of the Month
here at the Decorative Concrete Institute have built a business
model around educating the industry on all facets of decorative
concrete. During the hectic first three years since opening
the doors, Lee Ann and I as well as the DCI staff have been
extremely fortunate to meet quality individuals through our
teachings. Many of these relationships will last a lifetime.
It was during a recent class while discussing business and
how this individual started in this business it dawned on
us, it was time for us to give back and acknowledge our students
for their outstanding efforts and dedication to the decorative
Student of the Month is the owner of Blackwood’s Concrete,
Clark Blackwood. Clark started Blackwood’s Concrete
in 2003 and has been full force ever since. Before we get
into the present, let’s talk about how Clark got started
in the decorative industry and how he feels about it today.
Clark moved from Minnesota to Las Vegas in 1992 while working
for a company that built concrete structures for waste water
treatment plants. Vegas showed Clark many different aspects
and applications that are offered in the decorative concrete
industry. While living in Las Vegas he attended the World
of Concrete that is held annually at the Las Vegas Convention
Center. After this experience, Clark had a real desire to
start in the field but had no idea where to begin. His biggest
issue was wondering how he could leave his great paying job
that offered so many great benefits to not having any of that.
In 2000, Clark and his wife decided to move back to Minnesota
to be with their parents, ultimately quitting that job. This
is where his real journey begins.
had been in the concrete industry for 24 years by this time,
only dealing with “grey” concrete. The next 4
years were spent focusing on the decorative portion of concrete.
In 2003 he was surfing the internet and found Concrete Network,
Clark says that all the pictures posted on this site completely
amazed and inspired him and he knew in his heart that this
is what he wanted to do. Clark found our information on Concrete
Network and visited our website. He ordered every book and
DVD that Bob Harris had out at that time. Clark also planned
on taking some of our training workshops in the future. After
placing an ad in the local yellow pages, it wasn’t long
after Clark started receiving phone calls. Blackwood’s
Concrete started with flatwork and pouring concrete basements
and within six months Clark was able to quit his job and focus
on his new business venture. Clark and his worker at the time
attended as many training courses on decorative concrete that
Now in 2009, Blackwood’s Concrete mainly focuses on
stamped concrete, acid staining interior and exterior floors
and most recently, overlays. Although the decorative stuff
is what they are becoming known for, Clark still offers flatwork
and pouring basements. Last year Clark bought a floor polishing
machine and has started experimenting with countertop mixes
since February. Lookout –we might see an expansion soon!!!
When I asked Clark what job he was most proud of, I got an
answer that I didn’t expect. Clark explained to me that
his most prized job was one that he had to actually “rip-out”
after the first go round. Apparently, his workers had a problem
stamping a patio and had turned a stamp or two around causing
some double lines and impressions that just weren’t
up to standards. Clark proceeded by telling his homeowner
that he was going to rip it out and do it over. He ended up
losing $1600 bucks but says it was totally worth it to save
his reputation as a quality contractor. Furthermore, he wanted
his homeowner to be proud to say that Blackwood’s Concrete
installed his stamped patio when asked.
Being a concrete contractor in Minnesota brings a lot more
challenges than if you were down here in the good ole south.
Clark says his biggest complications are caused by the freezing
temperatures. It makes it difficult to have product shipped
to them, and finding the right mix for stamping in the cold
proves to be tricky. Some other issues he has are educating
his clients on decorative concrete and getting his name out
there as a reputable contractor. Clark says his training is
paying off though. He has taken 2 workshops here at Decorative
Concrete Institute and attended some different courses offered
by WOC, as well as keeping up with the latest articles out
by Concrete Network, Concrete Décor, and ACI. Keep
Not taking the economy into account, Clark says that the decorative
industry has doubled since he started his business. He believes
that HGTV has done a good job of exposing decorative concrete
as an option for the general public. Clark feels lucky to
be involved in the industry and says it is a market that is
ever changing and the growth potential is totally unpredictable.
Best of Luck in 2009, Clark!!
All-American Decorative Concrete, Inc.
Dan Lightner is the Co-Founder of All American Decorative Concrete, Inc. and the President of All American Decorative Concrete of Atlanta. He is also Decorative Concrete Institute’s February Student of the Month.
