Brandon and Jon further discuss the economics of pre-blended concrete in the Canadian market, then chat with Chuck Fournier of Creative Concrete Industries about Covid & Concrete, UHPC in Canada, and re-casting pieces.
You can reach Chuck at:
1850 Highway #2 East
TRANSCRIPT: Chuck Fournier, Creative Concrete Industries - Concrete in Canada
Welcome to the Concrete Podcast where we talk all things concrete, featuring your host Brandon Gore.
Brandon: Welcome to the Concrete Podcast. My name is Brandon Gore. I'm your host. I'm joined by my co-host Jon Schuler. Good afternoon, Jon.
Jon: Good afternoon. Good afternoon. How's it going?
Brandon: Good, man. Well, seems like the world is going up in price across the board. Everything's going up. We were just talking about the price, the Silica fume going up and how that affects everything. That kind of ties into our conversation from last week and the conversation that we're gonna have with Chuck Fournier up in Canada here in a little while when we get him on the phone, and that is the economics of a super high performance UHPC like Maker Mix and how that relates to the profitability of a decorative concrete artisan in this sector. More specifically, a concrete artisan in Canada, where the bag price landed after duties and freight.
All the things that go into it might be anywhere between $70 to $80 a bag who knows somewhere around there, and how that works out. My first thoughts are that at $70 to $80 a bag, your materials cost is around $15, $16 a square foot. But me as a business, Hard Goods, I make a lot of smaller items. I don't do a lot of kitchens. Kitchens are really the lowest margin item in this industry. The most amount of work, the least amount of profit. I kind of stay away from them, but we can talk about kitchens as well, but something like a coffee table or a fire pit, something like that, a coffee table might take one, maybe two bags, maybe three bags, a fire pit, three, four bags, maybe in that range. If we're talking about one to four bags, you're really talking about a total materials cost of $75 to $300 in that range.
I just don't understand how an item that I'm gonna charge $2,000 for the coffee table up to $4,000 or $5,000 for the fire pit, how that even factors into profitability or lack thereof, and more specifically comparing to other options on the market, whether it's another pre blended from another company or making your own mix, which a lot of guys are doing, but they're importing white Portland, sand they're importing, different sands from all around. A lot of them are from the US. They're importing a polymer, they're importing all these different things. When that's said and done, are you even saving any money in relation to the $70 to $80, a bag of preblended UHPC landed? What are your thoughts?
Jon: Ultimately you know we've done one. The shock value that people aren't looking at it from the other end, meaning that they get hit by that "bag price" whatever that bag price is $40, $50, $60, $70. Right now we're having a conversation, let's call it $75 a bag. Well, $80, because I can make easy numbers based on a project I just did. I do plenty of custom vanities. Now the last vanity I did, which was $2,800 used three bags. It had eight inch drop edges, three of them are round, it was hand tooled. It was a low slope sink that became popular for me here recently when I installed one at a local winery. At the end of the day, even if that was $70, it's $225 in material. I'm not seeing it. I'm not seeing it. The ease and everything that goes with it. But more on top of that, the practicality of the material price, I'm not gonna lie, you hit me if that shock value like $75. Yeah, I get it. I get it. That's a quick shock value. But once you put it into the reality of what that material is going into and what it's costing you either at a square foot or an actual project cost, that's when this conversation really becomes moot. If it's looked at, from that point of view.
Brandon: I agree with that and if you're trying to make your own "from scratch mix," and it'll never be the same performance as Maker Mix only because the amount of products that go into Maker Mix and then the high shear blending that makes it, you'll never get that from Portland, sand, polymer. It's just not gonna perform at that level. But if you're making your own from scratch mix, what's the cost of that. Once you import the ingredients you are gonna use, it's gonna be pretty high. Especially in Canada, you might be spending $30 to $40 for the same equivalent amount of material. You're talking about $30 a difference per bag, which would be approximately $6 a square foot difference. You're paying $6 more a square foot to import the very best mix on the market versus making your own mix. How does $6 a square foot affect profitability in any way?
If it does, raise your price $6 a square foot and there, you compensated for it, but it shouldn't be. You should be at minimum, I'm talking US dollars, $150 to $200 a square foot on anything you're doing in 2021 about to be 2022. I was at that price point 10 years ago on everything I did. It's one of those things that, I think a lot of guys are selling based on price. They're attracting clientele and securing projects based on price where they really should be attracting clientele and selling projects based on what they do, which is a totally different conversation. Once you shift the argument of here's the price for what I do versus buy this because it's cheap, it's a totally different thing.
If you're charging the prices, you should charge for a coffee table, a fire pit, even a kitchen, even though it's a lower margin product that has a lot of work into it. If you're charging $150 a square foot and your materials cost in Canada is $15 a square foot, there's still plenty. There's $135 in there per square foot. There's still a lot of profitability to be had even in an item like concrete kitchens, kitchen countertops.
Jon: Yeah. I agree 100%. Then if that becomes a factor like most of us in business, right? I mean, you look at your business and you look at profitability. If that becomes a problem, you start making a shift. Meaning that all of us know labor. Labor's the number one when it comes to any of us doing this kind of stuff, labor. Maybe you start incorporating or presenting new products that have a lower labor toll. That would be a number one to me. Cut down on the amount of wet processing or tooling or sanding or whatever is eating you up on the other end that you can't make up.
Hence you've made up much further than you ever would've at a few bags, $10 a bag or $20 a bag on a material cost you're bringing in. Per that, I think you and I have seen plenty of artisans over the years that do just that. Their sands actually have to be shipped in. You know, they don't even have that locally available, but it seems same thing, they don't necessarily take that into account when they say, hey, well this sand I'm paying 12 cents a pound for that's what gets locked in their head. It goes even further, Brandon, I mean, we've talked about this. Right now we're talking about mixed materials. We've had the same thing happen over the years with sealers, right? Certain sealers out there, $500 a quart. But yet they never take into account what the square foot coverage is.
