Tim Seay, co-owner of Decorative
Concrete of Virginia, recently joined our podcast series to share some of his recent challenges
and experiences in 2020, including how the holidays can affect their work in
the field. Seay and Co-Owner Landon Blanks have made efforts to share their
knowledge with other contractors through their own podcast and various social
media platforms. The article mentioned featuring SeaQuest aquarium can be accessed here.
A complete transcript of the episode is available below. For more information, contact: Tim Seay, www.decorativeconcreteofvirginia.com
Stephanie Chizik: Thanks so much for joining us today, Tim.
Tim Seay: Hey, thanks. Thanks for having me.
SC: Just start by giving our listeners a brief background of what you do and what Decorative Concrete of Virginia does.
TS: Like you said, I started in 2001. I went to Liberty University, and I had a media degree at Liberty University. I guess when I graduated, I never really planned on pursuing a career like that. When I graduated, I ended up working with my dad, who’s a general contractor, and we started this business, too, as a side business. We started off doing concrete overlays and things like that. We eventually transitioned into coatings and to polished concrete and to other things, too.
SC: Was the something about the concrete side that drew your attention? Or was it more of a business decision?
TS: It was really kind of a side project for a long time. I worked for my dad, who’s a general contractor. I guess it was until about — there was a housing crash in 2007, where building got really slow. At that point, we just — the building got slow, so we focused on servicing directly to homeowners with the concrete overlays, so that really picked up in 2007. Once we were pretty much solely doing this concrete business, at that point we started expanding it and getting into epoxy coatings and polished concrete.
SC: That makes sense. I’m wondering what’s going on right now in the world. Obviously, if people are listening to this later, we’re still working our way through this pandemic. I hate to be COVID all the time, but it obviously is affecting all aspects of the world, of course, but specifically the coatings industry, the construction industry, contracting. How the world? How’s everything been affecting you, what are the challenges and experiences that you guys have been having over there?
TS: The homeowner work really picked up, for some reason. I guess people — it seems like it’s happened for everyone who’s direct to homeowners right now. For example, my father-in-law has this landscaping supply company, and they’re having their biggest year because homeowners are just improving their houses. Things really picked up at the beginning of COVID. We worked almost exclusively for homeowners for probably two months. Did a lot of garage floors and basement floors.
Once COVID kind of set in with lockdowns, it seemed like a lot of our commercial customers were realizing that it was also going to be a good time to do commercial flooring that they ordinarily wouldn’t want to shut down for — like restaurants, where in the past, they wouldn’t want to shut down for three, four days. Things were so slow, they’re actually able to — if they want to redo their kitchen, they can shut down for a couple days because it’s not that busy anyway. That part’s been pretty good, too.
A lot of our work is directly to the end user, and those have gone really well. The things that we had booked for general contractors, they’ve come through and we’re working on those, but that might be slowing down a little bit. The stuff that was already booked was fine, and it seems like maybe that portion of the market might be slowing a little bit. I’m not sure if everyone’s seeing that or not, but it seems to be that case here.
SC: I wonder, to your point — I hadn’t even thought of it in the different sectors, but I’ve heard similar stories from other contractors. The same thing, that residential and commercial are picking up. I wonder if that means that maybe industrial isn’t, or if it’s all doing well. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it. Maybe because people are all stuck at home, so it’s like you're looking at this garage floor that you want to fix or make better.
TS: Oh yes. I think the whole — I forget what it’s called — the stimulus thing that they sent everyone a check —
SC: The PPP, I can’t remember.
TS: It seems like — well, the one that went to homeowners, to everybody. Not the PPP, but the one that went to everybody. It seems like a lot of people have used that on home improvements. For a little while there, things were really booming for directly residential customers.
SC: That’s interesting. Are you able to still get out in the field and work projects — maybe not the way you normally would, but in some capacity?
