Joe Bates, SC Fab - Correct Ingredients, Installation, and being a Concrete Diva
In this episode of The Concrete Podcast, Brandon and Jon talk about the importance of using the correct ingredients, then they patch Joe Bates in. Joe Bates is the owner of SC Fab in Napa Valley, CA and is a veteran of the concrete industry that knows what it takes to run a successful business. He is also the Kodiak Pro distributor for less-than-pallet quantities of Maker Mix and TBP. You can reach Joe at:
TRANSCRIPT: Joe Bates SC Fab - Correct Ingredients Installation and being a Concrete Diva
Introduction: Welcome to the Concrete Podcast where we talk all things concrete. Featuring your host, Brandon Gore.
Brandon: Well, well, well. We meet again.
Jon: We usually do.
Brandon: We usually do. So welcome to the Concrete Podcast. I'm your host, Brandon Gore joined always by my cohost, Jon Schuler. How's it going, Jon?
Jon: Doing well, doing well. Good morning.
Brandon: Good morning. So, we're going to chat with Joe Bates at SC Fab here in a few, but before we get to that what do you want to talk about?
Jon: Well, we've touched a little bit on the UHPC concretes. One thing I would like to touch on a little bit more. It might even take more than one intro along the line. I don't know. But I would say on a daily basis, I at least get one to two conversations with people regarding, or let's say a lack of understanding about what materials they're using, the relationship between those materials. Ultimately, I guess it takes whatever version of concrete plasticizer sealer they're using and a true understanding of how the puzzle pieces fit one way or another. People, I think too often still look at all of these things as independent pieces, rather than seeing the full picture. And that leads people down a path of problems they didn't foresee cause they’re looking at it as individuals.
Brandon: By doing that, they're using products that aren't friendly with each other. So, they're using incorrect plasticizers or incorrect sealers are incorrect release agents, that kind of thing?
Jon: Right, exactly, exactly. And, I think the hard part was so many people either getting into this or even if they'd been into it for years is getting a grasp on… Let's say, you're an artisan or whatever a person wants to call themselves and you may have an expectation out of what you want to present to your clients. Again, whatever that expectation is. But understanding how to meet that expectation that's where I've seen so many people including us, in the beginning, even us, understanding or lack of understanding that, “Hey, I choose this mixed design.”
Brandon, I know you didn't do it as much, but don't you remember where years ago, all of us, it seemed like what we thought was our biggest problem was our concrete, do you know what I mean? That generalized term, the concrete. And so, all of us would write about what sands we were using, what cements, what are your ratios? And we thought the uber secret out there was someone must be using a certain concrete. Now, that's certainly true to a degree. Hence, I chose ultra-high-performance concrete like the mixes we're using now versus a post hole bag Sackcrete certainly are two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to an expectation out of your concrete. But we didn't really see where, “Hey, I was using Adva versus this, or some other off-brand or a plasticizer” and or like you said, or a release agent. We didn't understand that the pinholes we were seeing were coming from the release agent when we were still trying to focus on the concrete. And then ultimately how all of this comes together from cure techniques, concrete, etc., etc. has a massive impact on sealer choice. And the durability of that final product that we're going to take into a person's home and hence get paid for and take responsibility for, for the next… at least through the warranty, we give. So, yeah, I guess that's something… it's a huge subject.
Brandon: It's a huge subject. It’s way too big for us to cover all of it in this, but let's pick one part of that. What do you want to cover today?
Jon: Have we touched on curing? I think we've touched on curing a little bit, right?
Brandon: Well, we can touch on curing, but I want to talk more about what you're talking about; products playing well together and how guys try to go their own way and then get bad results.
Jon: Right, yes.
Brandon: So, if we had to talk about that today, which I think what we'll talk to Joe a little bit about later would be plasticizer because I know he had an issue using a plasticizer that's not recommended to use with Maker Mix and he had bad results and I've had the same thing. So, do you want to talk about how plasticizer affects mix? Especially our UHPC?
Jon: Yes, that's a great one. So, in this case, when we get into UHPCs, ultra-high performance concretes, comparatively speaking are higher in fines content, meaning fine particle for packing ability to create both a very strong, but also a very dense concrete. So, little relationships a person might see would be missing color, higher strengths, impact resistance, etc. To work with that kind of concrete, you also need a plasticizer that can handle those fine materials.
Brandon: Hey homie, stop walking around. I can tell you're walking around. You're cutting in and out. I can see you in my head pacing back and forth. Your hand’s going wild.
Jon: Yes, it is.
Brandon: Yes, I can see it.
Jon: So, a perfect example is, and I think you did this for years doing some of your GFRC mixes, you got used to using something like an Adva 555 which is a liquid plasticizer. And one of the benefits of an Adva is it has what's called a viscosity modifying agent in which again is a great incorporation. A viscosity modifying agent, for those people who don't know what that is, I think of it as a scaffolding for the mix. So, it helps prevent mix separation. It gives the mix stability and it also gives ultimately the person probably a little more leeway in a mix not high enough in fine content etc.
Brandon: Yes. Insurance on a construction site because they're dumping it into a batch truck.
Brandon: And there's a wide range they can get away with and end up with our end result versus our mix, which is super precise and the plasticizer is precise. And you don't have that variable in range that you have with the plasticizer with the VMA in it.
Jon: Like you found out, you start with something you thought you were used to working with, and next thing you know, you're now pouring it in like syrup, but the mix is actually getting worse. It's turning into this big gelatinous mess. And again, that's just realizing that which I think Kodiak has definitely done, that done correctly, there's a symbiotic relationship that goes between those materials specifically in this case, plasticizer. So TBP sets itself apart. It certainly can be used in other mixes. It’s an amazing plasticizer if someone decides they want to use something else, but on the flip side, you pull other choices that are available out there and then try to mix it with the Makers Mix and you may find yourself using three, four times the amount of plasticizer you are using. There are some great liquids out there that are available. You may have shrinkage issues or curling issues or separation issues that you wouldn’t have if you had used the materials that were made and designed to work together,
Brandon: Plasticizers are probably one of the primary ones that guys try to do their own thing with because all of us have plasticizer in our shops that we paid money for and it's sitting on the shelf and we look at it every day and we think, “I'm just going to use that up because I spent money on it.” So, that's a primary one. Fiber’s one. Some guys probably are trying to use fibers from other industries with what we're doing. I don't think concrete guys are doing it as much. I know in the beginning; people were trying to take chop strand fiber for fiberglass that wasn't AR fiber and mix it in to make GFRC. And that still happens in countries where AR isn't readily available. But I think that's less of an issue. For the most part, I think it's plasticizer. I think it comes down to sealer choices that guys are using; it’s not necessarily that they aren't compatible, but they just aren't the right kind of sealer to use on a UHPC.
Let's talk about that for one second. Let's say we want to put a coating on a UHPC; that's a super-dense mix. You have to do a super heavy profile to get it to bond because it needs a mechanical bond to that substrate where how do we use the really crappy Quikrete 5,000 that was really porous like lava where that topical would bond to it much easier because we're going on a really bad substrate. So, it sticks to it.
Jon: Topicals meant for mechanical bonding.
Brandon: Yes. So, with our Maker Mix, you can do a topical on it, but it's not optimal to do a topical because it's such a dense mix. It doesn't have as much grip to it. It doesn't want to bite into it.
Jon: That's absolutely true. And then the other part of that equation is it's not meant for a topical because it's not necessary. Now you're talking about a mix that because of its density, etc. It has a wealth of its own resistances that makes the use of a topical… I don't know why you would use a topical with mix quite frankly.
Brandon: Why would somebody use a topical?
Jon: In general?
Brandon: Yes. Why does somebody use a topical? What’s the reason?
Jon: Well, I think the perception of a topical is, and again, what I have seen, and I think this is a short-sighted way of looking at things but when a person puts something out of his shop and into a person's home, they have this idea that it needs to be this perfect piece based on whatever expectation they thought they were bringing out to deliver. And topicals seem to fit that because you put it on and at least once you get through, let's say a 24-to-48-hour kind of cure in a topical, a film is formed. And if the film within reason has been formed correctly with whatever product you're using, stain resistance does very well. But the short side of that is the scratch resistance, the wear resistance, and the long-term use. At least in concrete, topicals just don't hold up very well. So, they seem fantastic walking out the door and then you get a check, but let's say with both of us, history has proven that the longevity is not necessarily there compared to other ways of thinking.
Brandon: Yes. Is there ever an instance where you would want to use a topical?
Jon: Well, I think just under that.
Brandon: I’m saying is there an instance where the reactive sealer is not the optimal choice? Is there an instance where a topical is a better choice as far as your ability, longevity, whatever?
