Customization is perhaps the biggest buzzword in decorative concrete today. Here, Chris Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing for ChemSystems Inc.–a specialty manufacturer of Helix Color Systems–shares his insider insight. Sullivan is a regular contributor to industry publications and a frequent speaker at World of Concrete.

Q: Why is “custom” a big buzzword right now in decorative concrete?
Sullivan: In my research for my book series on current trends in decorative concrete, customization came up over and over again. I think it is a buzzword because it is a trend in the market. Technology, color, accessories and tools have not produced anything really “new” in the past few years so installers are left with a choice. They can produce the same look over and over, or they can customize their work and make it stand out in the crowd. Customization allowed installers to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace–Crowded not only with other decorative installers, but from pavers, tile and stone as well. There are many options when selecting hardscape paving and decorative concrete needs to stay relevant and innovative to keep up with the other products. Currently, customization is the major factor in keeping it innovative.

Q: What are the key elements to a great custom decorative concrete job?
Sullivan: I found many times customization was nothing more than changing a color scheme, or adding a personal touch to an existing pattern or design. Small things like grouting joint lines, adding color accents to some or all of the stone work, decorative bands instead of a saw cut, or adding saw cuts to work with the design versus just cutting across a pattern. I know some installers who have a designer on staff to work with clients. The design service is part of the package you get when working with these installers. The price they charge is usually a bit higher, but the end result is a more personal customer experience. I think the biggest factor that makes for a great custom job is getting the owner involved and making the project theirs. Giving them options or offering upgrades to customize the work. It comes down to the installer having the ability to offer variations and perform the work at a high level. Upgrades also mean a higher price tag. Being able to offer custom variation and upgrades usually results in a more profitable job.

Q: How can “custom” go wrong?
Sullivan: Over promise and underperform! If the installer is going to offer custom work, they need to have the training and expertise to perform the work.

Q: Are we seeing clients on both the commercial AND residential side looking for customization? Why?
Sullivan: Customization has been around in commercial work for a long time. Architects and designers on commercial projects are always looking to put their personal stamp on a project, which leads to more custom designs and work. The change or “new trend” is the customization of residential work. I believe it comes from market forces. Stamped concrete, for example, is no longer the new and innovative hardscape option it was 10 years ago. The market has matured and stamped concrete is now just “another” option when selecting a surface for your patio, walkway or driveway. Paver and stone manufacturers and suppliers have also become more aggressive. Pavers are now being offered in larger patterns with texture, directly targeting the stamped concrete market. This flattening of the growth curve has led to residential installers becoming more aggressive in what they offer and customization was one of the major outcomes of these market changes. The recession also played a part in driving installers to be different to stay in business.

Q: What’s driving the desire for unique customized decorative concrete looks?
Sullivan: I think it was originally market changes and the recession that forced customization. Now that the recession is over and the market is rebounding it is less of a mandate (change or go out of business) and more of a desire and profit motive to be different. Installers realize that custom work sells better and produces higher profits than the “me too” work.

You can catch more from Sullivan at the 2015 World of Concrete. Learn about his presentations here and register to attend.