Well, things are finally starting to get back to normal, at least in my field of concrete. Lucky for me and most contractors, our work is done either outside or usually in an empty home or business where the social distancing is a regular occurrence. It is a big relief to know that while there are so many people out of work and just about out of business, my profession carries on. People are still doing home projects, and are still wanting to update and work on their homes. So with all of that being said...let's get back to the real stuff that matters. How a concrete business works and the next appropriate steps to take to in this new world we're living in. By new world I do not mean a world with a virus, I mean a new world that is more online than any thing else. So I've been discussing this situation with my website and marketing people. And so far have come up with the idea that we need to have a more user friendly approach to getting customers their quotes and just keeping in contact with them in general. As of right now the website people are working on a new form that will pop-up when anyone is looking through the website, to get them to decide right then and there if they are serious about getting any kind of new concrete. The form will not just be a typical contact form but an actual detailed questionnaire about the project that they are thinking about having done. So that way, by the time I actually give them a call back, I have in front of me the whole project idea. Sometimes if the job is cut and dry, I can give a quick quote right through text message or email, which also allows me to weed out the tire kickers of the world and be able to more focus on the customers that are serious about getting the work done. There are also really cool options available with new-to-me technology that automates the transaction between me and the customer. From them filling out the form, sending an automated quick response of thank you and just keeping the communication lines open. And then even following up with them and finding out when/if they are ready to move forward and when we can put them in the books. Not only that, but having the option for them to make their payments online and have their credit card and things on file. Also automatic thank yous and general customer service pleasantries. It seems crazy to me to be moving in this direction with my concrete business, but also pretty exciting to be maybe leading the way and setting myself apart, with a more user friendly service in this increasingly online world we live in. I have high hopes and big faith in making this work so well, I'll be able to refer the service to other concrete people, that will surely benefit. : ) Until next time.
This is legitimately the LAST time I will write about or even give attention to this stupid virus. I am, like most people, completely over it and cannot wait to get back to full time work! It seems to me people want nothing more than to continue on with the home projects they are doing and get their homes looking awesome. Which is of course where I come in! Fresh new driveways, pretty stamped concrete patios, porches and sidewalks, you name it. I am just loving all of the positive and productive efforts that are being put into whatever people call home. I guess if there is one great thing about all of the crazy virus quarantine, it's that people are putting love back into their homes, and really appreciating what they have. I think it is just amazing how it takes something so extreme for these things to come to light. But, I am not complaining, since it of course means good things for me and my business. I so look forward to helping all of these people out with making their home dreams come true, and making their space exactly as they like it. I can just imagine going out into the world when this is over and noticing how much love and effort has been going into peoples' homes. And not just in concrete, but their grasses and their yards, their driveways and garages, not to mention the inside cleanliness and harmony. I know for myself, I've never been so grateful for my home, and my family. I love the space I have inside to play, and run around, and sometimes be alone. I love and appreciate my large yard, that is backed up to a nice little lake, where we can swim and explore and just enjoy nature. All things I knew I had and don't get me wrong, I have been so grateful, but there's something about being ordered to stay home for 40 days in a row that really gets you thinking about how lucky you are to have what you have, and love who you love. I know I am. Until next time, which again will NOT be about anything virus related! : )
Well, unless you live under a rock, you know that there is a lovely little virus floating around changing the world at the moment. I’m trying to not panic or overreact about any of it, but I am getting a tiny bit worried that this whole thing is really going to negatively impact not only mine but also most everyone's concrete business. I’m thinking at this point that new concrete isn’t going to be very high on people’s priority list. I am hopeful that business’ will continue as usual and still be updating and constructing so that I will still have work. And I am thankful for my website/SEO guy that keeps the calls coming in. But it is still too early to tell if these calls are going to start to drop off as more and more people are staying home from work and essentially not getting paid. But I stay hopeful. Concrete has always been and hopefully always will be, so even if it is a slow time for a few months or whatever, it will return. Right?? But I suppose in the meantime, I can take the slow time, not panic, stay healthy, and spend some quality time with my little kids. I will be praying for everyone not as fortunate as I, that probably have a little bit more reason to panic and be there for the friends, family, and neighbors that may need help in this ever changing, and uncertain time. Let’s all get through this weirdness together, keep our economy going while staying healthy and distant while we can, and be back to work and normal life within a few short weeks. I will be ready to greet the hot hot heat of working in the summer with open arms! In the meantime, I’ll be researching new techniques, learning about new products that are available these days and trying to stay relevant as a knowledgeable and helpful concrete contractor. Life must go on : )
Okay, this is something that is never talked about with homeowners. I try not to push too hard, because to some people it might seem like a ploy just to get more money out of them, after an already pretty expensive project. But I always try to be honest in that besides cutting in expansion joints, sealing your concrete is the best thing you can do to keep it lasting and looking great for years. It's super simple so if you don't want to pay for it, I believe it is something most able body homeowners will be able to take care of themselves. It really just like painting a wall, just roll it on the concrete with a paint roller and DONE. And yes, sealing SHOULD be done every couple of years to keep it lasting longer, but at the very least it should be done after its poured and cured. There are plenty of reasons why sealing your concrete is important. Like for instance….you know if you live in the midwest I do, there are many elements that can ruin perfectly good concrete. Winter alone is harsh on everything, but then there is the extra salt, dirt and sand that will inevitably, end up on driveways and probably sidewalks. Which at first doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything and you think “concrete must be stronger than salt” But over time, and especially during the long winters, the chemical reaction will absolutely cause damage if it’s not protected.