TS: We’re all pretty small crews, three to four people. We see these people so much, they’re almost like family, so we haven’t really worried about COVID inside of our business. All of our crews stay pretty separate. When we’re on the job for homeowners, we rarely interact with them, and when we do, it’s not like — I’m not sure that COVID would ever be a concern when we work for homeowners because we’re just never really around them. We see them for a minute or two a day and go about our business. Half the time we’re wearing PPE anyway. It hasn’t really changed the way we operate at all, really.
SC: That’s great. That’s awesome.
TS: I’m tired of eating lunch in my truck, though. My truck is a mess perpetually because you can’t eat in a restaurant anywhere.
SC: That’s a good point. You have to have tailgate parties on the back of your truck.
TS: Yes. [laughter]
SC: Are you guys doing anything fun, project-wise, that you’d want to share with us? Residential or commercial or otherwise?
TS: We just finished polishing the new basketball arena here on campus at Liberty University. That’s an important one for us. That’s where Landon and I both went to school. That was an important project for us. It was fun to be included on it, and it was — just like every project, the floors come at the end of the project and the whole thing runs behind, so we’re in a hurry at the last minute trying to get it done. It was stressful, but it was fun to be in there working when they’re hanging the scoreboards and stuff, and they’re actually putting the floor down and practicing down on the floor, the basketball floor, while we’re up around the mezzanine polishing concrete. It was a cool environment, something different.
SC: That is very cool. For people who don’t know you, I know you and I have worked together in the past on a few articles, Landon is your co-owner for Decorative Concrete of Virginia, right?
TS: Yes, that’s right.
SC: How’d you guys get hooked up?
TS: We went to high school together. We’ve just known each other forever. He used to have a landscaping business, and he kind of got out of that during the housing crash that I mentioned, like in 2007-ish. We were looking to branch into polished concrete, and it just was a good fit to get him to come help us do that because polished concrete is an animal of its own. You have to have someone that does just that. It’d be hard to switch around doing a lot of different things. He kind of focuses on that side of our business, and I do the coatings side.
SC: I know that you guys have been putting out a lot of — I don't know if education is necessarily the right word — but you’ve been putting out a lot of communications to, it seems like, to help improve the industry. You have your own podcast, I think, still. You are active on the social media platforms. Can you give our listeners an overview of why it is that you guys go above and beyond to put all that information out there and give that information to other contractors and people in the industry?
TS: Yes, sure. When we started, it was hard to learn anything. I think we had to go to Florida to learn how to do the overlays. There wasn’t a lot of information online. We kind of struggled for a long time because we didn’t have anybody to talk to about how to do things. When Twitter came along, a lot other business joined Twitter, and I actually met a handful of other contractors doing things similar to what I’m doing, on Twitter. We always talked back and forth and gave each other ideas and helped each other out and helped each other learn things. That was kind of how we learned everything, was just from other contractors. Like I said, I ended up with that core group of friends that I still talk to regularly in there, and they were just such a huge help to us that it made sense to try help other people down the road.
It’s just nice to help people. It’s just fun to be able to meet new people. We get so many DMs and messages about how to do this or that, that it got exhausting replying one by one. So we decided to make our answers public. We started sharing things on the YouTube channel, we started the podcast to share experiences of what it’s like to be a contractor and all the things we deal with, the good and the bad. It’s just fun to share experiences, and it’s good to help people.
The other self-serving part of that is that it does make selling work easier. All those how-to videos that we make, I post all those on our company website, and our customers obviously see that, and they trust us more when they see us active in a community of other contractors. It just makes it a lot easier selling a job. A couple reasons we do it.
SC: That makes sense. I also — someone just recently said that the whole idea of — oh, what’s that phrase? “A rising tide raises all ships.” And it’s probably this same idea of if you're improving other contractors’ work, or helping them, not necessarily improving them, but it’s potentially improving the industry as well, which is probably also great for the flooring and the concrete world in general.
TS: Yes, it definitely is. There’s this one high-profile project here in Lynchburg that someone else did as just a stained concrete project. They did a really great job. It’s a really fancy, shiny floor. I’ve gotten so much work from that job, where people say, “I really love that floor. Can you do something like that for me?” The more good stuff that people see — because we’re in such a small industry. People are always — some people are real competitive, and they try to not share too much and worry a little bit about competition.
