility of concrete. Clients often come in to look at color samples and see the full potential of concrete and their mind is officially blown!” Why limit concrete to just countertops?

Wood and concrete combine to create this hardworking table available in Duncan's Tacoma showroom.

Wood and concrete combine to create this hardworking table available in Duncan’s Tacoma showroom.

When he was first getting started he found the slow pace of breaking in to be discouraging, but after talking with other concrete veterans he’s come to realize that time is an essential element for making headway in this field. Now after three years he finally is seeing the results. “I am nearing three years and finally feel like my business is gaining some exposure and traction.”

The slanted storage space beneath this table is perfect for tucking away books and magazines.

The slanted storage space beneath this table is perfect for tucking away books and magazines.

As he was getting started he relied on the skills he learned with CCI. His secret to success is simply listening to the things he was taught and applying them. His training gave him a solid foundation on which to build all aspects of his concrete business: marketing, promotion, and of course the actual concrete construction.

This small table makes quite the impact on display in Duncan's showroom.

This small table makes quite the impact on display in Duncan’s showroom.

Staying Local and Going Green

For Duncan creating concrete countertops isn’t just about creating works of functional art, he also focuses on the environment and his local community. He says, “Concrete countertops and other items we produce are widely considered a green product and environmentally friendly product. I absolutely focus on staying true to that. I have found local resources for very nearly all of the products I use.” In fact, he ships in only scrim and sealer. All of his waste is disposed of locally through a company that recycles concrete, melamine, and foam waste for landfill layering.

Concrete doesn't just make amazing countertops; this side table is pretty special too.

Concrete doesn’t just make amazing countertops; this side table is pretty special too.

Countertops and So Much More

In Duncan’s showroom you won’t just find countertop samples. He also has a passion for creating functional concrete furniture pieces, many of which are his own designs. He’ll see something inspirational in a home magazine made from other mediums and will work to find a way to make something similar in concrete. His gorgeous pieces are available for sale in his showroom, which doubles as a gallery for ready to own concrete pieces. His website, www.soundconcretecountertops.com serves as an online gallery and showroom.

Thank you Duncan for sharing your beautiful work with us!

Concrete as a Part Time Job… but a Full Time Passion

Juggling is a skill that Peter Cicalo of Hard Life Products in New Jersey has come to perfect. He balances his growing concrete business with a busy career as creative director for an advertising company. After long hours at work he comes home and spends the rest of the night in his garage shop creating the concrete works of art that he loves.

Joining the Family Business

Peter is no stranger to the hard work that comes with construction. His father was a contractor, and Peter grew up on the job site. After jumping in to his career in advertising Peter decided to put his childhood skills to use remodeling a bank owned home in his area that he hoped to buy. He felt concrete countertops would add the perfect flair to this home. The deal eventually fell through, but Peter’s love of concrete was born as he kept exploring the possibilities, creating and selling little things made from concrete on the side.

This modern inspired concrete fire pit is the perfect place to warm up on a chilly New Jersey night.

This modern inspired concrete fire pit is the perfect place to warm up on a chilly New Jersey night.

Then last year he came to The Concrete Countertop Institute and took our Ultimate Course. The skills he learned ignited his passion, fueling him to take the next step and do more with concrete. Currently he juggles his day job and his concrete business, but he plans to expand enough that he can quit his day job and make concrete his primary focus.

“Work is just work, but concrete is something to look forward to.”

Since Peter works full time in advertising, he has to squeeze his concrete work into the evening and weekend hours. He’s turned his garage into a small but full blown concrete shop. Although he’s only been focusing on his part time concrete business for a year, he already has sink displays in two local showrooms. When he shows his work to builders and others, they are amazed at what concrete can do. He is often told, “I didn’t know concrete could look like this.”

Living by the sea provided the inspiration for this conch shell sink that appears in a local showroom.

Living by the sea provided the inspiration for this conch shell sink that appears in a local showroom.

Although he’s short on time, Peter doesn’t mind spending hours working with concrete after a long day in the office. He says, “The day drags on and then I get in the shop and the time just flies.”  He finds himself accidentally staying up way too late without even realizing where the time has gone. Work is just work, but concrete is something to look forward to.

No one would ever guess this stunning sink was concrete if you didn't tell them.

No one would ever guess this stunning sink was concrete if you didn’t tell them.