Jon: No, I don't think so. I think really what it boils down to, from everything I've done over the years, is first of all understanding what each of them has to offer and then ultimately setting an expectation. So, to me, the only time topical would be a choice better than, my philosophy over the years, which is incredibly dense concrete with inherent resistances, a sealer that does nothing more than enhance those characteristics would be a situation where, and I'm going to say probably if not the only wary part with ICT is it’s a breathable technology. So, if a person didn't understand that if you set a wet glass or wet object on those surfaces, and there may be a vapor ring of some sort that ultimately goes away, but they don't want a client to ever do that, then they go the idea of a topical
Brandon: Well, in that instance, would they do a reactive ICT with a topical over it? We've talked about this. There have been situations where I've done sinks for restaurants that never dry out. They're used from the moment they open to the moment they close; they never get an instance to dry. And so, the moisture, the vapor from the water transfers through and it never gets a chance. Every day it just soaks in and sits there. And in those instances, what I've asked you about is, if it’s okay to put let's say a breathable acrylic; it wouldn't be epoxy or anything, but like a nice acrylic over the top of ICT sealed piece and your viewpoint was, yes. It's not going to hurt anything. You can do that.
Jon: I agree. No, that's not going to hurt anything. As we've seen; I think Dusty and a few other guys have tried it. I think your repellency would be the same, but now repellency versus resistance becomes a very different conversation. So, in this case, I think the breathable acrylic would add some repellency but ultimately, I think the resistance would be the same.
Brandon: I'm not doing it for resistance. I'd be doing it only to try to prevent that water vapor, from soaking in and never given the sink a chance to dry out because I've made sinks that I had to make a rubber mold off of. So, let's say I made a sink for a client, it didn't come out the way I wanted it. Instead of re-making that form again, I'll just pour rubber into the sink that I didn't like and then use that rubber mold to cast the sink a second time.
Brandon: But when I do that, I'll spray Minwax matte polyurethane on the concrete and then pour the rubber in so it releases off easily. But the Minwax matte polyurethane, I've put some of those things outside, meaning to destroy them and get rid of them and it's rained and they’ll hold water for two or three weeks, never darken. It snowed, there has been ice. For months, they’d sit out there and I’d go out there and look at them and they still look good. Now, I wouldn't rely on that as my primary sealing surface.
Jon: You’d look at it more like a sacrificial layer. If it was done young enough, meaning during the sealing steps or just after the sealing steps, then I think the reactive value of ICT would lock onto that urethane and use it like a sacrificial. Just understanding at some point… Now, in this case, you're talking about things that weren't being abraded, they were sitting outside, they certainly held up to weather, but they weren't being used. So, as that urethane begins to be worn through, sure that's giving the given ICT its reactive time to do what it wants to do with the concrete, and under that circumstance, I don't see a problem with that. Sorry, go ahead.
Brandon: I was just saying, I wouldn't do it for any other reason than bathrooms, sinks, and high traffic areas. That’s been my only experience with ICT that I wouldn't say is a downside of it, but in areas that just never dry, it's a sealer that breathes and moisture goes through it. So, I think it would be good, but I wouldn't do it on the surface that gets abrasion like a countertop or tabletop. I think only sinks where you're washing your hands, soap, and water, that's it. I think it'd be okay.
Jon: I agree with you.
Brandon: And it can be reapplied. The thing with a can of matte polyurethane is after a couple of years you could go back in there, give it a good clean, a good scrub with a Scotch-Brite, another light coat, boom, boom, boom, done. The ICT below it is still good. And then you renew the acrylic on top and there you go.
Jon: And all that being said, yes. A thousand percent agree with you. What I would add as a caveat to that is, these things we're discussing, probably bear more importance if you will, with older versions of ICT or other versions that some distributors have. In my opinion, from what I'm seeing and the feedback I'm getting is the new CT chemistries have taken probably 90% to 95% of this phenomenon away.
Brandon: And the PRIME step has been a game-changer for a lot of guys.
Jon: Absolutely. And this is something I always do. So, the project I just got done completing and I test… Again, anybody who came even to my house or my lab would probably just giggle when you see how many samples are sitting around constantly being sealed and tested, tested and sealed, etc. But I guess my typical application method is; run through the PRIME, a single application of sealer, I cover things up like I normally would under my heat blankets, and so forth. I let that heat cure for 24 to maybe 48 hours, depending on my schedule to get back to it. Then I come back and finish my application of sealer. And I did that to a cast-in-place project. The following morning, I think, “Well, let's see what this is doing.” So, I put wet glasses on this, set a timer for an hour, came back, picked up those glasses and… If I was going to call it a ring, it was so faint that you have to know what you're looking for before you even consider it a ring.
Again, my stuff's always going to be breathable, always. That is something about the strength, in my opinion, of this technology. So, it will not delaminate, you're not going to scrape it off. These are some of its strengths. But that being said, the ability to see a super faint ring instead of a strong, dark thing that sets you off, that's the benefit of the newer technologies through the CT chemistries that have come about in last year.
Brandon: What does CT stand for?
Jon: You've known me for years and one thing I will say, I am amazing at coming up with names, right?
Brandon: I thought it was cuddles and tickles or something like that.
Jon: CT is just a way of just separating... Because I have a distributor out there that has a certain version of the formulas so I wanted to separate what I'm doing, what I'm offering through Kodiak, etc. Because as you and I both know, ICT is an acronym that's used very generally for any of the sealers that are out there. In fact, you just hit me the other day; isn't there another company out there called ICT?
Brandon: There are two other companies called ICT in addition to yours.
Jon: Crazy. Right?
Brandon: In the concrete sealer industry. It's not even ICT, they do something else. They do concrete sealer and they’re called ICT. It's insane.
Jon: Crazy. I had no idea. It's just a way of separating what I'm doing without having to always explain so that people who know Jon Schuler and ICT have a general understanding that what Kodiak and myself are bringing to the table as we move forward is a very different chemistry; different than other things that are still being offered.
Brandon: Well, that's a good point.
Jon: I’m amazingly happy with it.
Brandon: Yes, I'm psyched on the new ICT. As I said, some guys had good success at PS1. I wasn't one of them. And when I started using PS1, that's when I came out with Quantum, which was a different technology and was more in line with the older technologies of ICT and it worked better for me.
But because of COVID we had a material supplier issue and couldn't continue making Quantum. But when you came to the last Pinnacle Concrete Camp and you brought the new CT with the new PRIME and you demonstrated it, it was insane. It was so far better than any other version of ICT that's ever existed with how fast it reacted and how well it reacts. I'm psyched about it.
Jon: So is everybody else. The feedback has been amazing. So, I'm very happy with it. Very happy with it.
Brandon: Well, if you're happy, I'm happy.
Jon: Well I'm happy that I'm happy.
Brandon: We're just all happy little concrete people.
Jon: The other person that's super happy is Amy, my wife.
Brandon: Oh, yeah?
Jon: She lives with me, so she sees me go through it. I realize no one else is living with me. So, perception of what a person may or may not be doing in a tiny little business with mine, which is me. When I say I go to the lab, it's literally me in the lab with my formulas. It's me, who has to come up with any kind of new ideas and then get ahold of a raw materials manufacturer and talk with their chemists and see if this can be done. It’s always me. I don't have some lab full of geniuses to fall back on. So that being said, her living with me, she sees me goes through the roller coaster of an idea that didn't work or like I said, the samples that sit around on our countertops or our table that I'm constantly bringing home so that I'm not running back and forth to the lab 40 times a day. So, when she sees me….
Brandon: I'm having flashbacks to…what was that guy's name? Murray Clark. You'd call down. His wife would pick up and say, “Murray's in the factory right now packaging pigment.” The factory was a tin shed in his backyard. That was the factory. Your lab is beautiful, but it's a log cabin in the woods, way off in the woods. It's a log cabin. You go to the cabin. Every time you say the lab, I'm just having Murray Clark flashbacks.
Jon: It is. It’s 800 square feet right.
Brandon: It’s beautiful.
Jon: And it's a great setting. But no, that’s how I use my lab.
Brandon: I have visions of beakers and boilers and lab coats and all that kind of stuff.
Jon: No, no. Just me with blenders. And as you saw those shelves full of materials and stuff, so she's happy. She's happy because then I calm down, I started sleeping again which allows her to sleep.
Brandon: You mean sleeping three or four hours versus one or two?
Jon: Pretty much. I'm not much of a sleeper. Never have been. For anybody who's been part of this game with you and me; You and I, two guys that quite frankly have continued to, as you use the word ‘disrupt’, this industry, our little niche industry, which some people love us and some people hate us because of it. This is a very exciting time in my opinion. The new materials that we're bringing to the table, which are undeniably continuing to set people's projects apart with higher qualities. etc. The new chemistries that are coming out. It's an exciting time.