But it’s such a small industry right now that I don’t really think that competition’s a concern. I don’t think that there’s enough people to do the work that’s available. The more good stuff that’s out there, I feel like the more that we’re going to benefit from it. No matter who’s doing the good work, it’s just as long as it’s not —. It could have been a lot worse for us if the person who did that really fancy job here in town, if that job fell apart and looked horrible. That would really have hurt my business, too. We’re kind of all in it together.
SC: That makes complete sense. People aren’t necessarily going to be able to distinguish one contractor from another, if they think the system is failing, if they think that that’s not working and they don’t know that it has to do with maybe the application or what-have-you. That’s a really interesting way to look at it, too.
TS: I couldn’t tell you how many jobs I’ve been on where we go to a homeowner, they have a garage floor, somebody went to Home Depot and bought the cheapest stuff to do this vinyl chip garage floor system, and it’s all peeling up. Now the customer’s skeptical that what we’re going to do is going to end up the same. That’s a constant battle. Seeing both sides of that from the garage floor side, where we’re struggling with this floor that didn’t hold up — everyone sees these floors that aren’t holding up. That part’s a struggle to overcome that, whereas this other really nice job in town, we don’t have that issue because people aren’t wondering, “Hey, is this going to hold up?” because there’s this job in town that gets 10,000 feet on it a day and still looks good.
SC: Sounds like we need to put an article out there that’s speaking to the homeowner, why you shouldn’t coat your own garage.
TS: Yes, I know.
SC: Maybe we can help you guys out there in that area.
TS: Well, it’s okay to do it, you just have to have proper expectations.
SC: Right. Understand it might be you that’s the problem, not the system that’s the problem.
TS: Yes. Right.
SC: You and I have collaborated before on an article about the SeaQuest aquarium that’s in Lynchburg. I just looked it up, it’s in the January 2020 issue of CoatingsPro. I was looking back at the pictures, and I think it’s fascinating how many different colors you can do in epoxy, how you can separate those colors or blend them. It’s just an amazingly beautiful floor you guys did out there. I would imagine that’s something you guys hang your hat on, too.
TS: Oh, definitely. We definitely do. That is one we’re definitely proud of.
SC: Any challenges with epoxy in general or getting something like that to work? I’m still learning about how the metallics lay down within the system itself, the different types of surface prep that you need to consider so that they metallics lay correctly. It’s so interesting.
TS: It is, and there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of ways to do the same thing. It’s not a lot different than most coatings. The floor has to be rough, and then you coat it, and that’s what makes it bond. The issue that we have, we’re always trying to please whoever the owner’s going to be, the end user. The issue we have is what the final coat looks like. On a job like that, when there’s 100 people in the room working, it’s not a conducive environment for a floor that takes 10 hours to dry because any little bit of dust that gets in the air lands in the floor and it’s there forever. That’s the biggest challenge on a project like that, is either going to be shutting the job down and trying to figure out how to control the airflow or setting expectations for the customer and just letting them know that when we’re manufacturing a floor right here on the jobsite in uncontrolled conditions, you're going to see stuff that lands in the floor. Dust and hair, whatever. Just stuff that lands in the floor is going to be there. That’s part of that project, part of that look.
I guess the best thing in those situations, we found, is to do a demo for people, if we can afford it or if we can make it happen, to do a decent size, like 10 x 10 demo. For SeaQuest, we ended up doing probably a 10 x 20 square in the place while the construction was going on. That way, they could actually see what the end use was going to be, what the end product was going to be. There was dust in the air when we did it, and they could see all that grit that showed up in the surface when it was all finished. They were okay with it because they knew they had a timeline and they knew they couldn't shut the building down for two weeks. It didn’t turn out — I’m kind of exaggerating a little bit — to the average person, you wouldn’t even notice this stuff. But do certain customers, they might think it’s a big flaw. That’s just the biggest thing that I have for, to talk epoxy, is just educating the user and letting them know that these are things that can happen, and you just have to deal with it if you want this kind of floor.