It's just not looked at that way, which is interesting. Not with everybody, but with some people.
Brandon: Yeah I agree. That's gonna be, I'm sure a big topic of conversation with Chuck Fournier because he's in Canada. He is distributing Kodiak Pro in Canada. It's just one of those things that I'm sure comes up for him, is people kind of shocked by the high price versus I can go down to Home Depot or Lowe's and get Quikrete for whatever it costs in Canada, $20 bucks a bag, $25 a bag, whatever it is. But that's a 3000 to 5,000 PSI mix that needs to be three to five inches thick minimum with steel reinforcement in it. It's gonna weigh a literal ton. It's just not the same thing. It's not the same thing. It's not gonna perform the same, not gonna have the same surface quality, not gonna seal the same way. It's just a completely different product. If you're making a sidewalk or a post hole, perfect.
If you're making a super high end concrete sink, concrete countertop, concrete tile, concrete fire, pit, whatever it is, you need to use the highest performance mix that you can get your hands on, Maker Mix is the absolute highest performance mix. Briefly one other thing I wanna discuss, we talked about this on a phone call recently is, there are other UHPC’s on the market and those other UHPCs are under licensed by the companies that make them. Meaning that if you wanna purchase that UHPC from that company, you have to buy a license.
Some of those license are upwards of $20,000 just to have the right to buy that product from that company. Then on top of that, those UHPCs mainly use steel fibers and they're extremely difficult to mix, extremely difficult to mix. What are your thoughts on that Jon?
Jon: One of the beauties to this particular blend was I was just talking to a guy in the United Kingdom, who has some UHPC materials around him. He's used plenty of them actually over the years. He would tell me that the number one problem he ever had with them, is typically these materials always had a pre blended plasticizer on board that there was no way to work around. They gave, a specific workability under a specific shear with a specific amount of water and etc. The main idea, but let me digress. These other materials on the market are not made for our use.
They never talked to a Brandon Gore and said, hey, Brandon, what do you need? What are your challenges? What are you gonna use this for? I mean, these other materials were designed by chemists to create a certain strength. They didn't take the rest of that into account because they're not thinking about people like this. That's where I say one of the biggest strengths, whether we're talking about PSI, which I could give a rats butt about. The biggest strength, in my opinion is you're getting an incredibly dense mix that falls in the category of a UHPC design, the density, the color, etc. But you have a product that's able to be used the way we want to use it. Not the way somebody else wanted you to use it.
Brandon: Well, and it gives you options to use it in a multitude of different ways. Whether you wanna spray it, you want to hand trowel it. You want pour a self consolidating mix. That's all controlled through plasticizer and fiber type and fiber load, which those other UHPCs on the market that are made by these big corporations. As you said, you don't have that option. You just can't do it. You're just gonna be stuck with casting in a very certain consistency, a very certain fiber, very certain fiber load. From that you can cast whatever, a roof structure for a pavilion, that's what you're gonna use it for, but you're not gonna make a sink. You're not gonna make a countertop. You're not gonna make a fire pit. I mean, we're catering to a very boutique market.
Guys are casting extremely high end products. They all have their own look they have developed their business around and our product allows that. Those are the two things I wanna talk about today. Is there anything you want to address before we give Chuck a call?
Jon: No. Let's give him a call. I mean, I'm very interested to see what the differences are in Canada. He would know better than we do.
Brandon: Absolutely. All right, I'll get him on the line. We have Chuck Fournier of Creative Concrete Industries in Brockville Canada with us. Good afternoon, Chuck.
Chuck: Hey guys. How's it going?
Brandon: Good, man. How are things in Canada?
Chuck: As in COVID or just in general?
Brandon: In general. I mean, do you guys have plenty of maple syrup supply? Has COVID affected that?
Chuck: No, no, no. The maple syrup's running fresh. We're good for that. It's always flowing.
Brandon: How's COVID are you able to travel to the US yet?
Chuck: I can. I think now that we're fully vaccinated, I think it's a little easier to come back and forth now. I think they've lowered the restrictions. It is a little bit easier now. I think driving, the borders are still closed, but I can still fly there with no problems. Which is kind of weird, but whatever it is, what it is, right.
Brandon: Yeah. COVID, doesn't travel in airplanes.
Chuck: No, no. Especially when you pack them in their like sardines. You know, driving by yourself in a car or, going in a plane with 300 people, I can understand, it's a lot safer in a plane.
Jon: Well, I know you guys are being sarcastic, but I mean, they did put up those signs. There's a no COVID zone on the planes.
Chuck: I like how they make you stand six feet apart in the airport, but then they pack you in elbow to elbow in the plane. They're pretty smart that way. But no, other than that, everything's good up here. I find things a little bit slower this year, but other than that, it's pretty good.
Jon: Slower from a business point of view, is that what you're saying?
Chuck: Yeah. Slower business point of view. I found last year when COVID first hit people felt like they were trapped inside their houses. They're doing more work, on their kitchens, on their bathroom, updating stuff that they were sick of. Just cause they felt like they were stuck, not going outside. Then this year, people are getting outside, they're doing their patios, they're buying RVs, they're buying boats and they're traveling more or doing whatnot. I found this year is a little bit slower for the renovation side for me, but I'm staying steady enough, which is, a positive thing.
Brandon: You are a distributor of Kodiak Pro products in Canada.
Chuck: That I am.
Brandon: Me and Jon were just chatting about the economics of Kodiak Pro Maker Mix in the Canadian market. After duties freight has gone up. As you found out on your last order, freight has gone up there's duties. You're probably gonna be in the $70 to $80 a bag range. Is that about right would you say?