Another thing...I will ALWAYS, no matter what, suggest and recommend sealing your concrete if you will be working on your car or anything like that. Motor oil penetration is something that would be smart to seal against. Power washing a sealed concrete driveway is much more satisfying!
Mold and weed growth is my third and final argument for the na-sayers. When your concrete is nice, new and fresh, you probably won't be able to imagine it looking any other way. But mark my words, over time, when you are driving on, playing on, sitting on, mowing around, working on any concrete, you will eventually see mold growth and most likely weed or grass growth in the cracks. BUT, there is hope. When you seal your concrete every couple years, you protect it. And even if those kinds of things are not much of a concern for you, you are able to protect against it. And then you won’t have to worry about it. However, I do get a lot of satisfaction when I power wash that stuff off an old concrete slab that never was sealed and protected. But that is just a side note. Anyways, if a contractor asks you if you want to seal and protect your new concrete patio or driveway, just do it. : )
This is a common debate in the concrete world. It seems like when I go out to give an estimate for driveways, the homeowner is always weighing the options between concrete and asphalt and of course trying to get the best price. But what does that mean? The best price for upfront cost? Well sure, you can go with asphalt and get a good “deal” but what homeowners might not consider is the difference in lifespan, and upkeep. Asphalt does not last nearly as long as concrete. You will notice within a year or two, especially if you live in the northern states, the asphalt will start to crumble, crack, and break off. You will undoubtedly be repairing your driveway regularly, or even paving over it after a certain point. Some people have even gone as far as to admit to defeat, tear out the black stuff, and install a fresh and beautiful concrete driveway. A concrete driveway or sidewalk by far outlasts any other material and in my opinion just looks so much nicer. I guess I should’ve named this post: reasons to get concrete instead of asphalt, but it is always a cheaper option if money is an issue, and you don’t mind the upkeep. Because another pro for concrete over asphalt is cleanliness. This is one I feel is completely left out of the equation. Ever walk on black top with bare feet? What about concrete? The difference is visible. All of that blackness that tracks wherever you go next, compared to being able to walk all around your concrete sidewalk and driveway with not a trace of smudge. All you have to do to keep it nice and clean is power wash once a year or even just spray it down with a hose to keep it free of dirt and debris. For me, I’d rather be driving on, riding bikes on, playing on, and living on concrete. Because it really is an extension of our homes. For years my own personal driveway was gravel/dirt and made such a huge mess, not only in the garage and the cars, but it also always made it’s messy way into the house. We never went out in front of the house to play or hangout, and it was just really ugly and brought our house down in looks and in value. It wasn’t until we got our concrete driveway that we realized just what we were missing out on. Now that we have this nice clean driveway, we spend SO much time out front, we play, we chalk, we ride, we play games, we use it a fun place to spend time outdoors, doing things that we usually do inside. Not to mention what a huge difference it made in our dogs’ lives. You could tell immediately how much they loved the change. They relax in the sun, and run freely all around the house. Also they aren’t dirty messes when they come into the house anymore. Just all of it added together makes the choice obvious to me. And yes the asphalt could very well be the cheaper option for upfront cost, but I challenge you to do the math on lifespan and upkeep before making this decision.
I’ve decided to start documenting what it is like to be a concrete contractor. Even though it doesn’t really seem very glamorous or exciting, it’s my life, and it is much more difficult than it seems. It takes a special kind of man or woman to work literally ankle deep in this heavy, and dangerous material. So you decide your home is in need of an upgrade. One of the best ways to transform any space whether it's indoors or outdoors, is to just add concrete. It can be plain concrete, it can be stamped concrete, colored concrete, acid washed concrete, polished concrete, the possibilities are endless.
For me there is a lot more that goes into running a concrete business than just the concrete. The biggest difference I think I made in my business that most other business owners do not do, is I have a marketing process in place. It’s pretty amazing how I don’t have to worry about where my next job is coming from, and only focus on the quality and care of my work. This is what makes me successful. I hired a marketing company who puts content out there that attracts customers to my website who are actively looking for someone to help them with installing new concrete, or enhancing concrete they already have, and then they call me. It’s the best thing that I spend money on in my business, and I highly recommend if you are a business owner in any niche that you do the same thing.
