Acrylic sealers begin to dull a month after application. Contractors who don’t warn customers about this inevitability and reapply sealer set themselves up for callbacks to fix problems, like this sealant that’s turned white, related to over-application.
Credit: Steve VandeWater Acrylic sealers begin to dull a month after application. Contractors who don’t warn customers about this inevitability and reapply sealer set themselves up for callbacks to fix problems, like this sealant that’s turned white, related to over-application.

Because customers pay a premium for decorative concrete, they expect perfection. When they notice small flaws or perceived defects, concerns arise that they have received less than they paid for.

Many times, owners’ complaints are justified. But very often they are not. Sometimes the owner simply has unrealistic expectations.

We’re all in business to make money, and decorative concrete should certainly be profitable for the contractor. But when it comes time to collect for completed work, problems are often encountered. Owners routinely find fault with their projects and withhold payment. To collect, the contractor must perform additional work to correct the perceived problems or forfeit a portion of his bill. This is true whether there is an actual problem or it’s only in the customer’s mind. If a customer is convinced that there is a problem, usually no amount of talking will convince him otherwise.

Because each return trip to a jobsite costs money, the goal is to turn out a great job, leave a satisfied customer, and move on to the next project. To do this, you must learn to manage your customer’s expectations. Educating the customer about potential problems before work begins is vital. The more educated the customer, the fewer surprises at the end of the job, which translates into less rework and higher profitability.

Four impediments to satisfaction

During my years as a contractor I noticed a few recurring concerns that were common to almost every stamped concrete job. I also learned that when I addressed these potential problems before work began, customer complaints dropped dramatically. In my new role as a supply salesman, I routinely see contractors lose money as a result of these same four issues:

  • The likelihood that the color will not perfectly match the color chart.
  • Construction is dirty and can damage a lawn.
  • Although the sealer is shiny now, it will dull in a short amount of time.
  • Cracks are possible and cannot be warranted against.

I am therefore amazed when contractors don’t include explanations and disclaimers in their contracts.

For example, in my contract, I included a phrase which read, “It is concrete’s nature to crack. The best that I can do to control cracking is to thoroughly compact the stone base, use fiber and/or rebar in the concrete, place expansion joint material where needed, pour at a reasonable slump, and properly install crack control joints. I will not be responsible for random cracks.”

Although the measures I took eliminated most random cracks, they still sometimes occurred. My disclaimer on the contract, signed by the customer, protected me from most complaints. The customer knew I had done my best to prevent cracking.

My contract had similar disclaimers regarding other potential problems, as well as the measures I would take to minimize them. All of my customers knew upfront that with a hand-crafted product like stamped concrete, color charts are unreliable. There are simply too many unknown variables with raw materials, such as portland cement color, mix water, sand and aggregates, for a color chart to be accurate.