Brandon: Well, the products are allowing people to do things that were unachievable with mixed technologies from even a couple of years ago and the sealer technology in symbiance with this Makers Mix allows people to have the confidence, to put it into a high demand project, universities, restaurants, what have you, and feel really confident that it's going to perform at a super high level and exceed the client's expectations.
But the product line is insane. I've been doing this… I'm in my 19th year of business. I think you're about the same. And it's just incredible what's happened in the last 20 years, the last two decades in relation to concrete in general over the last 2000 years is incredible. But then you take what's happened in the last year even in relation to the last 20 years and it’s incredible. Just huge, massive gains in a very short time span. Yes, I think it's awesome.
Jon: Well, it is. And I think you'll agree. A big part of those advances is because, and I don't want to put a big feather in our hat, but the reality is it's because we're involved with it. And what I mean by that is we’ve got, as you just said, 19 years of history of working in our shops, storing materials, buying products to start looking around and thinking, “What are all the things from a business point of view that have been a total pain in our ass?” Hey, I got one. How about this? I'm tired of buying five different admixtures because I think that this mix has to have these things and this mix has to have these things. And then next thing you know, there's stuff that's going bad or no shelf-life. And you think, “Well, wait a minute. No, I don't want to do that. I don't have all this shop space.”
Brandon: Me and you are going on today. We’ve got something in us. We’re at 28 minutes right now. But that being said, something else that I think that me and you were doing a little bit differently is, in years past, people and companies felt the need to very specifically label products; ECC, GFRC, clay mix, spray mix, carvable mix, whatever.
But the truth of the matter is if you have a really high-quality, high-performance mix that mix can do all of those things better than any individual mix could do on its own. And you don't need as you said, five admixes. You just need one insanely, over-engineered mix that can do all those things for you. So, it’s kind of blurring the lines too, between labels of ECC, GFRC all these different things. It's no longer that these are individual products. It's just one ultra-high-performance product.
Jon: Well, there you go. There’s a situation where now, once again, you and I are stepping forward, disrupting this industry. I know we're pissing some other vendors off, right?
Brandon: No, I don’t think so.
Jon: We're stepping up and saying, “Hey guys,” Now all these other acronyms that were associated with these totally different admixtures, these totally different mixes, these totally different… Now you and I are saying, “Yes.” Well now for us anyway, and people who want to follow this path, those acronyms are solely going to be based on workability. Do you want to use GFRC? Oh, you're just going to use some glass fiber, but you'll still use the same mix with a slight modification and plasticizer. Oh, you want to do ECC, which used to be this whole different thing? Now we are referring to it as a workability because you can achieve all these things with a mix, a plasticizer that can accommodate that mix and those workabilities, and now your choice in fiber technology again goes with the ultimate way you want to work the concrete.
Brandon: That's great. Well, what we're doing is instead of looking at the concrete materials arena as strictly monetary, let's have 20 different products and 20 different plasticizers. And so, guys have to buy all this stuff so we sell more product. We're saying, let's sell one great product one, great plasticizer, one great sealer technology, and you can do everything you need to do. And at the end of the day, it saves companies like ours, lots of money, lots of wasted material, because I used to have bags of this admix, that admix I'd probably still have 40 different bottles different plasticizers up on my shelf that I'll never use, but you needed this one for that one. You needed this one for that one. So, what we're trying to do is instead of looking at it from the angle of how can we extract the maximum amount of money out of these guys we're looking at, how do we want to be treated? What product would we want to use? Because we do use it. So, what does that look like? And it looks like one great mix, one great plasticizer, one, great sealer. Do everything you ever need to do for the rest of your life. And it's the absolute best out there.
Jon: Right. And where does that come from? Well, as you said, a necessity coming from guys that have worked in their shops. And I'm tired of having all this stuff.
Brandon: It comes from a place of… empathy is not the right word, but the empathy of thinking of what's it like to be somebody else. And we don't have to think about what it's like to be somebody else because we do this. So, we're treating the industry and we're treating other companies how we want to be treated, how we have not been treated for all these years, because all these years we've been looked at as ATMs that just spit money out. We weren't treated as artisan craftsmen that are trying to run a business. I guess all this time, these companies didn't do right by us and didn't treat us from a matter of respect. And so that's what we're trying to do. And that comes down to the product offerings, it comes down to customer interaction, customer support. We're doing all the things that we wish other companies would have done for us all these years.
Jon: Agreed. And as we keep saying experience matters. We're coming from the idea that what we're offering is based on a combined hundreds of thousands of hours of experience.
Brandon: It's true.
Jon: It is. And that's an entirely different animal.
Brandon: Yes. Well, it's a topic of conversation for a different day. At some point, we'll get to the myths and rumors that surround Jon Schuler and Brandon Gore, the mythology of Brandon Gore, Jon Schuler, because it's pretty interesting, but that's a topic for another day as well. Today, what we need to do is we need to get Joe Bates on the phone. He’s probably really upset cause we've gone on way too long. Let's get Joe on the phone of SE fabrication in Napa Valley and have a conversation with him.
Jon: Sound’s great.
Joe: Oh, Malibu is beautiful and a moderate success with the install. It's one of those crazy jobs in a sense. Trying to make concrete, perfectly imperfect. So, we're making some fixes and going back down again next week.
Brandon: Yeah. I don't envy you doing installs. My absolute least favorite thing in the world to do is installs.
Joe: I'm right there with you, but over the years we've kind of gotten good at it, unfortunately, and I can't find somebody that does it better.
Brandon: There you go. I don’t know but you never can charge enough to make it worth it. That's what it comes down to, at least for me.
Joe: Yes. I believe we've got a pretty good rep going with that. We've put a lot of effort into justifying our bill for being there and installing our own work.
Brandon: For me, it was a mix of a lost opportunity for that day's amount of work that I spent there. But number two is the assumed liability of being on-site and hitting a 24-foot-tall glazed wall. There are so many things that go sideways that would fall back on you just for being the good guy doing installation. And I had a couple of things happen, nothing catastrophic, but you'd gouge dry a wall and the GC would lose his mind. And you’d think, “Bro, this thing weighs 800 pounds. We're struggling to get into this space with an eighth-inch clearance on the side. Relax. It can be, it can be fixed.” But it was just never worth it. At the end of the day, I always looked back and wish I would have just delivered it to the curb or had them pick it up or crated it and let them deal with it.
Joe: Yeah. I always wish that. And, we've gotten some great jobs where we have done that. There's a recent one down in Palm Springs where we just put it on a truck and away it went. That was a wonderful feeling. I know what you mean, but we've been really lucky. I've got some great clients and some really good contractors that get it and they're there to help and make sure we get in there and get our stuff done.
Jon: And there's plenty of room and people aren't in your way etc.
Brandon: Did I ever tell you about when I get called a concrete diva on installation?
Joe: I can't imagine anyone saying that about you.
Brandon: So, it was at Tempe Public Library. It was this huge desk entry desk. It had a vertical wall and then a countertop, all integral. And each section was like 12 feet by 42 inches tall with a 15-inch return or whatever and a big desk, a huge desk. And we met with the architect, we met with the builder and we met with the client. And at that meeting, I said, “Hey, we don't do installation.” And the owner of the company said, “What do you mean you don't do installation?” And I said, “Hey brother, does Pella windows come and install the windows for you? Does Kohler come and install your toilets?” No, they're material fabricators, product fabricators and that's what I am. I create a product, but I don't do the installation. I will out of courtesy do curbside delivery. So, I'll bring it from my studio over here on a trailer so you guys have to deal with that. But it's just curbside, so you need to have people here to unload it. I'm not going to unload it. And so, he agreed to that. He said, “Okay, cool, that's fine.” And then we got closer to doing an actual delivery and it was going to fall on a holiday.
They were super adamant that they had to get in on this day. It was Memorial Day. It had to be in because the following day, all of these other trades are going to be there. And I said, “Hey, listen, it's a holiday. I just want to make sure you guys are going to have people there.” And this was the site superintendent. He says, “Yes, we'll have people there.” And I said, “All right because we're not taking it off the trailer.” “What do you mean you're not taking off the trailer?” I said, “Dude, I went over this with your boss. Curbside delivery. You need to have people take it off. I'm just telling you. What time do you need me there?”