Dan became interested in the decorative concrete business about 3 years ago while in the swimming pool business. Their company, Barrier Reef Pool, offered decorative concrete but usually subbed out the work. It wasn’t until their pool manufacturer introduced them to concrete overlay products that Dan became serious about decorative concrete and how to install it.
After a rough how-to on application of the products, Barrier Reef Pool and Dan got their first opportunity to show their skill. They were on a pool sales call where the prospect hadn’t even mentioned decorative concrete. Dan told the client that they could recreate tile over existing concrete and asked what the man planned to do with his basement. After a short talk, Barrier Reef Pool submitted a bid to complete his basement and the wife wrote them a check and asked when they could start. This is their most gratifying job to this day.
When Dan co-founded All American Decorative Concrete, their main focus was on custom overlays. Three years into the business, Dan and his partners, John Kostro, Matt Shuster and Paul Plvan, have sold over 7 franchises in 7 states. They not only offer custom, hand cut and colored overlays, but also stamped concrete, acid staining, skim coating, coloring and dyeing of interior floors, commercial and residential epoxies, vertical stamping and Decostone, or epoxy stone systems.
All American’s first stamp job in Denver was a turning point for their business. Dan and Matt had just trained at Decorative Concrete Institute with Bob Harris. They were taught the fundamentals and techniques that separated high quality work from that of everyday stampers and contractors. That stamp job made their partners in Denver realize that stamping would be their “bread and butter”. Since then, Nick and his team in Denver have focused mainly on stamped concrete and never looked backed. Their increase in revenue has been exponential. Dan and his partners have been able to teach their partners in San Diego and Chicago how to install stamped concrete and they, too, have had tremendous success. All American plans to incorporate stamping into their remaining territories in 2009 and they thank Bob Harris for the growth they have seen this past year.
Dan says most of his challenges come from bad surface preparation. He can’t stress to his crew enough the importance of a clean and correctly profiled surface prior to the beginning of every job. Another challenge for Dan is being the owner and operator of a company. He says you must find a way to delegate responsibilities and allow your employees to “take the trowel”. As an owner/operator you must teach others to create the same quality work that you would produce so that you can focus on growth and the future of your business.
The economy has had an influence on the housing market, everyone knows that, but Dan and his partners look at the positive side of the down housing market. Since most people won’t sell their homes, All American has allowed customers to spend their money on their existing home and to really enjoy a new look. When the economy turns around they will have increased the value of their home while still being able to take pleasure in it.
Dan believes that training is the most important issue in this industry. He says, “I know our company wouldn’t be here today without the training we have received.” Dan and his partners have attended Decorative Concrete Institute’s courses in Stamped Concrete, Polished Concrete, and Skim Coats, Stains & Dyes. Dan warns others about taking a training class where you can “learn” decorative concrete by watching someone trowel or spray down texture. The only way to learn is by hands-on training and getting in the “mud”. When people ask Dan how All American Decorative Concrete have come so far in such a short period his answer is always the same, “TROWEL AND ERROR”.
K&B Concrete Ltd.
Our January Student of the Month is Russell Buhr, owner of K&B Concrete Ltd. in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Lorraine, started their business in 2002, focusing on foundations, grey driveways, and paving stone installations. They had an opportunity in their first year of business to pour a stamped patio with a curved step including inlaid paving stones. After the completion of this job, a full force passion for decorative concrete started. Within the following five years K&B Concrete continued to focus on broomed concrete driveways, but landed any stamp job they could find. By offering a quality product and great results at a fair price, their business doubled each year.
As K&B Concrete grew, they became known as a reputable decorative concrete company. However, they felt as artisans, that their jobs differed only by color, not by pattern or design. Russell decided that he wanted to expand his horizons in the decorative concrete field and thus his search for training started. He came across Decorative Concrete Institute and the first workshop that he and Lorraine attended was the Cast-In-Place Countertops class in October of 2007. Returning home with immense knowledge and an overwhelming feeling to work, Russell and Lorraine projected a refreshing new approach to their outdoor decorative concrete jobs.