Chuck: Yeah, that's correct.
Brandon: We're estimating, you're gonna have $15 to $16 a square foot in Kodiak Pro materials for that. If you were to do your own from scratch mix, which I know you've done, plenty of, you've picked up Portland and sand and done that kind of stuff. What is the ultimate cost of that would you say? Have you ever factored what that costs per square foot?
Chuck: You know what I did at one point, but it changes so much because some suppliers, carried what I needed some didn't. Then I had to switch, either how far I drove the pickup stuff. I guess there as no real way to calculate in how much time it took to drive around. To one supplier might have been an hour away. Another one might have been an hour and a half away. You start factoring in all those different times and it's hard to start figuring out. Plus it's also the batching, which is, usually the longest part, depending on how much you're batching. Sometimes I batch quite a bit, which is, could be anywhere from 1,000, 2,000 pounds.
You start batching all that out in your hours and hours and hours doing all that where, you use the new Maker Mix, you're down to, minutes. Cause you're only doing, water fibers and your plasticizer.
Brandon: Why did you make the switch? You were using a competitor's products.
Brandon: Why did you switch to Maker Mix?
Chuck: For the efficiency of that, I didn't have to go around anymore and pick up Portland, pick up sand, it was just the economics and easiness of it, all.
Brandon: The product you were using before was an admix that you then still had to batch other ingredients too, correct?
Chuck: Yes. Yeah. I had to add in the Portland, the sand, weigh it all out and get everything, exact where now it just cut open the bag and we're using, like I said, fibers, waters, and plasticizer, and we're done.
Jon: So, based on that, just cuz this is the conversation we're having. When you went the direction of an admixture and then look to pick up your sands and your cement, what made you mentally follow that path? Was it because you thought you were gonna save money on using the admixture and then purchasing sands and cement?
Chuck: I think in the long run, I can probably break it down. I probably still saving money. The problem is I find over the past couple years, I find I've had a lot of cracks or maybe even breakage and stuff like that. I found that I'm probably not getting the proper sands using the different meshes that there are and all that kind of stuff. It was hard to source a the proper meshes so that I can get the proper mixtures to avoid either crackage or breakage or anything like that. Switching over to a high performance mix, I've eliminated all those issues kind of thing.
Jon: Agreed. I was asking from that point of view, cause Brandon and I have had this conversation that let's call it the sticker shock of a pre blended product. A sticker shock. I was just wondering using your own experience, did you personally feel that lowered what you thought was a sticker shock value going in admixture direction, which ultimately found out no, you came back?
Chuck: You're right. There is a sticker shock. You know, when you go to from an admix to a blended mix, you mean talking, double the price. But as Brandon was saying, you factor in driving and you're picking up this here or you're picking up that, but then you have to run down all my crackage, my breakage and all that kind of stuff. Well, am I really saving money if I have to recast something a second time? Should I have just paid? That's where I came into making the ultimate choice to switch over you a different mix a high performance mix where I don't have these issues anymore.
Brandon: If you remake one piece, no matter what mix you're using, all profitability is out the window.
Brandon: It's just gone. I mean, if you remake it one time and we've all experienced remaking pieces two, three or more times, I've remade some things numerous times.
Chuck: I know this pain too much. Too much.
Brandon: Yeah. In those cases you're doing the project for free and then giving away money as you're doing it. Those are the really tough ones. But admix, we sell RADmix. It's called rRADmix cuz it's rad. But we sell RADmix and RADmix is awesome for guys that want to use their own Portland, and what have you. The economics still are time. Time is gonna kill you time and traveling time and batching. Then the potential for mistakes, a preblended that's coming from a massive blender that has volumetric mixing and high shear.
Those products are gonna be much, much more consistent than what you'll get hand batching out a product that inevitably is gonna have variation and some mistakes in it.
Chuck: Oh you're absolutely right. Especially, it's funny, like, I've been talking to you guys or Jon, for years now and it's funny how, when I used to first start mixing with my admix, we'd add this in first. Then we'd let it blend for so long. Then we'd add this in. But then after talking to Jon a few times, he's like, well, you should be adding this up here or this up here. I've changed how I've mixed so many times over the past couple years, because it's like, well, is it mixing properly? Did it get mixed long enough? I mixing it too long? A lot of people think like, oh just leave it in the mixer for, 10, 15 minutes, let it blend, then you get fibers running into each other and then they all ball up.
There was just so many things I found with an admix that just at the end of the day, when you go to the Maker Mix, preblended, toss it in and it's done, and it's perfect. Unless you over process that you're under plasticized, but you mean other than that, you follow the guidelines and pretty much, anybody can do it.
Brandon: More than that. Let's say that you are doing the admix route. You're picking up stuff. Let's say you don't even take into account all the time you put into it, which is really gonna be your biggest factor by far in cost. Let's take that out of it. If you put in the admix the Portland and sand, what is your per square foot price? It's probably $10 bucks a square foot maybe.
Chuck: Yeah. Yep. You're not wrong.
Brandon: Versus $16 of square foot. You're saving $6 a square foot unless you're doing really big projects, which I know you do big projects, but I mainly do small projects. Coffee tables, fire pits, chairs, bin, things like that. If I was doing a coffee table, that might be five square feet. I'm talking about a difference of $30 a mix.
Jon: No, absolutely. I was just gonna throw this question out based on Canada, Chuck, and you don't have to give specifics if you don't want to, but if you don't mind me asking, how do you do your pricing? Are you like a lot of us, know mentally you stick within a square foot pricing and then you just come up with your own ideas? If so, do you mind sharing with us? I just wanna run the numbers since we're talking about the economics. Where do you typically run in your opinion with your projects?
