Perseverance, artistic merit help this decorative-concrete pioneer’s business thrive.
Since 2001, Chris Suckow has been carving out a distinct niche niche for specialty projects with artistic flair. While his company, Surface Specialties, LLC (surfacespecialties.net), is based in Gulfport, Miss., the firm serves residential, commercial and government clients from Texas to Florida. Recently he sat down with Concrete Coater to answer a few questions.
Concrete Coater: How did you get started in the business?
Chris Suckow: Years ago, when I was an estimator for an insulation company, I ran into a buddy who was doing some stained concrete projects. Once I saw that, I was immediately hooked on the work.
CC: What steps did you take to grow your company?
CS: We’ve been very persistent about doing certain things, such as using good-quality products and delivering what we say we’re going to do — when we said we would do it. I think these simple things really helped us when the economy went south. Instead of trading up from 2,500-square-foot homes to 3,500-square-foot homes, our customers focused on getting the best value out of their existing property. So, when they looked to make a decorative concrete investment, they trusted that we would deliver on our promises and stand behind the work. While our new-construction business dropped about 40 percent, our existing residential customer trade went up dramatically, which helped us actually grow overall revenue during that time.
CC: Can you share some unique problems you've encountered — and how you solved them?
CS: We were selected to design and erect a monument in Gulfport for Brittney Reese, a local girl who won the long-jump gold medal in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The original plan was to collaborate with vocational-technical students at a local high school to create a space with a pedestal and a stamped concrete base. But during the concrete pour for the pedestal a form blew out, which ruined the plan for a perfectly symmetrical vertical object. Since we didn’t have time to tear it out and start over, I got Brian Mills, a representative from Sherwin-Williams H&C concrete products, on the phone to discuss ideas. We came up with the concept of using the H&C stampable overlay product to rework the pedestal into a less structured — and more artistic — monument. In the end, I think the finished product is actually more attractive than the original idea.
CC: What sold you on using H&C products?
CS: I’ve used just about every kind of concrete product out there, and I was a bit skeptical when I heard Sherwin-Williams was coming out with applications for this market. But once I did some research and tried some of the products, it didn’t take long for us to become believers. In fact, we’ve switched most of our decorative product lines to H&C, available at local Sherwin-Williams stores.
CC: What are the top two pieces of advice you’d give to industry peers looking to grow their business?
CS: First, make sure you start slowly and use quality products. In the beginning, we didn’t bite off more than we could chew, so we could focus on quality and establishing a good reputation. More recently, our product partnership with H&C has been highly beneficial — for both our company and our customers.
Second, try to find a market niche that others can’t easily duplicate. For example, my firm does a lot of custom concrete artwork, in which we can take virtually any organization’s logo or design and build that image right into a floor. Or, like at the Gulfport monument project, there’s a lot of custom engraving our team does by hand. Those are things that help us stay ahead.
Find the complete line of H&C decorative concrete products at local Sherwin-Williams stores, along with experts to guide you to success. Locate your store now.
Photography by Jackson Hill