Once your marketing is in place, there is the topic of the job itself. Now concrete is tricky when it comes to weather and other variables that might affect the way concrete cures and how it will turn out. So I usually only book jobs during the spring, summer and early fall months and leave the indoor concrete jobs for the winter time, since I am in the Midwest where winters are usually pretty extreme. Of course pouring any outdoor concrete in cold and snow is not only not going to turn out very well, it is also very uncomfortable. But when the time and temperature is right, it is GAME ON! My crew and I usually work from early in the morning to late at night, especially when the days are longer in the middle of the summer, that gives us plenty of time to go in between jobs and take each step with each process carefully. And since I’m on the subject of each step and each process it reminds me of how interesting it is to have multiple jobs going on at one time.
Say I’ve got 3 jobs happening. One is a stamped patio job in one town that my crew and I started digging and framing out at 8 in the morning. The next is a small driveway on the other side of town that is ready to be poured at 1pm. And the third job is a front porch and walkway in the city, that I can try to start framing out after the driveway is poured and the surface has been broom finished. We will have to go back to each of these jobs multiple times to complete each step in the correct order. The digging and preparing requires keeping the surface under where the concrete is poured to be flat and even, which can most times prove to be very difficult depending on where the concrete is going and what needs to be cleared. This can sometimes involve taking out bushes, grass, and large and small trees (a huge job in itself). If there is old concrete or gravel that is needing to be replaced, it all must be dug up and removed before any of the other steps can be performed. Usually the homeowner will take care of this step themselves before they even call us. But sometimes, they want us to do the whole project from start to finish and it is something that we have to factor into our time and schedule. Once the prep work is done it is time to start framing where the fresh concrete is going to be laid. There is usually a specific design that the customer has in mind, so I must work together with the home or business owner to come up with what makes the most sense, and of course what will look the best. And then start laying down the framework. The concrete gets held in by the flexible molds that outline the spot of the dug out area. Then there might be the re-bar that is placed on the floor of the area, this is usually only done where the concrete will need extra support, like a driveway or road area that will most likely have cars driving on it and other heavy objects. Once all of this is in place it is smart to have the concrete ordered right away. And as I say this it occurs to me that you may not know what that means. Well to get concrete ordered, you will have to have the knowledge of where concrete is available in your area, and an idea of what concrete company you prefer. I then give them a call and let them know the square footage of the job that is ready to be poured. And they give me a time of when they can have it be delivered in the big mixer truck. Once the truck arrives there is another possible hurdle to overcome. It may be an easy driveway pour, where the truck can pull right up to the job and start pouring the concrete right where it needs to go. But these trucks are huge and extremely heavy as you can imagine. So you must be calculated in your decision of how to get the concrete where it needs to go. For instance if I’m putting in a backyard patio and there is little to no area where the truck can get through to the yard, the concrete will have to be poured into wheelbarrows and transferred to the back of the house one barrow full at a time. A little more effort and time goes into a process such as this, all of which must be factored into each job you are working on at a time. So now your concrete is poured. It is time to work quickly and efficiently. You only have so much time to get your finishing done before the concrete starts to harden and your project might fail. And I don’t think I have to tell you how costly a failed concrete project would be, so it is imperative that you know your timing on when to do what. Finishing can look a number of different ways. More times than not for an easy residential driveway pour, it is just a matter of brooming the top layer to make the surface textured just enough to look great and not be slippery when wet. But other things that take more time and are therefore requiring more attention and planning, like stamped concrete. Stamped concrete is really cool and very unique to each homeowner or business owner. It sets you apart from your neighbors and really makes a statement. For me though, it is a very calculated and detail oriented part of my job. Each stamp must be timed out with how quickly the truck is pouring the concrete and how long the concrete can even last inside the truck before it starts to harden. Coloring the concrete is another option, that is usually added in to the concrete before it is poured though so it doesn’t have a huge impact on timing, but pretty nonetheless. Once the surface has been finished the concrete has to fully cure. This means, no walking on it, no playing on it and especially no driving on it. It usually takes about a day or 2 before you can walk and play on it, but we tell people no driving on it for about 5-7 days after it is poured. This is also about the time that either we will come back a final time, or hire a concrete cutting company to come out and cut expansion joints into the concrete. This will help ensure that if there is any cracking or separating that could take place, it will ideally happen in the cracks that are cut in. It also helps the concrete have that finished and symmetrical feel to it. This is my favorite step of the process because not only does it mean another job is complete but it just makes me feel so good to see the end result of hard work, not to mention another happy customer. Okay I take it back, I have another favorite part...it’s collecting the money for a job well done. Of course!!