“Noon.” “We'll be there at noon. Have your guys there.” So, it was me and two of my helpers and we pull up, not a car in the parking lot. Completely empty. The whole place. We go up to the doors, locked. All the lights are off. Nobody's there because this is Memorial Day. So, I call the super, and I said, “Hey dude, it's 12:01. We're here. Nobody else is here. He says, “I'll be right down.” Thirty minutes later, he comes pulling in, unlocks the door. He says, “Okay, great. Well, it goes right there” and I say, “Okay, that's cool. Where are your guys?” He asks, “What do you mean?” I say, “Well, there's the trailer and there are the pieces.” And we'd already unstrapped them. We'd been waiting for 30 minutes.” And I said, “There are the pieces, but you guys have to unload them.” “What do you mean by we’ve got on load them?!” I said, “Dude, we talked about this. I'm telling you right now, I'm not taking these off of the trailer. So, either you get guys down here or I'm going to load it back up, and we're going to leave.”
And he starts going on and on and saying, “I've never in my life... I've been doing this for 20 years.” I said, “Do you know what, dude? Don't even worry about it.” I tell my guys, “Hey, let's go and strap it up. We're going to leave.” I tell him, “Hey, when you get stuff sorted out here, you call me and we'll come back. All right? But I'm leaving.” And so, we start loading up and he calls his boss, the owner, and he says, “This guy's leaving…” Blah, blah, blah. So, he puts me on the phone with that guy and this is the owner of the company that I met with. I said, “Hey, man. I explained this to you. We don’t do delivery and I was very clear. And I actually explained it to your site supervisor two weeks ago. But nobody's here.” And he says, “Please don't leave. I'll get guys down there. Just please stay. I promise you I'll get guys down there to take it off.” So, we wait another hour and like all these temp labor guys show up.
And so, this whole time, this site super’s just mad dogging me. Just mumbling under his breath and staring at me and he’s pacing around and I'm just being calm. And so anyways, these guys show up and the site super says, “So, how many guys is it going to take the lift this off this trailer? I said, “I don't know. You're a tough guy. I think you can get it by yourself.” He says, “Fuck you. You're a fucking concrete diva” I said, “Yes, I am.” Dude, I swear to you, I almost changed the name of my company to ‘Concrete Diva’ because I loved it. It’s a thankless job doing installations and for whatever reason, we're one of those rare industries where we get just copped into doing it where nobody else does, but we do because we feel obligated. We feel like we have to.
Joe: For me, sometimes it's a little bit of a connection to the beast too. And, honestly, we've done it situations where we've had people install it and it always ends up in a fiasco where I ended up having to come out there and deal with something anyway. So, I thought, “I give up on this. It's never going to happen. I'll just do it.” It’ll cost a lot of money but I will take care of it.
Jon: And that's how I see it too. A lot of the things we've installed, I think part of it was like taking your kid to the first day of school, do you know what I mean? There's an ownership to it as opposed to, let's just say other surface companies. They throw their slab on a CNC machine, they cut it up. It is what it is. They've only had their hands on it for whatever few minutes. They don't care who they turn it over to. A part of it's psychological. we've taken this typically from the point of confrontation, raw material, forming, finishing, sealing. And that's your final moment to see this piece go bye-bye. Anyway, that’s what I’ve seen.
Joe Inevitably, you end up hearing, “Oh, we chipped the corner. Can you come to fix it?” And you think, “Oh, God. All right.” Well, I'm having to waste time on this anyway so why not get paid for it. Get the goddamned handyman. If I chipped the corner, I'm happy to deal with my own problem. So, that's always what kind of just made me feel better about doing it myself.
Brandon: Yes, I get it. I see both sides of it. In the very end, I had a couple of installs go completely sideways as far as I was told one thing, I assumed that I was being told the truth. You show up to the job site and the job site is like a gladiator course. There's no clear pathway to where you're going. There are huge piles of dirt. You have to go over piles of lumber and debris. There are live electrical cables sticking out that if you touch them will shock you. It’s one thing after another. Cabinets weren't set to the correct height and you're modifying pieces in the field to get them to fit. And all of these things. And I guess maybe if I had a more robust contract for installations that outline that installation covers this much time on site, any additional time to build it is $400 an hour or whatever it is then maybe I wouldn't regret it as much, but I'd go out easy and I’d charge 300 bucks for installation and I'd spend 10 hours out there and lose a whole day of work and I'm paying my guys. It just wasn't worth it. It just wasn't worth it. And that was it for me. I thought, “I'm done. I'm not doing this ever again ever.”
Joe: It was always T&M for us. We'd have an installation allowance in there and tell them what we thought it might cost. But at the end of the day, we showed up there and inevitably had to threaten to get back in our truck and turn around a couple of times and leave before they got their shit together and cleared us a path. But it's all on their dime at that point. So, they tend to be a little more responsive.
Jon: So, Joe you guys maybe went over this before I got my AirPods figured out, but SC Fabrication is out of Napa, I know we're talking about installation. You deal with some pretty wealthy clients, right? I've had conversations with you where you're dealing with upwards of six-figure contracts. So there has to be, I'm guessing a pretty good expectation on the products that you make.
Joe: There's a huge expectation on the products that I make. We’ve got to get it right. And I think we've got a pretty good reputation of it over the last 14… or God, I guess, it’s closer to 16 years now. And it's not easy. We're a job shop. I don't really consider myself a designer or an artist. I'm here to help create. I feel really comfortable in the zone and figuring out how to incredibly complicated projects and getting them in. And that's what we built our reputation on and it's done pretty well for us. And it’s just starting to really kick in and I feel like we’ve kind of hit our stride on that. And these projects are insanely complex and I guess I'm the only one crazy enough at the table at the meeting to say, “Sure, I can do that.” I stop and try to figure it out. There’s an element of that. And we've got a good reputation and they know I generally deliver on it.
Jon: And knowing you over the years, we bounced around materials and things. So that was part of my question coming up; especially as you continue to grow, I was just down there a minute ago seeing some of the cool projects you're on, in your opinion, how do the materials that you're using now from materials you've used in the past, how does that fit in escalating you in the quality of your work?
Joe: Are you trying to work Makers Mix into this?
Jon: Of course,
Brandon: Billy Mays over there. “Hey, everybody, let me tell you about Makers Mix.” He's got his blue shirt on and his hands going and the cocaine under his nose.
Jon: Sham Wow.
Joe: We all deal in white powders at the end of the day.
Brandon: That's right. Jon's huffed more than any of us to
Jon: I don’t think I could do that stuff anymore.
Brandon: Before we get on the Maker Mix, because Maker Mix is an important part of your conversation, but before we get on that, I'm interested in you and these big clients and these big budgets. Have you gotten to a point, and how so if you have, where you're profitable on every project, or are there big projects you take on that at the end of the day, you lost money on them?
Joe: It tends to be a blend of both. I'm not going to lie. I'm not at the point financially in my life where I really want to be. We're still working to get there. We've gotten good enough at a lot of these jobs and we can bid them correctly to the point where we can ask for the price we need. It has a nice pad in there that allows us to screw up a little bit along the way and not totally lose our ass on it. But at the end of the day, some hit big and some lose a little here and there, and then it all equals out to making a living. But I think we can do better.
Brandon: And when you're pricing out a project, how do you arrive at your price, especially on these large-scale projects? What's your formula for that?
Joe Well, I was in partnership with my uncle for a long time with the shop and we were connected to his general contracting firm and that's how we kind of started it as a business. But I recently took it over myself and now I own it outright. And we kind of switched to a model where instead of having too many employees, we actually contracted everybody. So, I brought on an ACE mold builder, Andre who's just been amazing for us over the years. I rehired him on a contract basis. So, we all sit down, we look at a project, we figure out what our part and piece of it's going to be, and start making spreadsheets. That's what it comes down to. There's really no magic formula that gets us through all this because every project is so unique. We did these huge planters down in Palm Springs and then turned around and did a bunch of fireplaces and some countertops for a huge job down in Malibu. And then we're about to move on to a massive board form cladding job down in Beverly Hills. It’s always something new, which is part of the challenge that I think we all kind of get off on at the same time, it's not easy to figure them out and figure out how to make money out of them.
Brandon: I read a really great book and it's actually a really good audiobook called “Profit First for Contractors” by Shawn Van Dyke. And I would highly recommend it if you haven't read it or listened to it. It's a really informative way for guys like us that operate in this type of industry to look at our business from a profitability viewpoint and try to get to the point that we're profitable on every single project. Definitely worth the read and definitely worth the audiobook.
Joe: I’m writing it down now.
Brandon: Profit First for Contractors, the website is profitfirstcontractor.com. But a long, long time ago, I was approached by a hotel to bid, I want to say 300 concrete sinks for the hotel. And my traditional way of pricing a project by square footage, I'd say 250 bucks a square foot plus the cost of the sink form, another $1,500 was just going to be untenable for the client. There's no way they were going to go for that price at a multiple of 300. And so, what I did is I sat down and I looked at what my cost is to operate per hour.
