If youíre thinking about integrating concrete countertops into your solid surface shop, there are a few things you need to consider. While templating and installing concrete is not all that different from what you already do, the fabrication part in between is significantly different. Concrete has its own rules and processes that could be vital to your success.
STEP 1: RESEARCH YOUR MARKET
The first thing youíll need to do is to look at your market. Because it is custom, concrete is a high end material. Is there a demand for a custom, high end product in your area? Will you need to expand your client base? How will your pricing of concrete mesh with the pricing of your other products? Does it fit in with your existing product lines?
STEP 2: TRAINING
Second, youíll need training. Concrete is a made-from-scratch material. Knowing how to make it is important, but knowing how it behaves, what its limits are and how to deal with the problems and challenges are essential to your success. Some training revolves around using prepackaged products, a common feature in the decorative concrete industry. Other training teaches from-scratch methods, so youíre given the flexibility to make the concrete with your local materials. Youíll need to decide how much control you want over your material and how much time youíre willing to spend figuring things out on your own.
STEP 3: SELECT THE RIGHT TOOLS
Concrete countertops donít require expensive equipment, and some of what you already have may work with concrete. There are four basic areas that require various types of equipment: forming, mixing, processing and sealing. Forming uses common woodworking tools like a table saw, sanders, a miter saw and the like. Mixing the concrete requires a mixer and scales to measure out ingredients. Processing uses diamond tooling very similar to (or in some cases the same as) that used for engineered quartz and granite. Sealing may use spray equipment, sanders or even a specialized UV light for curing a particular finish. Not all shops require or use the same equipment, but in general the most expensive single piece of equipment is often the concrete mixer, which usually costs around $2,500 to $3,000.
STEP 4: CONSIDER PRODUCTION TIME AND QUALITY
Incorporating concrete as a new product line needs to make business sense. You already understand the needs of your clients and the importance of meeting promised delivery dates. Concrete should fit within your current production schedule. Be aware that many of the techniques for making concrete countertops assume that a six-week turnaround time is acceptable. There are many different ways of making concrete countertops. Be sure youíre learning one that takes into account efficiency and rapid turnaround.
However, thereís more to consider than production time. Since you manufacture the material, youíre responsible for how it will perform down the line. Form is important, but so is function. The choices and the decisions you make about which sealer to use or what product or training you take will ultimately determine whether your clients will be satisfied and whether or not the concrete will continue to perform the way you and your clients expect countertops to perform. The more you know about the material, its requirements and how you can achieve the desired level of quality and performance, the better off you will be.
About the author:Lane Mangum is the customer service director for The Concrete Countertop Institute. She developed the CCIís self-study courses: Sales & Marketing 101 and Project Management 101. She can be reached at 3529 Neil St., Raleigh, NC 27607 or by phone at 888-386-7711.