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Five tips for selling a decorative concrete overlay project

Over the past several recession-racked years, investments in concrete and related construction projects were largely limited to essential needs. But as both consumer and business balance sheets continue to improve, so does the market opportunity for decorative concrete work.

Strong near-term growth potential resides in restoration and remodeling jobs, where customers seek to maximize the value of existing property. Longer-term, savvy contractors can reap rewards bidding on both new construction and remodeling projects.

How do you best present your decorative concrete expertise to customers? Consider these tips for selling a decorative concrete overlay project:

How successful projects can help generate new revenue opportunities.

As an industry, decorative concrete isn’t as clearly defined as other trades. That’s why it’s smart to aggressively promote your work. Here are a few quick (and easy) business-building ideas:

Use signs. This can be as simple as requesting a signage display (with pictures) on a job site. It boosts name recognition and piques the interest of neighbors or commuters.

Offer a base price. Many contractors shy away from this idea because they think it will scare off potential customers. On the other hand, providing a base price on your website and other promotional materials can draw in prospects who appreciate having a reference point to help frame their project expectations.

Tap social media. With Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and e-marketing newsletter tools such as Constant Contact, the online universe offers virtually unlimited ways to highlight projects, promote new products, or offer special discounts to current or prospective customers.

Don’t forget snail mail. In the digital age, business owners often overlook simple coupon mailers that can be effectively targeted to specific neighborhoods. This marketing tool can often deliver a strong influx of new business inquiries. Contact rates rise exponentially when the coupon links a strong project visual image with an attractive incentive or discount offer.

  1. Do a pre-installation walk-through
    This is critical for existing concrete, because it will determine if the surfaces can provide a “good canvas” for decorative enhancements. Closely evaluate the concrete for spalling (pitting or chipping) or cracks. While minor cosmetic issues can most likely be managed, chunks of broken concrete, exposed rebar or large cracks might point to a problem in the substrate and subbase. If you see areas with uneven or mismatched concrete patches, ask the customer if repairs have been done to the original surface — and why the work was needed. Remember, if the substrate is not sound, it will adversely affect the long-term durability of any decorative concrete project.

  2. Set customer expectations
    Based on the initial surface and substrate evaluation, your next step is to balance what the customer wants with the overall work time and expense necessary to achieve that goal. For example, if the customer wants a flawless end product — but the existing concrete is badly cracked or broken — it’s important to communicate why that goal isn’t feasible without the added cost of extensive concrete substrate repair.

    Once you’ve had an honest conversation to set customer expectations, it’s time to work up project samples. On existing concrete, look for an out-of-the-way surface where a desired dye or stain product can be applied (and later covered). This allows you to illustrate how the decorative effect will initially look on the customer’s current surfaces. For new construction jobs, it’s best to bring a fresh concrete overlay sample, where stain or dye applications will closely reproduce the finished look on a new surface.

    For some remodeling or new construction projects, the finished project remains visually constant, while the look of some decorative concrete work evolves with time. As stains or dyes cure, the color can lighten or darken, depending on the project environment and type of sealant used. To address this reality, consider walking customers through photos illustrating the full range of project life — start, during construction, newly finished and fully cured-out. More than any other tool, this can help customers link their dreams with reality.

  3. Choose the right system and sealer
    This is more than just choosing the right colors and sealants. It’s about verifying how the customer plans to use the space. Will there be kids or pets using the surface? Will the area bear light or heavy traffic? Will any follow-up maintenance be done?

    In addition, never make assumptions about the purpose of a given space. To illustrate, consider this real-world example of a decorative concrete project for a residential garage. Since cars were parked in the garage when the pre-installation walk-through took place, the contractor simply specified a color system and sealer appropriate for that use. However, several months later, the homeowner called to complain about odor problems and ask that the job be remediated. Why? Because the space also served as a day kennel for pets, a family fitness center, and a recreation room for poker night.

  4. Sell maintenance before the project is completed
    Most property owners hate do-it-yourself maintenance. So, why not consider packaging a discounted maintenance agreement as part of an overall bid for decorative concrete work? Many times, the best opportunity to do this is when walking customers through a photo life cycle of other projects, since maintenance is critical to long-lasting beauty and durability.

    Maintenance agreements offer several benefits. For instance, maintenance work is relatively easy for experienced contractors and it’s a great way to keep positive, top-of-mind awareness with customers. That, in turn, makes it easier for customers to refer you when the opportunity arises. In addition, a maintenance agreement stays with the job site, which means your business gains exposure with new prospects every time a property changes hands.

  5. Manage unexpected events
    On virtually any construction project, unpredictable weather or unforeseeable substrate issues can wreak havoc with project timelines and budgets. In other cases, a lack of clarity about payment arrangements or project scope can strain the customer-contractor relationship. What’s the key to managing all of those scenarios? Good, frequent communication.

    Start with a written proposal identifying the full scope of work and any exceptions and qualifications to the work along with a firm price to complete the project. Also include the down payment and progress payment terms.

    “It’s critical to communicate early and often with customers,” says Jeff Wells, training and business development manager for Sherwin-Williams H&C decorative concrete product line. “Don’t wait until the end of a job to ask customers what they think. Instead, strive to build a great back-and-forth connection. Your goal should be customer satisfaction that results in timely payment.”

By following these tips, you can successfully sell your services for decorative concrete overlay projects. Exceed customer expectations and you’ll generate referrals and boost revenue for your business as well.

Learn more about the entire collection of Sherwin-Williams H&C decorative concrete products here.