And luckily, like you, I have a big enough history that I can look back at annual reports and see; what are our operating costs? What is the cost of employees? What's the cost of insurance? What's the cost of the building? What's the cost of car insurance? What do I need to make an hour every day that we're running? What kind of profit margin do we want into the year? Because hopefully, we made a little bit more than we spent. And then that divided by, if we actually operate 20 hours a week because maybe the other 20 hours are spent picking up materials, responding to emails and cleaning the shop and all these kinds of things, where we need to be. And at that point in time, that was $325 an hour. That's what I came to, $325 an hour. And so, then I was able to sit back and look at the sinks, if I invest in building 10 molds out of rubber, what is that going to cost? What's it going to cost for the master? What it’s going to cost for the rubber. What it’s going to take time-wise to build those molds. Once I have those molds, what's my time to mix up that amount of concrete, one shot because it's an economy of scale, and pour those 10? How long is that going to take? And then every morning when I come in, how long it's going to take to pop those out, clean the molds up, dry them out, spray the release.
But I went through that exercise. And instead of maybe the average sink costing, I don't know, $3,000, the average sink dropped to $1,200 based on that timeframe. And that was a much more reasonable price point for the client. Now, I couldn't do that for one-off, but if I was doing 300 of them, then I could do it like that. But that exercise was such a great exercise to arrive at a price from a profitability viewpoint. So, this book, Profit First for Contractors, it's different than what I just told you, but it's still the same mindset.
Joe: Yes. And we've actually looked at a number of hotel jobs over the years. I don't know. Sometimes I'm very thankful I haven't gotten any of them because a lot of them turned into giant fiascos. I don't even know how those places get built in all honesty because we've seen a couple go up in the Napa Valley and how they've been mismanaged. And it starts getting into almost a political game and value-engineered and stuff. It's just a race to the bottom at the end of the day and we’ve been approached and we put numbers to it and made us go through those same exercises. Which again, even though we didn't get the job, it's a really good thing for anybody to know how the economies of scale start to affect things, but also understanding and reflecting on your business a little, which is a hard thing to do with your head to the grindstone every day. But I always just try and take a day out a week and sit at my computer.
Jon: That’s what I found. The hardest thing for me was employees. Employees were difficult. And when I say employees, other than… You guys all heard this from me, refer to it as employee mentality, I felt like too many people came on board with nothing really invested in them other than what time they were punching the clock and how long they were going to be there.
And then ultimately, whatever you paid, they were going to figure out how to get out of you whatever they felt they should have gotten anyway, whether that was hours lost or materials taken or tooling missing or whatever the case may be. So, similar to what you did, you definitely have a better way of explaining it, Brandon. I went with a method of… I just called it splitting profits, the same thing. We all sat down. We looked at this project and said, “What are the numbers here?” And my brother's not with me right now. He's working with the National Guard. But the other guy, Billy, we sat down and we went under it like you’re saying. “Tell me what you need out of this. I'll come up with what I need out of this. What can you take care of?”. And if we agree, we agree. And if we don't, then you move on. That worked for us.
Joe: Yes. I remember talking to you years ago about that system and it was really eye-opening and I've tried to implement that in our business. I think it works a lot better because it really lights a fire under everybody's ass. They've got their own little mini-businesses that they need to deal with and, and it changes the dynamic. They know there's…
Jon: There’s an air of responsibility. And if they go over budget or whatever, mess it up. The hardest thing for me, working with people, let's say we're working for me is, I'm still trying… For a minute I went through the whole contractor thing. I have my general license and did remodeling and the whole nine yards in my pickup truck and I drove around and thought, “Well, I'm not getting work.” Walk back into the shop, see whatever it was, let's say was formed up in reverse or whatever the case may be. And then next thing you know, whoever did that took four hours to do it, now you're going to pay them two more hours to tear it all apart, that material's a wash and then four more hours to do it again the second time. And then I'm looking at this thinking, “Wait a minute, man. That's not the way this works. So, I've found, as I've said, when I went this direction, there was an air of responsibility. And so, if so-and-so followed that same path, well, I mean, we'll find a happy place, but ultimately that's on you. I guess you need to pick up some more material. In other words, I'm not just losing everything and you're gaining everything, but that was the difficult part for me.
Joe: It changes the dynamic and it changes the mentality. Not something I really want to do. And I'm sure I could work on it. Probably gained those skills, but it would be a spectacular amount of effort on my part to do it. To me, it's simple, you show up and you work and you don't screw up.
Jon: And you do what you need to get done. Just get it. You should know what you're doing.
Joe: Apparently, No one else has that, again. And it's just completely lost on me.
Jon: Well, I'm going to say, that's the thing I learned long ago. I think I'm good at a lot of things but I am not a good boss. I'm a terrible boss. That's a skill set I don't have; to come in and be your boss. I didn't wake up yesterday striving for one more mouth to feed. I always looked at it as; we're working together, you know what's going on, you get it done. I don't want to come back. I don't want to remeasure after you. I don't want to look over your shoulder all day. I’ve got things I need to get done. I'm not the guy.
Brandon: Employees are tough. In recent years, I've come to view it more as my hostage-takers in a way. They hold me hostage, because even though I need help sometimes, once somebody is working for me and I say, “Hey, be here at eight every day”, well then, I have to be here at eight every day. And there are a lot of things I might need to do in the morning. I have little kids. Maybe I just want to watch Judge Judy for an hour before I start work. I don't know what it is, but now I've got to be here at eight. I’ve got to be here the whole time they're here. And my sense of freedom and why I wanted to own my own business is now, “I'm stuck to this guy that I'm paying 17 bucks an hour and he's holding me hostage.” And that’s not a healthy way to look at it.
Joe: That’s a good way to describe it because I really feel like it's a damper. I've never been more happy than I am cruising away at something.
Brandon: Dude, I put my air pods in and I put on a podcast or an audiobook and I'm my happiest. My most unhappy is when I’ve got to be here and I'm trying to work on what I'm working on and somebody says, “Hey man, how do you do this? Hey man. I got a problem over here. Hey, can you come to take a look at this?” I’m thinking, “Fuck, just leave me alone. Let me do what I’m doing.” Yes, it's tough. It's tough. And when I see these guys growing companies, and good for them, I'm happy for them. But when they have 10, 20, 30 employees, that just feels like an absolute nightmare to me, based on how I perceive happiness and what I value to be… Valuable to me is personal space and my own time and my own autonomy to do what I want to do when I want to do it.
Joe: Yes. That's the most valuable thing of all.
Brandon: Yes. So, I started a company.
Joe: You seem like you found a good balance there at some point. I'm always impressed. Bring people in, it gets something knocked out here and there.
Brandon: And then cut them loose.
Joe: Cut them loose. Get back to what you need.
Brandon: And then the panic sets in when another big project comes and you scream and start making calls and everybody says, “Oh, I got a new job at Red Lobster.” Like Jon was saying, the race to the bottom is a quick one. Sinks were something that in 2004… What I started my company on was sinks and we did tons of sinks. And then the last, I don't know, four or five years, there are several online retailers, the sinks, not including Etsy. If you get on Etsy, it's just ridiculous. But just online, if you Google concrete sink, they're selling concrete sinks for 800 bucks delivered.
Joe: Oh dude, it's insane. It's so crazy. But I don't know. I guess I’ve made it a real point to really work with interior designers and people that take it out of the client's hands to pick it because a client's going to be way more inclined to spend $800 bucks, versus $2000, but a designer has a magical way of circumventing that whole process. And designers, if they're savvy, they know that those are not going to be the same quality. If they’re anything like $800 they know that's a warning sign and they're going to stay away from it.
Brandon: Yes. But unfortunately, in my opinion, the damage has been done as far as public perception of the value. Now, high-end designers get it. But the general public at large, kind of like free shipping from Amazon, now views that price point as kind of the general consensus of this is what it should cost. I'm thinking, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” Let's just talk about the crate alone. That's going to be four sheets of plywood. Have you looked at what plywood costs now? $90 bucks a sheet, plus I have to go pick it up. There's $400 right there. And it's $800 dollars delivered?
Jon: I just shared mine. I just showed you the pictures of that cast-in-place job. I did. Two sheets of plywood were $197. Freaking ridiculous.
Joe: I'd say you actually got off pretty easy on that one. I went and made the last set of crates for the last shipment of these giant planters that I did and it was upwards of $5,000 to get the wood for the crates.
