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From Laminate to Concrete: What you need to know

by Editor 13. June 2018 10:40

By Jeff Girard, The Concrete Countertop Institute

Many countertop fabricators, especially those who specialize in residential remodeling, are recognizing the consumer demand for more custom products such as concrete. As a countertop fabricator considers adding custom concrete countertops to his or her offerings, there are a number of practical considerations such as startup costs, learning curve, profit margin and the logistics of incorporating concrete into shop space and production process flow.
 
Startup Costs
 
Adding concrete countertops to your offerings incurs low startup costs. There is very little equipment to buy. The largest equipment purchase is generally a concrete mixer, at less than $2000. All of your existing woodworking equipment can be used for making the molds.
 
Learning Curve
 
Although templating and installation are almost exactly the same for concrete as for other countertops, concrete is cast, not cut. For shop employees who are accustomed to cutting countertops, creating forms and molds can be challenging because it is a different way of thinking - upside down and inside out.
 
Another learning curve involves working with the concrete mix, whether you use a from-scratch or bagged mix. It is important to understand technical aspects of concrete such as water/cement ratio, water reducers and admixtures, because the behavior of concrete depends on many factors such as humidity and temperature.
 
Profit Margin
 
Custom concrete countertops command a high price, generally about $80 to $120 per square foot or higher, depending on your market area. Due to the low startup costs and low material costs, the profit margins can be very good.
 
However, you need to be acutely aware of your labor costs. Custom concrete countertop generally require a high amount of hand labor. As with other materials, the biggest barrier to high profit margins in concrete countertop manufacturing is mistakes and re-dos. Avoiding re-dos in concrete countertops requires all of the normal quality control procedures you have in place, plus a good understanding of concrete as explained above.
 
Shop Layout
 
You will need to allocate space in your shop for casting tables to accommodate the concrete slabs during forming, casting and curing. You will also need space for the mixer and mix ingredients.
 
Process Flow
 
Templating and installation of concrete are almost identical to procedures for stone countertops. The time in-between templating and installation is very different, however.
 
As mentioned before, concrete is a high touch process requiring a lot of hand work. It requires forming, mixing, casting and curing time that do not come into play with other countertops.
 
Conclusion
 
By understanding all of these considerations and focusing on employee education, quality control and carefully thought-out procedures, you can profitably add concrete to your business. The benefits go beyond pure profit to building competitive advantage through diversifying and differentiating your business with this beautiful, unique product.

Learn more on this topic during Jeff's session, "Leapfrog from Laminate to High End Concrete" at the IWF 2018 Education Conference.

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