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New Ways to Sell Stained Concrete in Changing Times

It happened again just last month. You would think a decorative contractor who has plowed through two recessions and whatever you want to call this nasty correction would know his local market. Not necessarily.

The call came from an existing customer, a retired engineer to boot, attempting to establish a construction budget for a new addition that will include stained concrete throughout. Our crew installed his pool decking last year, so it makes sense this client would consider us for the interior decorative work as well.

The vast majority of return customers usually flow straight into the project’s objective, colors, design, etc., but this conversation was anything but typical. Each time I asked about designs or expectations the customer brought up price and budget. Please understand that for me, front-end work is nothing more than a fact-finding mission attempting to establish how far the customer has stumbled along by themselves.

Finally my customer said the words no contractor wants to hear, especially in 2012. He said, “Maybe your company is too expensive for my decorative project?”

Now I must be honest — in 20-plus years of running a decorative concrete business I have seen the “expensive” card played maybe a handful of times at best. I didn’t see my customer’s price sensitivity side because I was focused on figuring out the best products, method and timing to complete a lifetime-lasting quality stained floor.

My point: Never before has price been such a large factor in decorative concrete. If your plans are to prosper in 2012, my advice is to be understanding and frugal.

Realize customers for everything from retail floor projects to back-patio stain jobs are all looking for the best price first and quality, bells and whistles second. My haste may not only cost my company a job, but a customer too, not a good start for 2012.

Customers must leave each meeting believing that we as contractors understand today’s monetary challenges and appreciate each job. I obviously failed to do both.

On several occasions I’ve written about how today’s business climate is so different from the heydays of not so long ago. How we as decorative contractors sell stained concrete must adapt too. Sometimes this is as easy as using new words better suited for today’s times. Should we discuss stain’s affordability benefit over its vibrancy? Should we speak of stain’s longevity instead of its color variations?

Some of you have been at this a long time and already realize few decorative finishes have the versatility of stained concrete. Today’s concrete stain products are as user-friendly as any in the history of the staining business. Why not capitalize on such benefits by streamlining your company’s staining options to match today’s economic climate? Why not promote your company as being aware of the times and willing to adapt? Offer, if you will, affordable staining options with the same workmanship. Most local competitors still sell decorative concrete staining the same way they did in 2006. This no longer works. Our customers care less about flashy pictures of multiple colors and more about, well, affordability and longevity. Why not give your local stain market what it wants?

Today’s customers are more than willing to participate in many cost-saving options. Now don’t get me wrong here, because the last thing I’m recommending is letting your customer help you do something you have worked thousands of hours to master. My point is, allow your customer to participate in less artistic aspects of the project.

For example, we all know floor prep can make or break the profit end of a decorative concrete stain project. Explain this to your customer by allowing them to understand you’re discounting only if they’re willing to participate in prep and floor protection. My company often does this not only on homeowner projects but commercial projects as well. No company is too large to want to save money, and many project managers are willing to participate in floor protection or maybe even floor preparation. Let’s fact it, your crew makes profit by staining floor, not prepping it!

Few decorative artists will argue that cut patterns, borders and multiple colors not only increase complexity but job costs too. Don’t be afraid to bring creativity into the presentation early by proving a willingness to put effort into cost-saving ideas too.

Also, some decision makers fail to realize that bigger areas sometimes allow for lower pricing per square foot. Don’t be afraid to bring that up. Job coordination can save 10 to 15 percent on projects by combining one “move-in” over multiple phases or project visits. All things add up to savings, especially when you become the contractor known for budget consciousness, savings and quality.

This era is so different than the days of yesterday, but adaptation is the linchpin for the 2012 staining industry. Now go make good things happen wherever you call home.

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