Digging into the industry, learning about the different methods people are using, and discovering the wealth of information out there continues to expand his skill set. He encourages others trying to juggle work and concrete to research and learn as much as possible. One of his favorite aspects of his training with CCI was learning the “whys” behind common concrete practices. He doesn’t just want to know what to do, but rather why he should or shouldn’t use a certain method. Since he doesn’t have a lot of time to spare, knowledge about concrete is essential for creating each of his artistic masterpieces.

Another beautiful sample sink by Peter Cicalo.

Another beautiful sample sink by Peter Cicalo.

Peter is a perfectionist by nature and finds that surprisingly this translates into stunning work in the shop. Yes, concrete is a messy medium, but with the techniques he’s learned through training and research, he can control the concrete and create functional and beautiful art. He loves knowing that the pieces he makes will be admired and used every day.

A Bright Future

Since his shop is small and he doesn’t have unlimited time to focus on concrete, Peter currently works on smaller scale projects like fire pits, vanity tops, and sinks. Getting started part time and with small projects is a great way to grow your concrete countertop business organically. We certainly see a future filled with concrete possibilities for Peter, as his pieces are truly magnificent.

A Lifetime of Concrete – Meet One of CCI’s First Students

This week we’ll celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Concrete Countertop Institute. What an amazing 10 years it has been! I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane and profile one of our students from that very first class in June 2004. His name is Gerry Maurer (you can see him in the dark green shirt in this class photo). Gerry and his wife Elizabeth own and operate Liquid Stone Concrete Designs in Pennsylvania.

The First Concrete Countertop Institute Class

The First Concrete Countertop Institute Class

A Lifetime of Concrete

Concrete is practically in Gerry’s blood. He’s owned Liquid Stone since 1997 (so about 17 years), but has been working in concrete much longer. He actually started in high school and has done a bit of everything including foundation work, custom furniture, and of course, concrete countertops. A lifetime of experience in the concrete industry has given Gerry a unique look into the evolution of the industry. Concrete has come a long way in the last couple of decades. Now that we better understand the science behind concrete we can create pieces that better stand up to the elements. And of course there is the exponential growth of decorative concrete. Gerry and his wife have enjoyed seeing how far they can push things and what they can actually do with concrete. You can do so much with concrete now that you couldn’t even dream of doing when they first got started in the business.

This concrete tub surround design features fiber optics and chunks of embedded amethyst.

This concrete tub surround design features fiber optics and chunks of embedded amethyst.

Seeing the many changes that have occurred over Gerry’s career in concrete has been fascinating. They’ve seen concrete go from being poorly formed with lots of structural flaws to something strong, decorative, and built to last. They’ve also seen a recent uptick in concrete’s popularity due to its environmentally friendly benefits. Concrete is one of the greenest countertop choices you can find, and they focus their business on striving always to be as green as possible.

Stunning countertop with embedded shell fossil.

Stunning countertop with embedded shell fossil.

Learn as Much as You Can

When it comes to training, Gerry has done it all. In addition to being a student in our first concrete countertop class, he’s also joined CCI at the first fiber optics class we offered (and in other courses too). He gets as much training as he can and is willing to travel the country to learn new methods and techniques. Gerry and his wife love meeting new people and have made many wonderful friends and associations because of concrete.

One of Gerry and Elizabeth's clients brought a picture to them of a concrete staining pattern they liked from another concrete artisan. They got permission to use the technique and created a custom sink the client loves.

One of Gerry and Elizabeth’s clients brought a picture to them of a concrete staining pattern they liked from another concrete artisan. They got permission to use the technique and created a custom sink the client loves.

It even includes shells and fossils.

Stratus concrete bartop

Black polished bartop with rough underside in the Hotel Monaco nightclub in Philadelphia

Liquid Stone credits their success in part to learning mix design and using the right materials. Elizabeth explained that you aren’t ever going to get the results you want if you just head down to your local hardware store and buy a bag of concrete. If you want stunning results, you need the right materials. Learn the science behind concrete and you’ll be able to do so much more.

Don’t Apologize for Charging What Concrete Is Worth

One of the most frequent questions Elizabeth encounters when showing off their work in Pennsylvania showroom relates to cost. She says, “People want to know why concrete is so expensive.” Concrete isn’t a cheaper alternative to granite and stone countertops; it is an alternative solution that allows for custom designs and a unique look. “Concrete is expensive, but that is because it is art and we are artists.”