With only one training class under their “hard hat”, K&B Concrete had their best year ever in 2008. This was also the summer that they reached a new understanding with their clients. Russell was approached by a homebuilder in Canada that wanted a stamped driveway with steps connecting to a large stamped patio. The builder had some ideas that Russell thought may not work for this project and in the end Russell got free reign to do whatever he thought would look best for the job as long as they were “tastefully creative” with the canvas. This new level of trust that occurred between client and artisan allowed the work on this job to be both incredible and unique. It is also the job that Russell and Lorraine are most proud of since the launch of K&B Concrete.
Russell’s biggest challenge in the decorative concrete field is addressing and correcting any misconceptions many clients have about decorative concrete. Most of these false impressions are due to contractors installing work that is “under par” because of their lack of training. This can cause the reputable companies to lose business and have to work harder to show customers just how distinctive and diverse decorative concrete can be.
Russell says that training has been the best investment they have made as a company. Russell and Lorraine have attended three training workshops at Decorative Concrete Institute since October 2007 and it has certainly shown in their work. He and his wife credit their training from Decorative Concrete Institute for allowing K&B Concrete Ltd. to reach a higher standard of installing than they had ever imagined.
Good Luck Russell & Lorraine in making 2009 a positive year for K&B Concrete Ltd.!
Walls of Whimsy
Phone - 864-227-0553
Kathy Lee was in business for herself as a faux finisher and decorative painter when she noticed decorative concrete. She knew immediately that decorative concrete was a substrate that she could and should be using to expand her forte and decided to start offering these applications to her clients. Kathy attended her first class in 2004 and followed that with two more workshops at Decorative Concrete Institute. She mentioned that Bob Harris’ extensive experience and knowledge of product, as well as his genuine interest in the success of his students gave her the ability to complete her jobs with new confidence, more knowledge, and the ability to achieve an elevated professional finish that she previously had not had. Kathy claims that the decorative concrete industry is the newest, most exciting area of decorative finishing, allowing artisans to push the envelope using new products and techniques to create their art work, ultimately bringing the work to a higher level.
Kathy’s main focus is on chemical staining using her faux finishing knowledge to create interest and beauty on the concrete. As she puts it: “I don’t get the opportunity to do many resurfacing jobs because most clients in my area are reluctant to pay for overlays, which forced me to become proficient in making damaged or irregular concrete surfaces stainable. Most of her acid stain work is done to back porches or patios and prefers Decorative Concrete Institute’s dyes over acid stains for her interior jobs, like basement floors.
Her most recent job on a restaurant and a visitor’s center, shown in the pictures, are two jobs that she is very proud of.
Kathy thinks that concrete has a very steep learning curve, and there is no room for error without a costly re-do. Tech support, like Decorative Concrete Institute offers, is a must have if you are involved in this industry. You never know what you may run into and you can never know it all. Kathy says that it is crucial to properly prepare your client’s expectations and ensure that they know what a stained floor may or may not turn out to look like. “You must do this BEFORE you sign a contract,” she states. That is the smartest thing any installer can do.
Training, for Kathy, has been a key role in her success in decorative concrete concrete work, which is easily now over half of her installations and she plans to continue her education and learn how to install countertops, showers, and vanities, concrete of course. She says it is only a matter of time before she is experiencing all the products out there.
Good Luck, Kathy!
Creative Imagination Decorative Concrete
Home - 256-549-0414
Cell - 256-393-4947
Tracy Gaddis, owner and president of Creative Imagination Decorative Concrete in Gadsden, AL, is our August Student of the Month. He became interested in the field of decorative concrete two years ago while working with one of his friends. His friend mentioned that people would often ask him about decorative concrete applications, and while his friend had no interest in the decorative field, Tracy began to study it day and night. Tracy researched many different aspects about decorative concrete and what it takes to make it everything it is. After reading about it for some time and concluding that it was a canvas for his unique artwork, he began looking at schools for decorative concrete training.
Before Tracy launched his business this year, he mentioned that he would sometimes stay up until two o’clock in the morning looking for a good decorative concrete school to attend. It wasn’t until he ran across decorativeconcreteinstitute.com that he knew this was the school for him. Instead of staying up late looking for schools, he was staying up late looking at Decorative Concrete Institute’s web page. Soon after, he signed up and attended DCI’s Chemical Staining & Specialty Techniques workshop in August 2007. He said that training under Bob Harris at Decorative Concrete Institute not only helped his business, but also changed his life. He admits that he looks at concrete differently since his training and wishes he could visit more frequently and learn more. Tracy said that the training has taken him to the next level in the concrete world.
