For many decorative concrete contractors, 2008 was a difficult year and there's relief that it's in the past. The next challenge will be the 2009 construction year. Maybe it won't be as tough as 2008 but who knows? It would be nice if there was a foolproof plan that everyone could use. But there are no magic bullets and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. There are management decisions to make concerning marketing and securing work, managing overhead and job costs, and keeping up with accounts receivable. For some regions in the country, the task of staying afloat is more difficult than others—some regions have a lot of work and contractors aren't worried about where their next project will come from. Here's how a few contractors from around the country are viewing their business.

Tom Ralston

Tom Ralston Concrete, Santa Cruz, Calif.

As the third generation to operate his business, Ralston says everyone is looking for work in his area and the competition is very intense. “We are bidding at the level my father did when he started the business,” he says. They are getting work and the goal is to squeeze out a profit of 1%. Sometimes they give away parts of the job in hopes they can make profit on other parts. Being a sharp manager is critical. He constantly searches for ways to cut costs and pays close attention to cost accounts for each project. Sometimes they can sell upgrades to contracts and that helps. He is perceived as being expensive so he runs newspaper ads to counter the perception. They've also been featured in four publications recently, including Architectural Digest. “We are working to keep our name out there,” he says.

Dave Pettigrew

Diamond D Concrete, Capitola, Calif.

Pettigrew's 2008 year was pretty good, with solid booking through the end of the year. He even had to turn down work until the beginning of 2009. He credits his success with the decision to diversify, getting some work with several different products. Diamond D installs a full range of cast-in-place decorative concrete, precast concrete items, slab-on-grade residential foundations, city sidewalk work, and epoxy floors. Pettigrew says they do more home addition work now and thinks that when people can't afford to buy new homes they upgrade what they have. He advertises in a local residential publication, gets work through a decorative computer network, and works to keep a strong customer base, including architects and general contractors. His crews are busy and he's optimistic about 2009.

Todd Schneider

Schneider Contracting Co., Alexandria, Va.

His advice is to “hang on to whatever cash you can and don't skimp on your marketing efforts.” He says they were very fortunate in shifting from primarily residential work into larger commercial work in 2008; he hopes to continue in that direction for 2009. His bread-and-butter work has been colored, textured, and stamped concrete, but he is pushing more into microfinishes, acid washes, and exposed aggregates. Many designers in his area prefer natural stone or more subtle concrete finishes. “They like the durability of concrete and my sense is that if we can expose them to these ‘more tasteful' finishes, we can expand the decorative concrete market here.” He admits that up until this year, with the demand for work so high, he had allowed his business to settle into a reactive stance from a sales standpoint. “With this market slowdown, I now am pushing the finishes that I think will marry the purist tastes of some of our more promising clients with the durability and beauty of these other finishes.” He also has reactivated memberships in local business groups to provide more networking opportunities.