Chuck: I start off at $85 a square foot and I go up from there. I go anywhere from, $85 up to around $135, depending on the project I've went higher depending on, the difficulty of the project. But usually Canada's a little bit different than the US. I mean, cause I've worked with Dusty for, quite a long time. The prices in the US are a little bit different than they are here. Concrete in Canada is probably, I always find we're like we’re 10 years behind the US or Europe or wherever. It's still something that's a little bit new here. People have a hard time pulling the trigger on something that's $85 a square foot when they can go get granite, quartz, or marble and they feel like it's a better product.
Those people, I don't even bother trying to explain, what the difference is. Right now I'm probably on the low end because I've talked to other people on the other side of Canada where they're in a little bit of a different market. They're only about $10 a square foot starting off more than I am, but I start at $85 a square foot. After we get over to certain lengths, let's say over eight feet, it goes to $95, over 10’ might go to $115. Then depending on, to me, I determined on the length of the piece, the difficulty of the piece, how many men I'm gonna need to carry it into a house. I have to start factoring in all those kind of costs. Then also breakage if it breaks, you mean I need to be able to recover my cost to make a new one.
Still like Brandon says maybe not be profitable on the piece of anymore, but at least I'm not losing money even if I have to re recast a second piece or something like that. Does that answer somewhat of the question?
Jon: Well kind of, but wait a minute, please tell me you're not adding install into part of that square foot?
Chuck: No. There is still an install charge for like how far they live and the difficulty of carrying it to the house. There's still that on top, but I'm just talking about the actual size of the piece is how I determine my square footage size. To clarify, there is still an install charge on top of whatever the square foot charge is.
Brandon: My question is if you're doing installs, I heard you say you have to count for the number of men.
Brandon: What is the cost of the flight to fly in these men from the United States to help you with the install?
Chuck: You guys aren't as tough as us though. We're Canadians. You know what I mean?
Brandon: I'm not saying what you're doing is wrong because yeah, there is no right or wrong. But what I would say is selling based on price, which it sounds like you're selling based on price. You're selling point is price, and price is always a race to the bottom. There's always some guy that's a little bit hungrier, a little bit more desperate. That'll go $5 cheaper, $10 cheaper and start that whole downward spiral. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, so don't take it that way. Granite, quartz. That's a totally different league. What we're doing is a hundred percent custom. It's bespoke. It's made for you. There's nobody else in the world that has these countertops. There's a price associated with that. The price of that is this, it's $150 starting point. The right clients get that. They're like, absolutely. I understand. I'll sign the check. The clients that say our budget's $85. I can get granite for this. They're not really the right client to begin with. They're gonna be problematic.
Chuck: No, I hear what you're saying.
Jon: Well that's what I think of. I can only imagine. I mean, one of the coolest pieces I've ever seen you do, it was like this little 2’x2’ sample. Your work was incredible, but I'm kidding that, remember that three legged island.
Brandon: Chuck does awesome samples.
Chuck: Triple trouble is what I called that one. That was the triple waterfall.
Jon: I can only imagine everything you're talking right now and what clientele that went to.
Chuck: That piece there, you mean it's funny, cuz I named it triple trouble for the reason of the waterfalls I had triple, not knowing that I was gonna make it three times. It ended up living up to its name in the long run of it. But luckily enough, it wasn't technically my fault for the recasting of it. It's still one of my number one pieces that I did. I'll repost it every once in a while. Just because it's one of those things where, it was something that was almost unbuildable, but it got built and I'm probably an idiot for doing it, but whatever. It got done, customers happy and that's all that matters.
Brandon: That was an amazing piece in my opinion.
Chuck: Yeah, absolutely. I was actually just looking at pictures. I just did a post on Instagram and I was looking at pictures of it and sometimes I'm still blown away that I was able to accomplish that piece.
Brandon: What other things have you run into this last year? What are things you've struggled with in the last year?
Chuck: I dunno, it's hard to say. I think just the cost of a lot of stuff is, like you said, things have went up in price, shipping, anything, getting materials in this year was a little bit more difficult. I find it's a little easier now. Now the COVID restrictions are lifting and all that kind of stuff. When we were ordering back in the day, it might be a week or two weeks to order product, to come in and then it went to like a month or a month and a half or, we'll ship it when we can. I think those were some of the struggles where we weren't getting product in fast enough. We couldn't keep up with, some of our deadlines that we had set and all that kind of stuff.
Other than that the struggles, I never had a problem before when I was using admix, finding my finding materials that way. But that's the nice thing about switching over to Maker Mix is, now I don't have to source anything out.
Brandon: We also discussed a couple days ago, possibly doing a "demo day" at your shop in Canada. At some point in the near future, if there's enough demand. For the Canadians listening, if you wanted go to a demo day, and a demo day would be a paid event, but a very low price, probably $300 or so dollars per person, but it would be a demonstration where Chuck shows you how to mix the material, how to place the material, how to cure the material, how to process it, how to seal - it could be a lot of fun and you could learn a lot and pick up some Kodiak Pro while you're there.
Chuck: Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously we'll talk with that more in detail down the road. We'll set up stuff to show how to do the three different types of mixes have some pieces already pre-made so that as you said, we can show people how to properly use ICT prime and the full ICT run through, so everybody's basically can configure it all out and, and get it done and make pieces on their own.
Brandon: Chuck, have you ever had to repair any pieces that you made for a client?