Although Tracy loves everything about decorative concrete, his main focuses are stained concrete, skim coats and overlays. However, he said that the single most important element in any decorative application is preparation. Tracy feels all contractors could avoid costly, and sometimes catastrophic consequences simply by preparing their projects properly and efficiently.
Even though Tracy has been changing the face of concrete for only a year, he has already experienced problems during the application process. He has found that swings in temperature, whether it’s the heat of the summer or the cool of the winter, can dramatically influence a finished product. He has to constantly remind people of the ambient conditions for staining, sealing, or even waxing any type of decorative concrete project. He said, “If the conditions aren’t right, don’t do it. Going ahead with a project that you aren’t sure of, could cost you a lot of money in materials and time, and with the economy like it is, it could be a huge mistake.”
The job that Tracy is most proud of was a 2000 square foot, paint covered floor. Using a paint stripper he removed the paint off the floor and then it was time to get to the staining. He used the techniques that Bob Harris showed him in class, and then added a design from Modello Designs in the center of the floor. He said he loves to see the look on people’s faces when he tells them it is concrete. Then he shows them the before pictures and they don’t believe it’s the same floor, they swear it’s marble. He said, “It’s a great feeling to know that I did that!”
In the short time Tracy has been in business, he said that the decorative concrete industry has changed. There are more people now, more than ever, interested in decorative concrete, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. When people ask him what concrete staining is, Tracy pulls out his portfolio and they are blown away. People do not realize that if you use your imagination and get creative, concrete can be anything you want it to be!
Good Luck Tracy! You have done some great work…keep it up!!!
Dawkins is a regular at Decorative Concrete Institute. Not
only is he a past student, but also a good customer that has
developed into a great friendship. It is always a pleasure
to teach a student, but to see them often and for them to
share their work and projects with us is extremely gratifying.
Therefore it wasn’t hard to choose him as our June Student
of the Month. After talking with him about how he started
and where he is now, here is what we learned:
became interested in the decorative concrete industry about
six years ago but has been actively involved for five years.
He started his company, Create-A-Crete in 2003, with their
main focus on installing overlays. In 2006 he decided to expand
horizons and move into stamped concrete installation. He says
that his formal training here at the Decorative Concrete Institute
was the catalyst that really moved his business in the right
direction. Since attending Bob Harris’ Stamped Concrete
class, his company does more stamped concrete than any other
main focus when he started his company was stained interior
floors, but he soon progressed into self-leveling, skim coats,
stamped overlay and of course, stamped concrete. Last year,
Cody installed a kitchen and bath showroom that consisted
of grinding 2200 square feet, applying a ¼ self-leveler
that was scored then dyed with Decorative Concrete dyes. He
considers this his most prized job thus far in the decorative
the subject of training, Cody highly believes in spending
that extra dollar to perfect his jobs. He says that training
makes the difference between a home improvement product and
a showcase application. It has helped Cody to set his work
apart by learning new and different techniques. “By
investing in expert training by experienced professionals,
you are able to learn tricks of the trade. There is no substitute
for that. Lack of training, he says, can result in a very
long and costly learning curve!” We totally agree, Cody!
Cody has given us some
great examples of how the industry has grown just recently.
He says he was the only decorative concrete contractor in
his area when he started. Now, five years later, he is competing
with four other companies just in his county alone, which
is still considered a rural area! Cody believes that consumers
are really embracing decorative concrete due to the infinite
design options and long lasting durability it provides.
Mattei has been in the concrete field since he was 13 years
old. Having a family concrete construction business made it
easy for him to become interested in the decorative aspect
of concrete in 1997. With the economy constantly changing
he felt that installing decorative concrete was the natural
progression for his career. He started out installing small
jobs for friends and family and since then he has built his
own decorative concrete business.
Domenic has been involved in the concrete industry for 26
years, with the decorative aspect of it being his focus for
the last eight. He has done everything from stamped concrete
to staining and dying and installing concrete countertops
whenever there is a want for them. His company has recently
incorporated vertical stamped applications and has tried to
install them as often as possible.