SC: I think it’s probably a really good strategy to give them, like you're saying, that real-world look. It’s not like they can get something off of a brochure and expect that it’s going to look like that when you’re — you’re chemists in the field. There’s obviously not going to be perfect — it’s not going to be perfect. Not the floor’s going to be perfect, but I mean the environment itself is not going to be perfect.
TS: Yes, like when you buy hardwood flooring. You can go buy hardwood flooring and it’s all really nice off the shelf at Lowe’s. But if you go to the manufacturer, they have a whole section of what they call seconds, where they’ve gone through it and if it’s got a knot in a weird spot or a blemish in it, they throw that aside and they sell that. They call it seconds, and they sell it for like half price. That’s awesome that they can do that, but we can’t do that. If there’s a blemish on the floor while we’re doing it, it’s there. It’s going to be there, and it’s just part of the process.
SC: That’s a really interesting take on it. We’ve also got — obviously right now, we’re chatting in between two major American holidays, at least. How do the holidays affect you guys? I would have to imagine they could be beneficial as well as challenging. How does that work for you guys in the field?
TS: It seems like customers, any of them, whatever the next holiday is, is always the deadline. They just come up with that’s the deadline.
TS: Yes. I don't know if it’s entirely arbitrary, but it seems like it is sometimes. They deadline for the Liberty arena was around Thanksgiving. Of course, obviously, they had basketball season. That’s a bad example. But this next project we’re coming up to start, we’re getting ready to do, the deadline for that is January 1 for some reason. There’s a thousand people in there. We’re starting that project today, and there’s a thousand people in there, and we’re just fighting to get to where we need to work, all because of this January 1 deadline.
I understand deadlines. I understand that they’re necessary, but it affects the quality of what you're getting when people do that. If t’s not a serious deadline for some specific reason, like basketball season starting, often it affects the quality of everything negatively. That’s something we’re dealing with, though. Every time there’s a holiday. It’s like, “I want it done by Christmas” or “I want it done by New Year’s.” I had two emails today where people want something done at their house by Christmas for some reason.
SC: No pressure.
TS: [laughter] I know, right?
SC: And they want it to look good, obviously.
TS: Well, yes, definitely. They definitely want it to look good. For holidays, too, we have — all our employees have different times off that they want. Some people want off a little bit before Christmas. The week of Thanksgiving’s always hard because that’s hunting season in Virginia, so a lot of our crew wants to take off and hunt. November to December, we’re lucky to get to work at half capacity, it seems, sometimes, just because there’s so much going on all the time.
SC: That makes sense. And then add maybe weather issues on top of all of that, whether it’s just hard for your crew to get to the jobsite because of maybe snow. We’re in the mid-Atlantic, so you probably don’t get as much snow as the guys up in the northern states or Canada, for that matter. It might still affect it.
TS: We just stay home if it snows.
SC: That’s what we do here in Maryland.
TS: People make fun of us but —. It snows, and people don’t understand why we do that. But it snows, and if you just stay home for a day, it’s melted and gone and you can carry on. We don’t take our little two-wheel drive van if it snows for any reason. There’s no good reason to do that for us.
SC: You can wait it out in Virginia.
SC: They can’t do that up north.
TS: No, they can’t. I know. It never thaws up north, once a year, right?
SC: Well, that’s all I have. Do you have anything else you want to share with our listeners before we close up?
TS: I don't think so. It was fun.
SC: Yes, it was nice catching up and chatting and hearing what’s going on in the field. Obviously, happy holidays to you and your family and crew and everyone out there. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today.
TS: Thanks for having me. Merry Christmas to you, too.
SC: Oh wait, Tim. Before we go, if people do want to follow up with you with any questions or reach to you about your social media or those things that we just talked about, where do you want them to go for that?
TS: My website is www.decorativeconcreteofvirginia.com. You can find me anywhere on Instagram or Twitter or whatever. It’s @TimDCVA, that’s how you can find me pretty much everywhere.
SC: Thanks again. Appreciate it. Have a good one.