Chuck: Absolutely. I've had to repair or replace a piece I've made for clients before. I'm actually just doing one now. I did some baby blue countertops for a client. They left a terracotta pot on it for, I don't know, maybe a week or two weeks. You know, the problem with that is the terracotta basically pulled all the pigment and everything out of the countertop. Now they've got this huge white spot where the pot was. Me being who I am, I, like the client, I like dealing with the designer that I was dealing with. I offered to replace it for free. Maybe a little bit, I should have been more, I don't know how to say it, like communicative with the client on what the do's and don'ts are, but sometimes I'm not dealing with the client, I'm only dealing with the designer.
I don't get to talk to the clients at first. They ended up wrecking the countertop and I'm going into replace it. You know, thankfully it's such a small countertop. It's only two feet by I think, five feet, but it's still gonna cost me, I had to bring in more pigment, which costs me, $80 plus there's the product, to make it. It's three and a half hours away. I have to drive down there and install it. A day out of my shop plus materials to replace a countertop that it was client error. Since I don't deal with the clients all the time, I felt like I should take some responsibility on it. I like working with the designer.
Brandon: Do you ever leave care and maintenance instructions when you do the installation?
Chuck: I do. The only thing is the designer had the care and maintenance sheet. If they didn't relay some of the stuff that's on there to the clients, the clients don't know any better. This is why I took some of the responsibility as I probably should have just left the sheet on the counters there for them. But I didn't hence why I'm taking some responsibility for this. I want to keep in good faith with the designer that I've done work with her in the past. I want to work with her in the future. For me, I might bite this bullet right now. But in the long run, if I get more work from her, which I've got work from her in the past, then I'll make it up in the wash, so it's okay.
Jon: Well, you touched on something there, setting expectations, undeniable about setting expectation. But that's the other thing I think all of us have fallen into the trap over the years is what expectations and what expectations did we set for ourselves? Meaning that, and I'm just going to throw these kinds of questions at you. What type of blue did you use? Was it a cobalt blue and aquamarine. I mean, what allowed a blue to bleach out? More importantly, even though yes, in this case, the clients did something out of bounds. It's out of bounds, not on something you made. These are general things that are known with concrete as a material in general.
I mean, ever looked at a, I'm comparing a patio, of course, where people have left pots and things out there for a long period of time and what it does. I mean, every material is going to have its, I hate to say pros and cons. How about its limitations? I think sometimes us as makers, we're not open enough because we're a little fearful of those limitations ourselves and not letting people know all the benefits and limitations. What do you think?
Chuck: Yeah, no, you're right. I think when it came down to this blue countertop, I just get a sample of a tile. They want me to match it. I probably, I probably should've expressed maybe some more like you said, limitations on what it can and can't do or this, that, or the other thing. I thought yeah, I'll just make this for you. I'll never have a problem with it. Clearly I've had some, major problems with it. I don't know if it was the type of blue I used or what it came down to. I find concrete people, they don't mind. I think Brandon talked about it in his class one time, he's had some pieces back in the day that patina over time and the customers absolutely loved how they look years down the road. Because they're either, I think we talked about tea stains or coffee stains, like in a coffee house that you did Brandon or something like that.
I love how concrete ages over time, because it's never gonna look the same as it does this the day you put it in. A lot of my concrete clients already know that. They're looking for to wear patina and look the way it is, like just age naturally where, you can always tell the people that say, oh my God, the granite in my last house was so beautiful. I absolutely loved it. 90% of the time I'm like then buy granite, cause I'm not your guy. That's the problem is their granite looks like the day it did when they moved in. When they moved out of their house, 10 years later, it still looks the same. Where concrete, well, it's, I'm not saying it's going to stain or anything like that. But it does wear. It does patina.
To me, that's the beauty of concrete, it ages and it wears in a way that it's always evolving and changing.
Jon: I agree with you. That's for me, like a lot of people, I try to avoid the word patina even though generally that's what it's doing. I like the word aging. I mean it ages, I mean like the materials age, it creates a uniqueness to it and that's what has always appealed to me. But I mean, name a material that doesn't appeal to me that does that. Wood. I mean, I like the things that age gracefully and has a character to it than something that does not.
Brandon: Yes, patina. They call that a patina. Well the countertops in my house, which are Maker Mix and ICT, we we didn't have PRIME at that point, but it was ICT. They have patinated or aged gracefully or however you want to say it, but I love it. There's not a stain on the surface, not a single stain, but it's darkened where we have a lot of use and it looks beautiful.
Chuck: Yeah. That's what I was just about to hit on is you mean, I don't want to say aged and patina as, whatever words we want to use. As for staining, that's not what I'm talking about because I've reposted a bar that was just a local bar down the street from my house. I reposted this a few times.
Whenever I'm having a beer or whatever, I'm looking at these countertops and they've been in there for almost two years now. The way I talk about bar tops, they get more use than obviously a kitchen. Basically the way I tell people, is a bar top gets probably about five years in one year to what a kitchen would get.
These bar tops every time I go in there, they look absolutely bad-ass, they haven't stained. They've been used, God knows how many times with cups slid across and plates slammed on them and they look amazing. They're aging. Patinaing absolutely perfect. Every time I go in there, I look around and I'm like, wow. 90% of the time I take a shot of it and I'll post it up on my Instagram saying, look at how good these bars still look two years later, not a stain on them. They look absolutely amazing. To me, that's what I like is I'm not getting staining. You know, that's not the issue. I just, like I said, the concrete is aging, patinaing perfectly.
Jon: Agreed. Again, I think that's a big difference that we've seen from a lot of people that I know, other artisans, other people that do this is as I refer to it as a philosophy. I make things that I want to age and I'll use your word patina over the years. That goes, gracefully, creates a character. That to me, it creates something amazing, and it's a part of a philosophy that goes with it is creating things that do that comparatively speaking.