The job he is most proud of consisted of a 2,000 square foot
stamped concrete pool deck. He incorporated exposed aggregate
borders, vertical stamping wall applications and used multiple
color combinations to achieve the final outcome. The client
also wanted to add a large planter for her garden, so Domenic
built one out of concrete and used FossilCrete to create the
stone look that the client was trying to reach. He literally
built the planter and applied the vertical overlay veneer
only one month after returning home from the workshop “Getting
Started in the Decorative Field of Concrete” held at
the Decorative Concrete Institute.
Domenic says that training has helped him tremendously. It
gives him new techniques as well as the confidence to successfully
install what he has just learned. To him, that is the most
important thing about training. He said, “ The single
greatest aspect of training along side Bob Harris is that
you know what he is teaching is like reading the Bible. He
has tried and tested and perfected all of the products as
well as the application methods.” Domenic believes another
important thing about learning is networking with industry
leaders and other contractors throughout the country. He has
become very close friends with some of the other students
he met while attending one of DCI’s training seminars.
One of the biggest challenges Domenic has incurred while in
the industry is the lack of craftsmanship across the board.
He has personally looked at a number of poor installations
by unqualified companies. He says it seems that everyone is
calling themselves “experts” in installing stamped
concrete even when they only own one or two sets of stamps.
He believes that the companies that are in business for a
couple of years undercut the pricing and devalue the product,
which in turn makes it harder for the true professionals to
make ends meet and leaves them trying to restore the public’s
confidence. He says another struggle is the economy. It seems
the fuel bills and shipping costs are eating up everyone’s
On the flip side of that, he thinks the industry has grown
tremendously since he has first started. He has noticed the
overlay market including vertical is a prime example. Domenic
has also noticed the green movement as a driving force behind
the changes in the decorative concrete market. Example: The
use of water-based dyes instead of acid staining.
Concrete Surface Solutions
Thornwood, New York
Ed Gruetzner of Concrete Surface Solutions based out of Thornwood,
New York. I asked Ed what he did before he jumped into the
decorative business. He mentioned that he spent a full career
as a New York City Firefighter, working most of his time in
the Bronx and some in Manhattan. What was intriguing to me
during this conversation was the fact that he spent virtually
his whole life giving back to his community and protecting
all of us on a daily basis. Some of these values and qualities
transitioned over to his decorative concrete business. He
mentioned that one of his first training seminars was with
Engrave-A-Crete. After purchasing some of their tools and
equipment he was ready to go. One of the stencils he purchased
was of three fire fighters holding the water hose as to put
out the fire. It is his intention to offer to all of the surrounding
fire houses in his area that if one of their fellow comrades
loses his or her life in the line of duty, Ed plans on donating
his time in remembering them by engraving the three fireman
graphic and their name in to the fire house floor as an eternal
were curious how he made the transition from fighting fires
to engraving, staining and polishing concrete. Ed could not
find anyone to install epoxy on his garage floor, so he thought
this would be a good opportunity for him. After attending
the World of Concrete 2006, as he puts it; “it opened
my eyes as to where this industry is heading and I wanted
to be part of it.” The rest is history.
feels that one oft the most important parts, if not the most
important part, of starting any business is education. As
he puts it; “I have spent a ton of time and a fair amount
of money on learning as much as I can about every aspect of
decorative concrete. I have trained at several different places,
but DCI has been the most informative. Some of the schools
were nothing more than a sales pitch for their product. DCI
is about learning. Training has helped tremendously. I can
pretty much walk in to any situation and explain to my customers
why certain things happen and how to prevent them. Through
the different classes I've taken I can usually find the best
way to make the new or existing concrete beautiful, keeping
my customers happy.”
In closing, we were wondering if the New York market was accepting
of his new business?
“Since I retired I was looking for something part time,
maybe 2-4 days a week. I could have held at that if I really
wanted to, but I'm really enjoying what I do. I love seeing
a customer's face when they see the final product. Finding
work is probably the easiest part of the job. Every job I
do leads to at least one more. People are still blown away
that you can make concrete look so classy.”
off to you Ed, we wish you success with your business! I’m
sure we will see you in the near future.