Looking Forward

What will the next 10 years bring our friends Gerry and Elizabeth? They are currently looking to expand and grow their business. Right now they are very small and very custom (think boutique), but they are in the middle of a growth spurt and looking to expand. They also hope to delve into new markets including architectural concrete. Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us. We always love seeing our students succeed! Check out some of Liquid Stone Concrete Designs’ great work.

Concrete Countertops (Benchtops) in Australia

We are pleased to have students all over the world, each creating gorgeous concrete countertops in whatever country they call home. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of our Australian students, Peter Bennett. We had the pleasure of meeting him at our Ultimate Concrete Countertop Training in 2013. I’m sure you’ll agree that his stunning work is helping to advance the concrete countertop (or as they say, benchtop) industry in Australia.

Right now Pete is hard at work finishing up a variety of projects. When we last spoke he had just finished up a kitchen project and was getting ready to work on a few bathroom vanities. Some of his work is packed (also known as hand pressed) concrete, which he especially enjoys working with because you can see the beautiful veins throughout the finished piece.

concrete kitchen island dra

Since Pete lives and works in Australia, he faces a few unique challenges that our United States students do not. Getting certain supplies locally can be a challenge and he often has to import things from the U.S. Exposure is another challenge for his growing business. He’s been in business for about 6 years now and only in the past 12 months have things really started to take off. He’s now getting 2-4 new inquiries a week,  thanks to reality TV and the growing exposure of concrete countertops.

You can see examples of Pete’s growing body of concrete benchtop, sink and furniture work in the Sydney area and beyond on his company website Future Concrete Designs: www.futureconcretedesigns.com.au.

 

While constructing concrete countertops in Australia does have some unique challenges, it doesn’t make Pete love it any less. One of his favorite opportunities is being able to see people’s faces light up when they see what he can do. He loves surprising people with the unlimited possibilities of concrete.

If he could give one piece of advice to his fellow concrete artisans it would be to stop making excuses. You make your own destiny. He’s helped train many who start out excited and then quickly leave the business. Keep at it and use the tools you’ve been given to succeed.

Thank you Pete for taking the time to share your work and your advice with us!

For information about the next training course in Australia, click here.

concrete sink basin

A Little Desk with a Lot of Design Shows off the Versatility of Concrete

When you’ve got a problem, turn to concrete for a versatile and unique solution every time. I love seeing the innovative ways that my students use concrete to make the world more beautiful and more functional. I may teach you how to use concrete to create countertops, but once class has ended each of you head out and use those skills to create stunning works of modern and practical art. I couldn’t be more proud! Thank you for sharing your concrete successes with me.

Child's Computer Desk created by Lawrence Missakian of Stone Cold Concrete

Child’s Computer Desk created by Lawrence Missakian of Stone Cold Concrete

CCI student Lawrence Missakian needed a small desk for a child’s computer. He wanted something that would integrate well with the other pieces in his home and that would fuse together two of his favorite materials: wood and concrete. Lawrence took inspiration from a beautiful media console he had previously created that was already in his home. Since the desk was small, he skipped the doors and opted for a smooth, streamlined look instead.

Legs are poplar with a GFRC top.

Legs are poplar with a GFRC top.

The child’s computer desk shown here was created by combining poplar legs with a GFRC top. Lawrence built custom storage nooks into the top, leaving plenty of room for little desk must-haves like an iPad or iPhone. Each nook is felt-lined to protect delicate devices.

Phone Nook iPad NookLawrence used Rapid Set Cement All concrete for this particular project and loved the results. The top was in and out of the forms in just one day. His advice for using rapid set concrete on a GFRC project, “Definitely use a retarder so it doesn’t cure as fast. That’s key… it gives you enough time to work with it.” Lawrence loved how quickly this project was completed and definitely plans to use rapid set concrete on future GFRC projects.

This project and the many other stunning concrete pieces Lawrence has created attest to the love he has for concrete. His courses at CCI weren’t his first concrete courses, but they have helped him to step his craft up a notch and further perfect his methods. One of his  favorite elements in a CCI course is learning about mix design. By understanding how to create his own mixes, using easily obtainable raw materials, he is now able to save money and be more involved in each concrete creation. It’s not just opening a bag and mixing things up; he now understands what to use and why, allowing for more customization and more freedom.

Last updated by at .