By Todd Rose
Decorative concrete has long been competing against pavers. Stamped and stenciled concrete have been rapidly grabbing market share in the exterior hardscapes market of patios, driveways and paving. The reasons are many -- decorative concrete is more durable, requires less maintenance and typically costs less compared to properly installed pavers. Many "traditional" landscape architects have been reluctant to spec and design with decorative concrete. I have heard many a landscape architect say "stamped concrete just looks fake." But those who embrace it are seeing its advantages. So get ready --stenciled concrete may be the answer to increasing your market share and setting yourself apart from your competition.
Taking on any new product offering requires research and writing a marketing plan. I have a system for writing a five to ten minute marketing plan that I inherited from a college professor. I'll share it here with you. First, you state your idea and/or question -- Should I offer stenciled concrete in my current business? Then you answer the who, what, where, how, and why.
Who may want or need this service?
What is it?
Where will I offer and install stenciled concrete?
How will I offer and install stenciled concrete?
Why will stenciled concrete be attractive to our customers?
Any book on marketing will explain marketing not as advertising and selling like most folks think, but the 4 Ps -- Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Let's take a look at each of the 4 Ps and let them guide you in your decision on whether to add stenciled concrete to your services.
Stenciled concrete has several benefits over stamped concrete and pavers. When compared to pavers three benefits come to mind -- cost, aesthetics and reinforcement. In Lincoln, Neb., where our main office is located, properly installed pavers average around 25 percent higher in cost compared to stamped or stenciled concrete. Stenciled and stamped concrete can be reinforced to suit any structural demand. Pavers can be structurally reinforced with a concrete sub-base, but now their costs have increased even more.
In our city pavers have been used extensively in the downtown area. After only a few years the pavers have begun to come up, become a trip hazard, make snow removal difficult, added costs for maintaining a city already over budget and simply have become unsightly. Stenciled concrete crosswalks that I have been involved with installing have created a flatter plane than stamped concrete or pavers, allowing for easier snow removal. Cities have become increasingly aware of the need to make their city attractive to new commerce and families. Economic stimulus money has seen a sharp incline in these downtown revitalization projects. When cities learn stenciled concrete has a lower installation cost and less maintenance cost over pavers and stamped concrete, it is an easy decision to spec and design with stenciled concrete.
When I first entered the decorative concrete industry, stenciled concrete had a reputation for being cheap or of lesser quality than stamped concrete. When a customer comes to our showroom and sees the different colored joints with stenciled concrete it has been an easy sell -- they say it looks more realistic. I enjoy hearing traditional landscape architects, who swore to never spec decorative concrete, now say they see the benefits of concrete.
Properly installed pavers require a concrete base in our freeze-thaw environment, and simply do not hold up compared to properly installed concrete. We typically price our stenciled concrete the same as our stamped concrete. Because I know I can pour more square footage with stenciled concrete versus stamped concrete, I can lower my price if I need to when compared to my competitors' pavers or stamped concrete; or simply enjoy better margins. Installing pavers requires a ton of labor, and stamping often requires thousands of dollars invested in stamps. Our stamped concrete is typically one of three patterns -- a slate texture skin, an ashlar and some type of random stone. Several of our stamped patterns outside these three often don't see a return for their high cost. Stencils come in numerous patterns, can have bands and borders easily incorporated in the design, and are unlimited in colors and textures when you utilize acid stains, water-based stains and texture rollers.
On the right stencil job we can easily have a four or five man crew pour and finish twice the amount of a patterned stamped pour. Labor equals money, and that savings can be attractive to customers or enjoyed by the company owner. When writing bids we figure the cost of the stencils on a square foot basis plus 10-15 percent waste. In the current economic market decorative concrete contractors need every angle to set their company apart from the competition.
When thinking of place remember several things -- your physical location and the logistics of actually placing concrete. The green movement has or will change the way all of us conduct our businesses. Ready mixed concrete is a locally produced product. We recently came across the spec for a building going after LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points that asked for pavers from Minnesota being shipped into Nebraska. I was not shy about pointing out the amount of dirty fossil fuels being consumed versus locally produced ready mixed concrete.
Many construction projects today are fast track. By embracing admixtures and stenciled concrete our company can offer a one- or two-day turnaround on decorative concrete projects. This is one way we battle the "end of project and over budget" scene that we often see in the commercial and especially the residential markets. Admixtures, an experienced crew and proper organization allow us to pour, stencil, texture and seal in one day. This quick turnaround has become an asset for builders and end users alike. Customers love this service. When your company can offer grade and form one day, and pour, finish and seal the next, you can charge a premium and still secure the job.
The good news about stenciled concrete not being as popular as pavers or stamped concrete means that for the contractor that embraces stenciled concrete, it will appear new to the marketplace and will set you apart from your competition. Promotion does not mean costly advertising. The best marketing dollars your company will ever spend on promoting stenciled concrete is to land that highly visible stenciled concrete job. My motto when it comes to this part of the marketing mix is from that baseball movie years ago -- "build it and they will come." I once had a marketing professor tell me that it did not matter if you have a better mouse trap if no one knows about it. He was and is correct.
Do not price stenciled concrete less than stamped concrete, unless you have to. Pricing stenciled concrete less than stamped will give your customers the belief that stenciled concrete is inferior. After telling potential clients of the benefits of stenciled I am often asked "well how much more expensive is it?" I usually just say, "not much, maybe a quarter to fifty cents more a square foot." That usually never prevents me from landing the job. Yes, you read correctly. You can pour more and charge more for stenciled concrete!
A few additional ways I promote stenciled concrete are:
- The "green movement" -- Pavers utilizing a concrete base have simply caused more pollution due to the fact that there are more processes to complete the final product.
- Pavers without a concrete base in a freeze-thaw environment? Well that's just silly.
- Don't be afraid to send a voluntary alternate for stenciled concrete versus pavers. Reality is this -- many times when a construction project nears completion it is discovered that the project is over budget and cost savings need to be found. On more than one occasion I have had architects call and say, "OK, we need to save some money and we are considering getting rid of the pavers and tell me about this stenciled concrete stuff."
- Streetscape projects are turning up everywhere. Municipal revitalization projects are a stenciled contractor's dream. I have on more than one occasion written city council members informing them of the cost savings our company can provide by offering stenciled concrete over pavers.
- Do not view the above as bothering someone. We are all limited in our knowledge by the experiences we have in life. Many builders and architects simply do not know about stenciled concrete. You are doing them, and more importantly their customers, a service by providing options to them.
- The complaint I hear most often about stamped concrete is that it is slick. Because of the lower set joint in the stenciled pattern I have not heard as of yet any complaint of stenciled concrete being slippery.
They say necessity is the mother of all invention. Stenciled concrete fits in here because you simply can pour more, invest less money and offer a better solution for your customers.