Brandon: And freight. Then add freight onto that. And so, when I see these prices that include shipping, I run the numbers and there's no way they're making money, they're losing money. But, at some point, they'll figure that out. At some point, they're going to think, “Oh man, I'm going in the wrong direction. We're staying super busy. We’ve got a hundred sinks going at a given time, but we're going the wrong way.”
Joe: I don't understand why it takes so long for these people to figure out that that's a… They’re really just defeating themselves at that point. I don't quite get how these guys survive on Esty and stuff for so long.
Brandon: I think it's because they don't. I think what it is, is they have other jobs and this is something you do for fun.
Joe: Which is even worse.
Brandon: It hurts public perception. I can't control other people and they can charge what they want to charge.
Jon: And maybe every niche industry deals with this, but the perception of this general word or general view of concrete. Come on, man. Concrete can be everything from a guy using a wheelbarrow and a post-hole concrete that's made by whomever to something all the way on the end of the UHPC kind of concretes and anywhere in between. And then, of course, the whole fiasco in sealing technologies, etc. And I think that's a battle this little niche industry is always going to have where people start to separate themselves based on the quality of their “concrete countertops” or “concrete sink” or concrete in general, versus someone else who's using the same verbiage, calling it concrete, I guess I want to say…. I installed a faucet today and everybody's pretty on board if you look and say a price for a Pfister versus a Moen, do you know what I mean? Just simply by the name and the perceived quality of the product. In this little niche industry after all these years, concrete can still be perceived as concrete.
Brandon: Yes. Because it is. It is. Now we know the difference in concrete and we know the difference in quality and how that affects longevity and sealer performance and color fastness and all of those different things and how there's actually value to that just on the economy of a timeline. If you put in a countertop and the sealer peels off and they put on some crappy topical color that wore off and after two years, they replace it, what was the value in going to the guy that was 30% your price versus you put in a countertop and 15 years later and it still looks beautiful? So ultimately, you're the cheapest option available because you use the highest quality product for the client but if they don't know the difference, then then they don't see it that way. They see concrete as concrete. So, it's definitely an educational part of the industry.
And I think Joe was right to only work with high-end designers and architects, people that get it, people that you can have that conversation with, they understand what it is. And there you go. Because a homeowner, unfortunately, A; They’re a one-time sale and B; I think it's a losing battle because they're just going to Google concrete sink and say, “Oh, look at this guy.” Ok. That’s who you should go with.
Joe It is a losing battle. I get those phone calls a lot and it's a pretty easy litmus test for me to go through now and just think that I can run them through some questions and they'll either talk themselves out of it immediately or if they get through that conversation are still saying, “No, I want to do it.” And those are generally… I've had some great homeowner clients over the years. I've never had any that really screwed me, but I've always had a really good conversation before we went down that road.
Brandon: And what is that litmus test? What do you ask them?
Joe: What is that conversation? I'm really frank about it. I just say this is what we do, here are some examples and samples because you’re clearly drawn to it, seek me out based on hours or wherever you found.
And you come here and look at this and this is why my concrete costs what it does. And it basically comes down to; I'm giving you a product. It’s a totally different sealing technology. It's non-toxic. And most of all, what it is, I explain to them what a topical sealer is and what its pitfalls are, and how it can come off years down the road. And I really just kind of quench it with, “I've been in business for 14 years and I’m still going to be here in 10 more years. And in two or three years, you're probably going to think, ‘Man, these counters could use a refresh.’ You call me, I'm going to pick up the phone and I'm going to happily come out to your house. I'm going to charge you a little bit of money to do it. But two hours later, your counters are going to look like new. You're going to be super stoked and you move on.” And I said, “With all the other guys, if you do actually get ahold of them to come deal with it, they're going to come in and they're going to scrape this crap off and sand it for hours. And then they're going to tape off your whole kitchen and spray a horrible toxic, two-part urethane car paint on it. And you're going to have the same problem again in a few years.”
Brandon: But that's a sales pitch. What's the litmus test. What do you run them through to qualify them that they actually want your product?
Joe: I usually kind of go into the sales pitch really quickly.
Brandon: You’re like Jon.
Joe: By the end of it, I get an answer. It only takes a few minutes to run the sales pitch. You can generally… I don't know, a lot of it's just meeting them in person. I guess a lot of the litmus test is taking the time to talk to them a little bit on the phone. You can generally get a feeling for what it's going to be and if it seems worthwhile meeting. I always try to get them to come to my shop. I really don't do homeowner stuff. That's not in my immediate area. And I typically don't get those calls. So, if they're in Napa or the Napa area, I guess one of the best litmus tests is to say, “Well, why don't you come by the shop and see what I have to offer? I'm right here in Napa and you can see some of the pieces.” And if they take the time to do that, I can always get them with the sales pitch by the end of that meeting. So, the litmus test is really trying to get them to come and see what you do in person. And if they take the time to do that, they're serious about it.
And you can clinch it with a sales pitch, even if the other guy's cheaper. It's kind of like buying a car or something. I got a new truck recently and I went into four or five different dealerships and test drove a lot of different trucks, but they're so goddamn good at those places, it was hard for me to get out of every one of them without buying a truck even if it was something I didn't want. So, I try to take a cue from that. We've transcended melamine. That's another big thing for…
Brandon: Yes? What are you using?
Joe: God, I hate that stuff.
Brandon: I hate it too.
Joe: We use phenolic plywood. And even though it’s, at least on the face of it, quite a bit more expensive. We're at a point where we can buy unit quantities and that helps bring the price down.
Brandon: And are you doing mainly upright cast with the phenolic ply?
Joe: No, we'll do face-down casting with the phenolic fly. We get the form plywood out of, not Lithuania, maybe Lithuania. Good Lord. Anyway, some obscure country with a lot of birch trees. You can cast face down on it, get a beautiful cream finish. It's wonderful stuff. And then you can turn around and use it four or five more times if you’re careful with it; or not super careful with it, but if you take a minute, you can cut it down. I just love seeing these pieces go from huge… And not only that, you can buy that shit in 5X12 sheets.
Brandon: What does that cost? A thousand bucks?
Joe: No, God, no. It's like $250, $300 bucks. It's really not that bad.
Brandon: Yes. I've used phenolic ply. I use it for rammed earth. But the phenolic ply I've received has had…. I could see the wood texture below the coating.
Joe: This stuff's very different. There's a second company; so, it's from Lithuania or something, and then there's stuff that's actually manufactured in Russia, which you don't see on many things that's almost equally as good. Sometimes, some of them have some weird things in them. But it's, two-sided, it's phenolic and there really is no grain transfer in it anymore. And it's 12-ply plywood. You can soak it in water for five days, pull it out, and cast against it and it'll be fine. It's Marine grade. It's unbelievably high quality. And it ends up being about $80 to ship to us.
Jon: But that's not bad. That's why I ended up going with that HDO for the same reason. Now granted, the HDO that I was getting was definitely more expensive than that. It was, I think $140, $160
Joe: Because domestically produced HDO is far inferior to the Russian stuff and twice as expensive,
Jon: There's no question, but what you're just describing comparatively speaking, that's why I did it. A piece of the melamine…. First of all, I hate cutting that crap and it just blows, vacuum on or not with the table saw. It blows crap everywhere you're breathing it; it is what it is. I don't like it at all.
And then on the flip side, as you were just describing, I love the fact that I can do a project, whatever that project may be. I can even upright cast, precast, whatever, sand it down… Anyway, we slowly watch what was a sheet of plywood end up in edge forms or blocks or whatever the case may be. And after it's finally been used 6, 8, 10, 12 times, then it ends up going to the dump. I love that.
Joe: It’s a much better feeling. Melamine just grossed me out from day one. And God, if you just scratch it wrong or look at it wrong and you end up trying to get a cream finish on a face and it explodes from a drop of moisture hitting it, it's a disaster for me.
Brandon: It’s tough. Pretty much, all I've used for 18 years is melamine and there are different grades of melamine as you know. And so, I use, I think it's the cold-rolled melamine. I'm not sure. But I get it from a cabinet supply store. But it has a much heavier coating on it so it's durable. I've never actually scratched this melamine. The other stuff with the really thin paper coating scratches super easily. But it's one use. I pocket screw it down and then you put silicone on your edges and whatnot. And then it's firewood after that. So, there’s really nothing to do with it besides either burn it or dispose of it.
Joe: I wouldn't even burn it. I think I’d be arrested in California if I burned it
Jon: That's what I'm saying.
Brandon: Arkansas man, Arkansas. We have a burn pile. Because they’d throw a fit if I throw it in a dumpster. They lose their minds if I put it in the dumpster. There's no construction debris loud in a dumpster. I’d ask, “Well, what am I supposed to do with it?” They say, “That's a ‘you’ problem. I don't know. You can't put it in there.” Okay. Then I'll burn it.
