A polished and impregnated concrete floor at the Absolut Grill in Spokane, Wash.
Curt Meidling A polished and impregnated concrete floor at the Absolut Grill in Spokane, Wash.

Much has changed in the polished concrete industry in just the past 10 years. A decade ago, all concrete polishers were asked to do was polish the floor, leave behind literature, get paid, and move on to the next project. Today, it is imperative to embrace maintenance as a profitable means to increase business, while also turning customers into advocates.

Polished concrete maintenance should encompass five specific areas: basic maintenance, pads and cleaners, sealing, patching, and recoloring. This critical process impacts everyone. Without an understanding of concrete, both polishers and customers are apt to draw the wrong conclusions and become discouraged. But by grabbing maintenance by the horns, you can help grow your business.

The stakes are high, since the polished concrete industry still encompasses only about 3% of the more than $15 billion flooring business. By claiming 3% more of carpet’s sales, the polished concrete industry will grow by more than $250 million annually.

You can be hurt any time you sell what you don’t know, especially in the case of polished concrete maintenance. For example, by simply recommending the wrong cleaner, you can damage the floor finish and the customer’s or your own cleaning equipment. And don’t fall into the “neutral is better” syndrome for cleaners. There is neutral to water, as in pH 7, and there is neutral to concrete, as in pH 9.2–9.4. Do not misinterpret the term neutral. An alkaline pH cleaner is neutral to the concrete flooring being cleaned and it cleans better than a cleaner that is a neutral pH of 7.

Peter Wagner

Where are you polishing?

Consider where the flooring is installed: is it retail, industrial, commercial, grocery, or educational? What outside influences will affect the performance of the floor if they are not taken into account? Are there airborne sea salts or winter deicing salts? Is the project in an area where acid rain gets tracked in? And what about airborne soils and sands? What about the pH of the potable water mixed with the cleaner?

Consider these factors when recommending a maintenance program to an owner or architect. Understanding the type of equipment, cleaner, and pads, along with the frequency of cleaning, is the basis for creating a satisfied customer who will become an advocate.

Polished concrete often is described as low-maintenance flooring. This usually rings true, but after installing it in a grocery store or restaurant, questions may be asked about its appropriateness. What sets polished concrete apart from other hard surfaces is that even with its acid etching and liquid staining “warts,” it outperforms the competition in durability, appearance, and life-cycle costs. But every flooring option has pluses and minuses, including polished concrete, and when exposed to staining acids and liquids, polished concrete is not as foolproof as some believe. Convey the pros and cons honestly to the end-user.

Peter Wagner

On guard

To guard or not to guard has become the hot maintenance topic. Polishers have moved from installing a pure polished and densified floor to adding copolymers, acrylics, epoxies, and one- and two-component products—all sold as guards, yet most looking like plastic. The initial reason for using guards was innocent enough: to protect the polished concrete from acids and stains.

But it has created a hornet’s nest of disagreements and finger pointing among contractors, manufacturers, customers, and architects. And what does heat do to a guard? It opens up the pores to dirt, only to then trap it when the guard cools down. Formulas change as often as technology, and the success rate varies from project to project and from applicator to applicator. The industry mantra has always been beautiful, breathable, strong, and low maintenance. Introducing guard products to the mix raises questions of honesty, product performance, and the claim of low maintenance. A contractor must protect the owner’s investment, but at what point do guard products become a crutch, either making up for the product’s shortfalls, or worse, providing polishing contractors with a means to hide poor workmanship?

Some manufacturers have not helped the situation with continuous introductions of quick fixes that have instead turned into a rotating door of failed claims. Guards have a place in limited situations, and in a thinner, less visually intrusive manner. For example, they can provide great protection during construction. One positive would be to not only protect the floor, but also to create a guard that provides a more natural, stone-like appearance.

By using a good impregnating sealer to repel hydrophobic and oleophobic spills, along with proper maintenance and periodic cosmetic fixes, polishers can once again sell polished concrete for what it is: beautiful, breathable, strong, and low maintenance.

Sell the strengths

Learn to sell to the product’s strengths, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by selling a clean, honest product. Learn how to patch properly because nothing ruins the appearance of a beautifully finished floor more than a bad patch or pour back.

Also, learn how to repair color loss by experimenting on your own warehouse floor. An impregnated floor, one that has received impregnating sealers that penetrate the concrete, is easier to perform a color fix on than a floor that has received a topical guard. By selling a visual product and committing to maintain the appearance, the polished concrete industry will begin to nibble away at the market for carpet and hard surfaces.

Peter Wagner is a frequent contributor to Concrete Surfaces and is owner of Concrete Flooring Solutions. Email pwagner@concreteflooringsolutions.