Chuck: Absolutely. I know some people who had issues before either staining or something like that, but usually that's just kind of error of application. I've done a lot of white kitchens and I've never, it's funny cause I've, I can go through my Instagram. I've probably done a dozen of them. I've never had an issue with a customer going, oh my God, like, there's this massive stain on my countertop. I've never dealt with it yet. I had one customer once she spilled some coffee on it I gave her kind of like a quick like tip on how to get rid of it. I went to go look at it a couple of months later cause I was in the area, it was all gone, nothing. There was nothing there. That was obviously a little bit of client error.
She called me, I told her how to quickly correct it. It was fine and that was it. But other than that...
Brandon: How did you tell her to correct it?
Chuck: I've talked to Jon before, bleach was what basically what I told her to use. I told her put some bleach on the spot, let it sit there for a few minutes and then wipe it off. Boom. It was gone. I went back, I was in the area to make sure that, there was no damage done to the sealer. Like if she left bleach on for too long or something like that, which Jon says, bleach, isn't gonna hurt the sealer. don't worry about it. That was the solution for that was we put a little bit of bleach on it, she did. That was it. Stain was gone.
Jon: A legacy video that's still out there on YouTube is where I took a sample and specifically stained it with turmeric. Left that turmeric, I think like for a week and I kept getting it wet. Then that's when I actually showed a time-lapse video of the bleach and what it did. Yeah. No problem at all. Bleach is not a problem.
Chuck: Yeah. Yeah. That's usually my go-to with anything. If I talk to a customer after I install their countertops. It's funny because, I always kind of joke around with like with my clients after I install. They're like, well, what should we do? What shouldn't we do? I'm like, well, if you're having a party, at nighttime and you leave red wine all over your counter and you go to bed, I'm like, you're an idiot. Don't don't do that. Basically just wipe off your counters, clean them off so you're not leaving like red wine on the counters overnight. You know, other than that, you shouldn't have any issues. If you do bleach is your best friend. That's what I always tell people. They always say, don't really bleach. I can pour bleach in the countertops. I'm like, yeah, you're not going to hurt it at all. Then I always tell them, what they should or shouldn't use. Like, I think you've told me, Jon, the bleach wipes you shouldn't use. Cause they have, is it ammonium? What's in the bleach wipes that you can't use? I think there's something in it.
Jon: Not anymore. Anything that you guys are doing now is not an issue. They can use the wipes, the Clorox wipes, any of that kind of stuff. With any of the new CT chemistry absolutely not an issue at all. You know, having a material that has an essence of repairability either by the customer or by you that you get paid to deal with is definitely a big thing.
Brandon: Chuck, I have a question for you. What are the top five tools in your shop that you can not live without?
Chuck: Top five tools.
Brandon: You can only take five with you. If your shop was burning down, you could get five tools out. What would you take?
Chuck: I probably had to take my hand mixer my seven inch polisher. My four-inch polisher. I'm trying to think here.
Brandon: You only got two left. I can't believe you wasted it on two polishers. Pick one, man.
Jon: Choose wisely, man. Choose wisely.
Chuck: I'd have to say my, oh my God. You stumped me here. Track saw would be the, and my pocket hole machine. Those would be the ones.
Brandon: How are you going to weigh anything out? You don't have a scale.
Chuck: I don't need to weigh. Well, other than the fibers and the water.
Brandon: You're screwed. You got two polishers though. You got that.
Chuck: You know what? I'll just be the concrete cowboys that we've been called in the past and just start winging it. No, but you're right. Maybe I'll take out the seven-inch polisher and I'll go with the four and I'll throw a scale in there.
Brandon: You wouldn't take your IMER?
Chuck: Depends on how much I was batching out, but you only gave me five things. Like I could, maybe if we went to 10, if we went to 10 things, yeah I could probably get like, everything I'd need, within 10 things. But five things is difficult. But I love my Collomix, it's a bit of a pain in the ass, obviously if you're doing ECC, but 99% of the time when I do an SCC pour, I love my Collomix. Cause I love to be able to see how fluid that mix is, spinning it in the bucket and seeing how fluid it is. I can't see the funnel created kind of thing. I like my Collomix for that.
Jon: You touched on SCC and not to keep pumping up Maker Mix, but I really liked the SCC workability of the Maker Mix. The last two vanities I did, which were fabric formed, with a hat mold, my son was working with me that summer, he’s 13 years old. It was just so amazing to mix up something that he could be with me at the shop that made it so simple and fun because I obviously was trying to make it fun for him as well. So he wasn't like, I got to work with dad. It was great. The SCC consistency was just absolutely shockingly amazing.
Chuck: Yeah, absolutely. When I switched over to Maker Mix I remember my first pour was a white console table. It was going out on a patio. It was fairly big. It was three feet tall, double waterfall. I think it was six feet long or something like that. 18 inches wide, three inches thick. I ended up making it twice because I was in a rush trying to fly it to the Concrete Design School and thought I could make it in like a couple of hours and ended up blowing forms off the table and destroying it. The second time I got to make them when I finally got back and slowed down, when I took it all apart and de-molded it, it was unbelievable.
There's pretty much zero holes, zero pinholes. I took a shot of the melamine, me taking it off and it was the white and the white melamine. I sent a picture to a buddy of mine and he couldn't tell the difference between the concrete and the melamine, how perfect and crisp it came out. It was unbelievable. Like it just, how flowable it is and how it workable. As for pinholes and air holes, they've went down dramatically.
Jon: I got to tell a story. Brandon probably tells it better than I do because all I know is we were at one of the workshops and I'm talking to a couple of people and they're demolding one of the benches, they were working on. Jon, Jon, come here, Jon come here. He literally points to this little tiny pinhole. Like as you sharpened a pencil and like the end of a very, very sharpened pencil. What would you do about something like that? Like nothing. The thing that Brandon was trying to get at, is a legitimate question if you've never done this stuff before.