Joe: I’m going to start using that. “I don’t know. That’s a ‘you’ problem.”
Brandon: Dude. I threw some chunks of concrete in there that weren't even that big. And there were tons of trash on top of it too. I came out the next day, it was sitting next to the dumpster, the concrete.
Joe: Really? They sorted through it.
Brandon: He dug it out. He saw it in there, dug it out, and set it. There were little round tabletops, 15 inches by an inch and a half thick. Little tabletops that he took out and sat next to the dumpster. And then the next week he came and I said, “Hey man, what's going on with this?” He’d say, “Yeah, you put concrete in here.” I'm “Well, I that I can't put huge pieces in here, but these are little pieces. He’d say, “Nope.” So now I roll it down into the valley. I’ve got a valley next to my shop. It’s like a bowling ball, down the hill it goes.
Someday a thousand years now, archeologists are going to come across this stash of miscast concrete pieces and wonder what it was. Dinosaur bones. Maybe a million years now. I don't know how long it takes. It would be awesome if it did fossilize somehow.
Joe: Well, if you've got to put ICT on it, you're guaranteed an extra thousand years of lifespan.
Brandon: A minimum, extra thousand years. So, back to… Jon was hot to trot out of the gates about Maker Mix, but you do use Maker Mix. You were one of the earliest adopters of Maker Mix. And now you're our distributor for less than pallet quantities of Maker Mix. So, if anybody wants to buy a couple of bags, they want to get some TBP but they don't want to buy a full quantity, you're the guy to talk to and you can ship it to them anywhere in the United States. But I guess the first question is; What did you use before Maker Mix? What was the product you used as far as concrete?
Joe: I always used Buddy Rhodes. I am an eternal tinkerer, and I always feel like there's something better. There's always a better way to do something. So
Brandon: So, you were using ECC from Buddy Rhodes, correct?
Joe: Both ECC and GFRC
Brandon: What was your experience with that? Were you happy with it? Unhappy?
Joe: We had it down, it worked well. It was a solid foundation where we were able to finally stabilize our screw-ups from mix design because I knew what was in that bag and I knew how it worked and what to do with it because we had sort of followed that trajectory from the early days. And I had confidence in that product and it was the best thing in a bag available at the time.
Brandon: So, Maker Mix is on the market, you're using the ECC, but at what point did you think, “I'm done with this, I'm switching to this?” or just, “I think this is going to be slightly better than this. I'm going to give it a shot.” What was your thought process behind changing?
Joe: We knew about Maker Mix in its earliest inception so as soon as it was available in any kind of form, we could actually start to test. We knew within a very short period of time that, in probably like a month or so that, “Okay, I think we're at the point where this is probably going to be totally usable.” It probably took us about three months to really finish up projects that were based on samples that were made from Buddy Rhodes and I didn't want to go through the trouble of trying to have the rematch those or anything. So, we phased it out pretty quickly once we saw how it was reacting with the sealer, once we saw the versatility of one bag and everything it could do. So, it was a no-brainer for us. It's a better product.
Brandon: So, one of the problems that you struggled with in the beginning, one of the first, I wouldn’t call it a failure, but the first experience of problem-solving was using a different plasticizer instead of TBP.
Brandon: What happened with that?
Joe: Well, I was just sitting on mountains of 420. So, I thought, “All right, I just want to use this stuff up.” And we had some anomalies. It was working, but I think there was so much water in it. It required so much 420 that it was throwing other things off at the end of the day that was causing some inexplicable failures and I didn't have a baseline. I hadn't used TBP, to begin with, so I didn't really understand what the difference was. So, I finally got my hands on some and I thought, “All right, let's do this right from the beginning. Or let’s start over, let's do this right.” And it was almost instantaneous. We put that stuff in, upfront and it just liquified so fast. And it was like nothing we'd ever seen before. And I thought, “Okay. Now I understand what you guys are talking about when you're telling me, ‘Well, no, it should be way, way looser than that." Just from a pure workability standpoint, you can't get this stuff from regular plasticizers. You just can't. We've tried probably five different ones now. And Everything we had couldn't hold a candle to TBP.
Jon: It makes a difference when the materials are designed to work together. It's all the same thing. I tried using some other plasticizers, running them in different ways and this and that, and ultimately, I always came back to the one where I realize this is the one that works around to fit like a key in the slot if you will.
Joe: And I mean, one of the coolest parts about being a distributor out here on the West Coast, it’s really just starting to get to talk to a lot of people. God, I miss Epic. Who misses Epic?
Brandon: Yes. I wasn't invited the last two years, so I can't say, but I'm sure it was a lot of fun.
Jon: It became more fun when you didn't go.
Joe: The sense of community that came from that and getting to talk to all the people. So, one of the most fun parts about being a distributor has been talking to a lot of people, many of whom I've never met before but who are the guys that need only a couple of bags, they're trying to do a project or a half pallet or whatever. And they're just getting started with this stuff. So, being able to talk to them and help them out and see what it is they're doing and how they approach things has been really fun. But it's been a hard sell. The TBP is always one of the things I say right up front,
“Hey, you need to get this. And the first thing you need to do is take one of those bags off that half palette. Mix it up with the TBP so you understand where your starting point is, and then if you're going to go off and use some of that plasticizer that you’ve been using for years, then you're going to see that difference. If you don't do that, honestly, I can't really help because it's going to cause so many issues that we just don't even know about. We don't even have a place to start. So, it becomes incredibly hard to troubleshoot people's stuff when they go off the reservation and start using different stuff.
Jon: I agree with that because too many people, they'll look at the materials, whatever those materials are, independently, completely independently. Whether we're talking again, plasticizer, the concrete mix, the sealer, whatever the case may be. And instead of looking at the puzzle pieces together and especially when it comes to certain mixes in this case, Makers Mix, and other plasticizers that like you said, “I've been using this one for years, this is the way I use it”. And realize that now you get into a mix that's designed this way. And all of a sudden, what may have been effective for you, now you're using three times, four times as much, or it's become sticky or your fibers are balling up. Whatever the case may be. And if a person doesn't fully understand the materials they're using and their ability to work together, the symbiotic relationship will, then sometimes it can be blamed back on the mix. It’s terrible. No man, you're using the wrong plasticizer for this type of concrete.
Joe: And I get it. Guys are thinking, “Wow, now I’ve got to buy that too?”
Jon: It's meant to work together.
Brandon: I have 80 gallons of Adva 555. And so, I did a big batch. I thought, “Oh, I’m just going to use this Adva.” And it turned to gelatin because the VMA with all those fine particles just gelled it up. So, I'm guilty of it as well because I spent money on that Adva and I want to use it, but I'll use that for pouring a concrete pad outside, I won't use it for UHPC mixes. I'd say Jon is partly to blame for this though because he never says ‘no’. Jon never says ‘no’. If you asked Jon, “Jon, can I use Adva 555?” I’d just say “No. No, you can't.” But Jon would say, “Well, technically you can, yes. But you're going to have to get some Tang, a little bit Tang in there. And get some cream of tartar. Get some Worcestershire sauce and put a couple of drops of that in there.” He's going to come up with this whole thing instead of just saying, “No. No, use TBP is designed for Maker Mix. It's going to work perfectly.”
And that's really what it comes down to. There are definitely other plasticizers that could possibly work, but not work as well and they're going to introduce a host of other issues. Instead, save time, save the hassle, use the products that are designed to work together. As Jon said, these are designed to work together. So, we're not trying to give an ad hoc solution here where we're pulling something off the shelf or trying to make it work with this.
They're designed for each other, just like the Maker Mix is designed for ICT. It's a product designed to work hand in hand with the sealing solution. It’s not a case where we're putting a plastic coating on top of it after the fact and saying to take this two-part automotive finish and spray it on here and hope that it sticks and bonds and has longevity and doesn't yellow. So anyway, these are all things that are designed to work together at the very base level.
Joe: That’s right. And they do. It's taken that last little bit of doubt out of my mind about the product when it goes out the door. I know I've got the latest improvements to the sealer with the PRIME and the seal. That combined together reactivates so quickly with the Makers Mix. I try to give everything a day or two pad before I actually go and install it. And in that time period, I can wash it down with water a couple of times and just know that it's sealed and know that it's going out the door ready to handle whatever the client's going to throw at it, which is all kinds of weird stuff.
Brandon: How do you like the new bags, by the way, the Kodiak pro bags?
Joe: Well, I'm a big fan of anything ‘eighties’, and it's really got a nice sort of eighties vibe to it.
Brandon: Like a karate movie sunset in the background type of thing
Jon: There you go.
