Staining concrete might not seem like the most exciting thing to build a business around. But one entrepreneurial family recognized that it was an underserved market. So they set out to change that with a new venture — Concrete Camouflage.
Read more about the business and its offerings, along with the unique method it has used to market its products in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.
What the Business Does
Sells concrete stains and floor waxes for homeowners.
CEO Earl Choate told Small Business Trends, “We sell concrete acid stains, sealers and floor waxes to people who are designing or remodeling their concrete floors and exterior concrete. This could be anything from an outdoor patio to a driveway to a kitchen floor. Traditionally concrete staining has been something that only was done by contracting companies with lots of experience. We want to empower individual consumers to be able to confidently design and update their own concrete flooring, for a reasonable price.”
Specializing in just a few quality products.
Choate says, “We are known for our product quality. We make only a handful of products but we make them with very high standards. Our business is built on honesty and righteousness.”
How the Business Got Started
By experimenting with different staining options.
Choate explains, “Our family previously owned a decorative concrete contracting company. Once we started staining concrete it did not take long for me to test out every brand. There were only a few at the time and I simply wasn’t happy with the quality of the products, their durability, and the limited options available. I wanted to offer staining because it was easier and less costly to do compared to contracting. So, I started playing mad scientist. We realized our stain was significantly better than anything on the market and that we could offer more color options. With that realization, we sold our contracting company and set out to create Concrete Camouflage.”
Releasing a series of how-to videos for consumers.
Choate says, “We began in 1995 when concrete staining was still in its infancy and mostly unknown. At first we sold our products only to contractors, a few hardware stores, and a few lucky DIY’s in the know. Our goal was to eventually bring it into the mainstream. As with any new and unknown product, we had to educate the public on what acid stain was and how to use it. So we created a new website and wrote concrete staining How To pages with extensive yet easy to understand step by step instructions.
“However, it seemed that either no one wanted to read, were intimidated by a new process or they didn’t trust what was written to be accurate because it seemed too simple. Our phones and emails were constantly busy with the same questions, which we were happy to answer, but was taking a major percentage of our time. So we created a set of How To videos and put them on YouTube and our website. They gave the customers what they were needing and looking for. This in turn caused our phone calls and emails of repetitive questions to diminish considerably, while our sales increased.
“With less time on the phone we had more time to focus on productivity and increasing quality and value by researching and developing newer and better products and increasing our color options. Therefore, it was our biggest win because it was a win for both us and our customers.”
Eliminating the use of credit accounts.
Choate explains, “In the early days, acid staining concrete was unknown to the DIY demographic, so contractors were our main customer base. They were used to and expected credit accounts. We offered credit accounts and while they were part of doing business, they had their downfalls. Not only were you waiting for payment and essentially acting as a bank, there were those few contractors that wouldn’t pay back.
“Anyway, along comes the year that mother nature decides to hit the southern coast with hurricanes and tropical storms. So we had contractors, some of them quite large customers owing us quite a bit. It wasn’t their fault as they were underwater and just trying to survive and rebuild their businesses, homes, communities, and care for their families. In some cases it took month to get paid back, and a few customers never did.
“So we decided we could no longer allow ourselves to continue to offer credit accounts. That was a huge risk because if the majority of our contractors left, we could have lost the majority of our customer base. Fortunately, many of our contractors understood and simply started using their own credit cards.”
How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000
Expanding the product line.
Choate says, “We would grow and improve our resources for our customers and invest in marketing to expand our customer base. We would also invest in growing our product line. I know a new Tesla would look nice in my driveway, but you have to take care of your business if you want your business to take care of you.”
The great outdoors.
Choate says, “Concrete Camouflage was intentionally moved from an urban office to a rural one. Our facilities are essentially in a forest. We sit atop a mountain with a beautiful lake view surrounded by trees and wildlife. We use wireless phones and laptops, so our team can work outside. Rather than being surrounded by the city hustle and bustle, we’re surrounded by nature. Instead of hearing the chirps of sirens, we hear the chirps of birds. Rather than feeling the stress of a city, we feel the fresh atmosphere of the outdoors. Many would say that would inspire laziness but it actually has the opposite effect. We’re quite productive and good at what we do. We get things done but in a relaxed way.”
“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.” -Mark Twain
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Image: Earl Choate, Concrete Camouflage