But what was mind blowing for us is where the Maker Mix ended up so clean and these kinds of castings that normally Brandon would see a lot more potential for slurry and something, that we've taken this material to such a point that a person could stand there and legitimately ask a question about a pinhole, the size of the end of an absolute sharpened pencil. That's pretty amazing. What do you think?
Brandon: It was a guy that had never worked with concrete before, so he had no frame of reference. If we went back to the days of when we first got started, me and Jon, when we were using Quikrete 5,000, the pin holes, or the bug holes were the size of marbles. They were huge. I mean, that was what we got. There's no way around it. Then through time, through materials innovations, we got them down to the size of BB’s and there'd be a bunch of those. It just was what it was. Now we're legit down to the size of just the very end of a pencil. Pretty much only on the sides, if there's any at all on the surface, if we're casting upside down, it is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
But if you don't have a frame of reference and you don't have any knowledge of the way concrete normally is, I guess it just doesn't blow your mind the way it blows our mind. Unfortunately, for this guy, I was just like, are you serious? Like, are you serious right now? Are you trying to be funny? Is this a joke? Are you being for real? He's like, no, I'm being for real. I'm like, dude, like, this is nothing, man. Like, this is something that small, if a client complained about it, then why are they getting concrete? Because this is as close to perfection as we'll ever see with concrete and concrete should have some imperfection to it. That's why I don't sweat it if we do have imperfection, because it needs those little telltale signs that it's a natural material that we cast by hand. He just didn't have a frame of reference.
I kind of feel bad about the way I responded because he was being legit. It was a legit question.
Jon: No, it really was. Yeah. You know, he didn't get offended or anything, but I remember it, we ended up talking to them about it after that. No frame of reference, never been around this stuff before. I'm still blown away that I hate to call it a flaw. But the only thing in this, I can't remember how big the bench was, to get down to the point where we can look at something like that, that clean and precise and find a single flaw, the size of an end of the pencil. That's just pretty amazing. It really is.
Chuck: Yeah. I think Brandon always had the best term for it, artifact of the process. I’ve used that term for the last four years. Whenever a customer is like, what about this? I'm like, listen, it's concrete. That's just an artifact of the process. That's always my go-to that I use with every one of my clients, not that I've ever had a client complain about something. Because if you’ve seen the samples I bring into people's houses, or sometimes I don't even bring anything. I'm like, look on my Instagram. I'm like, tell me something that you like, and I'll blow your mind by the time I put it in your house, which 99.9% of the time, people are blown away once a piece is delivered because to me it's an art piece.
You know, I can show them a sample and it's gonna look nothing like the sample when I'm done. A sample is only a reference or a guideline on which way I'm going. But I already know it's not gonna look anything like that sample. Cause I can't pour an identical piece twice. Everything is always different. Those are the expectations I always give to a client. It's an artifact of the process. Especially the airholes, like we were just talking little bug holes, little pinholes, I leave those. Obviously not in the face, but if they're going up a leg of a waterfall or whatever, a lot of times I like to leave those, if it's an SCC pour, because that's what gives it the character and you know it's concrete.
A lot of that stuff I use Brandon's, references artifact of the process. Cause that's been my biggest saving grace when people are like, well, what's that? I'm like artifact of the process, that’s just the way it is.
Brandon: That's actually a Michael Karmody saying. I picked it up from him. He's the genius that came up with “artifact of the process”. But yeah, it's true and it's not a lie and it's not spin. It's nothing like that. Every step of making a concrete piece from the mold to how you tool your edges, how you mix, how you cast, how you cure, how you finish, how you seal, all those are done by the human hand. Every one of those steps leaves some residual effect on the concrete. So it's an artifact of the process and it's a very honest way to describe what's going on, and the reason it looks the way it looks. Last question for you, Chuck, because we're going on 45 minutes.
Training, you've come to a lot of classes and you've helped train classes. You actually taught your own class for Concrete Design School at Dusty's workshop last summer in Tennessee. Are you coming to the Pinnacle Concrete Camp in November?
Chuck: Yeah, I want to be there. Right now that's the plan is to be there for it. I enjoy going to every class. I think I've only missed, well, sorry, I've missed two now. One, unfortunately, and I think the last one due to COVID. I've only missed two in the last four years. Obviously that's where I started off. Then, you had me come back to help out of the train or, like you said, that I've also done my own class. I mean, concrete, such an evolving thing that I find, even if you're already a concrete artisan for five, 10 years, two years, it doesn't really matter is there's always something to pick up no matter what at a class. There's new tricks. There's new Maker Mix that a lot of people are unaware how to properly use. There's always something to learn. Some people are like, it's expensive. I'm like, it only takes one mistake to pay for that class. This way here you're further ahead.
Brandon: That's what we call tuition. That's the cost. There's a cost. There's a cost in not taking classes, that's tuition, we've all done it. We choose to go our own way. Like, I can figure it out, but there's a cost because there's going to be a lot of mistakes that you have to sort through. You have to figure out, you have to try again and again and again. There's a cost, just a frame of reference because I think about this all the time. I dropped out of high school, but I did get accepted into college, into ASU, into the school of construction, which is crazy. I had to take community college classes before I started over there to get all the prerequisite classes taken out and the cost of community college classes today, one class is more than going to the Pinnacle Concrete Camp at Concrete Design School.
I promise you, you take one class at a community college, you're not gonna be able to start a business. You're not gonna be able to build a business. You're not going to be profitable. You're just spending money. With Concrete Design School you spend the money on one class and there's plenty of guys and gals that have come to a class one time only and gone on to start very successful profitable businesses from that one investment. In my opinion, I mean it's money well spent, training's money well spent, whether you're training with us or training somewhere else, it's all knowledge and it's all valuable and knowledge has value. Whether you pay to come to Concrete Design School or you pay to go to a competitor's class, it's money well spent.
