In the past, the hardscape industry has sold concrete pavers and natural stone as a maintenance-free investment that will last a lifetime. However, over time, wear and tear as well as harsh weather conditions inevitably reduces a once-beautiful installation into a patchwork of dirty, stained or moldy pavers with weeds between the joints.
While little can be done to stop Mother Nature or the march of time, paving installers and surface contractors have a weapon in their arsenal: premium sealers to protect and extend the life of hardscapes.
In addition to providing a superior finish, sealers can prevent the growth of weeds and grass in joints, protect pavers and natural stone against stains from grease, grime and oil, inhibit insect infestations, and reduce accumulation of mildew and mold.
Yet, speak to just about any paver installer and they will admit that even on new installations sealers are rarely applied. Most paver contractors have never been properly trained in the application of sealers and, as a result, often view the task as difficult, with a potential for bad results. Consequently, pavers are left virtually unprotected, which only speeds deterioration.
However, applying such products not only extends the life and beauty of new installations, but also opens new business opportunities in paver restoration.
“We’ve worked with new installations and hardscapes that have considerable age,” says Jim Scocozza, owner of Pennsylvania-based The Paver Savers Inc. “For new installs we can protect the beauty of the surface. We can also restore older hardscapes to bring them back to life. Either way, there is a real ‘wow factor’ when we are done.”
Restoration involves revitalizing installed pavers—natural stone and concrete surfaces—through minor repairs, joint stabilization, cleaning and sealing. In doing so, hardscapes can be restored to “like new” condition.
Scocozza says, there is “plenty of potential for a dedicated [paver restoration] company,” but the lack of awareness by homeowners that this type of service exists, coupled with contractor’s general wariness of sealers has left it a largely untapped market.
“Generally, homeowners are not aware of the need to clean and seal,” says Scocozza. “Contractors can also be hesitant to offer the services because they lack experience, training, and knowledge.”
There is a learning curve involved, admits Scocozza. “It took us some time to figure out how to do it right,” he says.
Some common difficulties associated with sealers include applying the sealer or applying it in poor weather. Moisture, for example, can become trapped under or within the sealant and can cause discoloration. “If the installer is not completely familiar with sealing, they could get into trouble very quickly,” says Scocozza.
Although some contractors choose a trial-and-error approach, assistance and training are available from a good sealer vendor.
Scocozza points to his own experience with SEK-Surebond, a company that has offered hardscape installation products for more than 25 years. Today, the company offers a broad range of options including hardscape-specific lighting products, polymeric sand, and Snap Edge paver restraints.
In 2010, the company acquired Surebond, which manufactures sealers, cleaners, and adhesive products for the hardscaping industry. The company was the first to offer joint stabilizing sealers, and now offers sealers, cleaners and stain blocking products in various finishes, all designed for hardscape applications.
SEK-Surebond provides customers with ongoing technical support, marketing materials and instruction on upselling, as well as follow-up training and on-site project consultations. “The initial training is only one part that results in successful application,” he says. “The company just doesn’t sell you a product and then say ‘goodbye and good luck.’”
For Sean Hillis of Premier Paver Restoration in New Orleans, there seemed to be few contractors involved in the cleaning and sealing segment, making it an ideal business opportunity. “Those contractors that were doing paver restoration were very busy,” he says.
Also, the climate and harsh salt air wreaked havoc on hardscapes in New Orleans and along the gulf coast of Louisiana, where he was located. “Some projects were 15 years old but looked like they were 100,” says Hillis.
When Hillis started the business, he literally knocked on doors and shared before-and-after photos of recent jobs.
Despite his early success, he admits that he was initially a bit overwhelmed. “I went into business, but I needed to learn more,” says Hillis, who began as a paving installer. “So I surrounded myself with the professionals in the field that could show me what I needed to do in order to grow.” This included taking a class on cleaning and sealing at SEK-Surebond.
Hillis is not the only contractor that is convinced. After conducting a detailed analysis of the financial potential in paver restoration, Larry Jouett, owner of Odd Job Larry in Kenosha, Wis., arrived at the same conclusion.
“We crunched the numbers and it looked very promising,” he relates. “We determined our overhead and profit margins, the start-up costs and what we needed to accomplish. All of that looked quite attractive, so we developed a business and marketing plan and started a new business.”
Now that the full-service cleaning and restoration company is established, Jouett says he plans to be “ready to go full-bore in 2017.”