Joe: I’m into it.
Brandon: Are you going to wear a headband while you're mixing?
Joe: I know people have been…. Yes, I think we’ve got to get a really good new bag for the RADmix too.
Brandon: I was lying in bed and I had that idea because I was thinking that we need to name the admix something. And I'm just lying there. And my wife is lying next to me. It's 11 o'clock and I'm almost asleep. And I wake up and I think, “RADmix”. She says, “What?” I say, “That’s it. ‘Rad mix’.” And she says, “Okay, whatever.” I say, “It’s genius. It’s genius!"
Jon: One of the things Joe hit me on... Joe, weren't you telling me the difficulty though you've had… might as well just put this on the table, the difficulty you've had with Maker Mix though, is dialing your colors along the way, right?
Joe: Yes. It's been a bit of a fiasco. I think there's some bad luck involved in that as well. I’ve made more color samples trying to get a couple of old looks and some designers of course rolled around the shop with this eight-year-old sample that they'd found under their desk from God only knows what project and broke off a chunk of it and brought it in and said, “I want this.” But color matching to the old Buddy Rhodes samples or samples that I'd made using Buddy Rhodes. We blend almost all of our own color for things that we do and we've gotten pretty good at it over the years but the Makers Mix is a little different and people do need to be aware that it's going to take actually less pigment to get to where they're going than they think.
Brandon: Interesting. Less pigment.
Joe: It really intensifies the color. And maybe Jon could shed a little bit of light on that, or on why it does that. But it really is a lot more intense. And it varies.
Jon: Higher density. I think ultimately what it boils down to is; the UHPC mixes are such comparatively speaking, a high, high density, it ultimately creates a higher intensity in color. And one of the things Brandon and I have talked about long this whole route; the cost and materials etc. And how in this case, maybe Makers Mix is, I don't know, it's not much. A buck or two bucks more, a bag or for a 50-pound bag or something like that. and realizing though, when it comes to something, you may not be comparing it to, it might require a five or a 10% pigment load to create a certain color. And all of a sudden, you're finding yourself using a 1 to 2%. Maybe not as much as half, but definitely, pigments are not inexpensive, especially with your higher intensity colors. That's so that was just one thing. I've seen the same thing with the pieces I just got done casting. I used to have a 1% load to create a certain gray color that a couple of the designers around here really have always liked. As I kept moving forward, that same 1% when they brought up an older piece, you think, “Oh, wait a minute.” So, now I'm running about 0.6% of that same pigment loading.
Joe: I'm seeing on average 20, 30, sometimes even 40%, depending on the color, less pigment to get the same result. I count it as a good thing. It was a little frustrating at first, but ultimately, you're using less to get more out of it which you never had with pigments.
Brandon: No. Well, that whole topic is an interesting topic that we haven't talked about yet on the podcast and that is the economics of concrete and the price of bag mix and TBP and how that relates to your overall profitability. And the conversation that Jon and I have had numerous times privately is we hear that from guys; “Oh, I can get this for this price.” But if they do the math at all, let's say that you're doing a kitchen that takes 10 bags. So, let's say they're paying $35 a bag, that's $350. And then they have another $30 in TBP, so that’s $380. But that kitchen should be $6,000, $7,000 if you're charging appropriate prices for your work. So, how is $380 making you unprofitable?
And especially when compared to the other mix are going to use, which might be $20 a bag. So, that’s $200. Plus, the plasticizer is $220. So, we're talking about a difference of $160 between the inferior product and the top-of-the-line, the best product you can use. So, it's a $160 difference on a $6,000 kitchen. So, are your bills so high that you're, you're losing money and have less than $160 margin on that project? You’re not pricing yourself, right. You haven't crunched numbers yet to realize that even though the bag price is ‘higher’, that it’s really not costing you that much more per project. It's negligible. I don't know. It's just one of the conversations I don't think people have really put thought into. They just make these gut reaction proclamations; “Oh, that's really expensive.” But when you actually do the math, it's not. It's not that expensive.
Joe: You said it earlier, Kodiak’s always had a different mindset. And I think for a lot of business owners and guys that do this, if you're getting caught up in your material cost in this business, you're thinking about things really wrong. That is a huge factor for us. Once we figured out that there was a better material to use out there for it, it was always more cost-effective to use that material from a labor standpoint than it was with something that wasn't quite what it should have been. So, there's no question that really, it's not worth it. You want the best product you can possibly get to help accomplish your goal.
Brandon: And to build your reputation, to sustain your reputation because that's everything. But what you just said; labor. That's the other part that people don't take into account; “I'm just going to pick up white Portland. I'm going to go to a different distributor and get white sand. I'm going to go to a different distributor and get this. And then I'm going to order this online. I'm going to order that online, order that online.” Then you spend four hours batching all these ingredients out, right? That's your time.
Joe: Possibly, you’re making an error.
Brandon: Definitely making an error. On a long enough timeline, you're going to make an error. But let's say you’re thinking, “Hey, my time's too valuable to do that. I'm going to pay some kid $17 bucks an hour to do that.” So, you’re paying $17 bucks an hour. Well, he's doing all this crap for six hours. So, right there, I've already exceeded my cost difference between using a crappy product that's a bagged product by the way. A crappy, bad product and a top-of-the-line bag product. But that kid you're paying 17 bucks an hour, the chances of him messing up are dramatically increased because he doesn't have the same vested interest as you do. So, he’s popping along; 1.7 pounds of this, 2.4 pounds of that, whatever. I had a guy here; he was high all the time. This guy was high all the time. Nicest guy in the world, loved him. But he was high all the time. But we recast everything a minimum of three times, minimum. Every project. In my life, I never experienced this. You recast things occasionally but it's occasional. Maybe one out of every 20 projects. You don't like something about it.
You're thinking about it and saying “Eh, I'm just going to recast that.” But we recast everything a minimum of three times. And after a few months of him working here, I finally said, “Dude, what do you think about us casting everything three times?” He says, “Yeah, man, I don't know how you're profitable doing that. I don't know how you run a business doing that.” I said, “I don’t either.” At this point, I was 16 years in business. I said, “I've been doing this for 16 years. For the last 15 years, this has never happened. So, what do you think is different? What do you think is different?” He said, “I don't know.”
And I said, “You. You're different. You’re the Concrete Cooler! You’re messing this whole thing up. I love you. I love you, you can come over and hang out anytime you want and we can talk about whatever. But I’ve got to let you go because you're just costing me too much money.” But that's the human element. And that's what really costs you as well. So, it's the economics of it. Guys think they're, they're saving a buck, but as I like to say, they're stepping over dollars to pick up dimes. They're not saving anything. They're costing themselves money. And what they think is a high-cost item that's going to hurt their profitability is really at the end of the day, the cheapest way to do what they want to do and be profitable.
Joe: There's no question that when you start looking at all those perspectives, it's a no-brainer. We went through that process for years and even now we have a standing policy in the shop you batch and then somebody else double checks it. And that stems from all those years of fucking stuff up and having to recast. And at one point I think when we were really starting to get some pretty high-performance concrete put together, we had something like 20 different ingredients in one batch of concrete that we had to individually batch. You just can't do it at this level without those products, then you don't want to be trying to source all that stuff. You're just killing yourself.
Brandon: And what you're talking about, that is an actual cost that can hurt profitability.
Joe: It's super painful. Just to go to the hardware store or the three different places I'd have to go to get cement sand and some plasticizer from somewhere locally, that's an entire day of my time I could spend building vaults. It’s crazy to me.
Brandon: Lost opportunity. That costs $3,000. It costs you $3,000 to save. If you bought a whole pallet of mix that was 50 bags, maybe $5 more a batch to have a bag or even $10 more a batch. So that's 500 bucks. But you just spent $3,000 to save $500. It's insane.
Jon: The economics of these conversations, that's when I just ultimately shake my head when someone's on the other side of that conversation. “No, no, no, no, no.” You'll see a picture of them that they posted on Instagram or something and they’ve still got 25-gallon buckets lined up. That argument blows my mind.
Brandon: But I've been there. We’ve all been there. We've all had that mindset at one time.
Brandon: It's just part of being a business owner. You think, “I'm going to save money here. This is a place I can save money”, but you're not saving money, Joe. It's been a pleasure talking to you. We'll definitely circle back and do another podcast in a few months and kind of see what's new and whatever else you've learned about the Kodiak Pro line that you made modifications to, and how business is going.
Joe: Nice. Well, it's been a pleasure to speak to you both. And it was good to check in and chat and I'm looking forward to it.
Brandon: Awesome. Thanks, guys.
Joe: Appreciate it. Take care. Bye.