There are two things that really drive us at element7concrete. What drives my work for my team is the ethos of rebuilding the artisan class of America. What drives our artisans' work for our customers (and what we will discuss here now) is making floors that will still be in use and looking good when we all have grandchildren.
This was punctuated for me recently when I read that last year alone, over 4.6 billion pounds of carpeting wound up in landfills. That is not sustainable. And by that I don't mean "That doesn't jibe with our idea of sustainable construction". I mean that is clearly not a pattern we can afford to sustain.
This past week, we tore out carpet and polished and stained a floor in our local fire department's training room. The waste of the tear out was substantial, but as I reflect on the job now, I thank goodness the cycle was broken.
Concrete flooring is still a bit of a niche product. This project was won because the fire chief had stained concrete floors in his last two homes and knew first hand how clean it is, how easy it is to take care of, and how the imperfections and nuances become the best parts over time. Because of him being savvy, our town will not have to replace that floor again: not when my kids are paying taxes, maybe not when my grandkids are paying taxes. I think that is pretty cool.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
I once heard (and have often repeated) that most folks ask kids what they want to do when they grow up because they are still trying to figure it out themselves. Some days I feel the same way, but generally I am stoked to be on this silly mission of mine. I want to share a little about what is confounding about installing concrete flooring here. Hopefully you can relate, as I am sure my road is pretty similar to anyone else's, and we all need to figure out why to get up and fight most days.
Concrete flooring is the cleanest, "greenest", most durable and aesthetically timeless floor I can think of. The floors from 80 years ago still look great to me. I don't know how one would ever wear out a concrete slab in a home or store. Flooding is no problem. One may even be able to burn the structure to the ground and salvage the floor. When our customers dust mop or "Swiffer" their floors, they are done: no periodic steam cleaning required, no "schmutz" underneath. Best of all, I think my stuff is gorgeous. I just love that I can feed my family making stuff I think looks rad.
Since we started keeping track, we found that on average 19 times out of 20 our customers are extremely happy with their floors. Why do you suppose it is that Home Depot, Lowes, or any other big player in the construction industry doesn't offer stained concrete flooring, much less market it? This all stems from the fact the perfect concrete floor is like a unicorn: Although I can imagine it, I have never seen one and have about given up hope.
So what are we to do? First off, we have made ourselves world class in dancing with the curve balls concrete slabs throw us. There is a guy in my town that has been scoring and staining floors longer than I have been alive, and even he once admitted to me that about 1 in 10 will do something in the process he really didn't see coming. My response is to geek up: I read as much from the PCA and ACI as I can, do experiments on my warehouse floor, find the engineers at trade shows and pick their brains, and lurk on message boards aimed at decorative concrete contractors. People are smart. If you are not the real deal, and you try to explain away the issue on their floor, they will see your B.S. for what it is. However, if you truly make yourself into an expert, and you are confounded to chalking something up to "well, it gives it character", then it is what it is. Most importantly, all that we have learned has allowed us to make first class floors (imperfections and all) out of really sub-par slabs.
The other part of what makes it work for our company is understanding the customer experience. When we spend money, we usually do it to satisfy our paradoxical desires for certainty/security and uncertainty/variety. We want to change our world up a little bit, but we want control over the change. We want 10 restaurants in our mall's food court, but we want the same style of pizza at Sbarro every time we decide on it. If Sbarro gave us a triple order of Panda Express food for half price, we would still feel ripped off. We want sort-of-stale-pizza, dammit. So, managing stained flooring customers is really tricky. If some of the time we don't totally know what is going to happen, we really have to set the game up differently. We love the builders we work with, and we want the owners they serve to have a lot of fun with the process. So, we design the deal to be fun. I still haven't figured out how to produce that result through more than 6 team members to serve more than 5 customers a week, though.
Until then, the carpet factories will continue churning out rolls that will work their way into a landfill every 5-10 years. Wood floors will get wet and buckle, and the coolest tile on Earth will 20 years from now...look like 20 year old tile. Someday, I hope to devise an experience like Mike Miller (The Concretist in Bencia, CA) creates for the masses. Uphill? Very much. But if the going get's easy you may be going downhill. For goodness' sake, find something very hard to do that would make the world a cooler place and throw yourself into it. Even if it is as pointless as polishing concrete. Go.