Jon: Sometimes it's just to get you out of your comfort zone. I think the number one issue I've seen, well, excuse me, I talked to is that gets you out. All of us when you end up in your bubble, long enough, you put on blinders, whether that blinders everything from a certain look you've created or a certain clientele you always deal with. You cast the same thing, maybe just in different shapes over and over again, getting outside your comfort zone and expand your mind and expand your skillsets. You'll start tapping into a whole lot of different potential business that you may not have even thought existed for you because you are so tunnel vision at the time.
Chuck: I found, I was like that for the first almost the first year, I was only building squares and rectangles. Like you said, I wasn't getting out of my comfort zone, but over the top, as the years have passed, I try to always say the sky's the limit. You know, when people ask, what can you make? I'm like, challenge me. I'll make anything you want. I can figure out how to make it. To me, that's my biggest thing is, for the first...
Jon: ...three times.
Chuck: Maybe four times, Jon, you never know.
Brandon: I would challenge Chuck to make it only one time. He wouldn't be able to get it.
Chuck: You know what though? Triple trouble. I made it right the first time. It wasn't my mistake. I had to make it a second time. Then a third time. Well, the third time was my mistake, but I did, I did pull it off the first time on my own. It was successful. It was designer error. I have to make a second time. Then I broke it the second time. Everybody told me not to make it a third time because I was an idiot. I said, screw you guys I'll prove you wrong. I did it, but I have made successful pieces in one shot.
Jon: Somebody else, James McGregor. I think that's, James is a little joke as he calls him Jonny three times or something like that. I can't remember what he said.
Brandon: Buddy Rhodes said his nickname is Buddy two times because he makes everything two times. Yeah. I know the feeling I've gone through that. I had a guy here, James, I think I told the story in a previous podcast. But this guy working here, James, which you guys have met, James. James is straight out of the movie, Pineapple Express. He's like Danny McBride. He's just, he's wild. But he's high all the time. He's been working here for a while as my main guy helping me and we'd make everything two to three times minimum.
I told him, James, what do you think is going on here? How am I profitable making something three times? He's like, I don't know, man. I've been thinking the same thing. Like, I don't know how you run a business making stuff three times. I was like, I don't, I don't. I don't run a business, making things three times. I've been doing this now for almost two decades. I don't make things three times. What's the difference between the last, 15, 16 years and now with you? I don't know. I was like you bro. You're the difference. You're the concrete cooler. You're cooling everything. I love you, but I got to let you go. You're just not working out, but I love you. Till this day me and this guy are still a great friends. He comes over, we chat. He's always texting me.
I liked James, but it's very difficult to run a business where you're constantly recasting pieces because you lose all the profit on the first recast. Then if there's any subsequent recast you're upside down.
Jon: Yeah. I have to admit, I've been pretty fortunate with that. I think in the history of being in business, I probably had to do three pieces over and most of them was just user error. Like we've all done. You go out, you make a set of templates, and then you forget to flip the things over, and you go to, how did that sink end up in the wrong place? Like duh. Those are the only ones I've ever done.
Brandon: You've never recast a piece because it came out and you didn't like the way it looked?
Jon: Oh, well, no, I've done that. Yeah. It happened once. So there's my story. I can't remember why I had to leave, but I had my brother and Billy stayed and this is back in the time when I used to do all those, modeled colors and that veining technique and all that kind of jazz. I came back and we had two pretty good sized vanities made for a client. They were waiting to surprise me. They were so overjoyed that they casted these while I was gone. I walked into the shop and they pulled the cure blank and stuff like Jon, what do you think?
These things they were basically brown and white dairy cows. They were abominations. They got so mad at me when I had us recast them. They ended up in the bone pile. But after recasting, I'm telling you, it's one of those moments, everybody, they were mad at me for a week. They wouldn't talk to me. After we got done recasting them, I had them go out to the bone pile and pull those pieces back in that they were so proud of it. Then that's when it made sense. Like, oh yeah, we just didn't see it that way.
Brandon: But I mean, I've recast pieces I take out and it just had some weird modeling to color over here because I didn't cure it properly. Or the pigment somehow blended asymmetrically and there was a weird color spot, some pigments for whatever reason, depending on when you add them to the mixed cycle, can be a different color. They did a project where it was blue pigment for a pool and they tested it ahead of time. Then they shipped the client the pigment. The client did it, but he added it at the end of the mix cycle versus at the beginning and it came out purple.
They tested it in the lab under those same conditions and sure enough, putting it in at the end versus the beginning, changed the color from blue to purple, just based on when they added it to the mix cycle.
Jon: One of the podcasts, we will go over a mix additions and why. I still get quite a few questions, especially when they talk about the super pigments, the blues, the greens, hell, even the titaniums or the carbon blacks. There becomes a very big difference, both in consistency. They call it carbon float that can happen by adding it too late in the mix cycle. There's a lot of things that can happen with certain pigments, adding them at the wrong time.
Brandon: Well, make a note, next podcast. We'll chat about that. All right guys. Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you Chuck. I hope we see you in November. Hope he can make it out here. We'll have a good time.
Chuck: That's the plan.
Brandon: I look forward to helping grow Kodiak Pro in Canada and having events at your shop and having clients start to pick up materials directly from you in Canada.
Chuck: Absolutely. No, I look forward to it also.
Jon: Keep the pictures coming on Instagram. You do great work, man.
Chuck: Yeah. Thank you very much. I know Brandon wouldn't say that, but you will.
Brandon: Because I’m honest! *Laughing*
Alright, bye guys.