Matthew Koerner, who recently sold his epoxy flooring contracting business (Manhattan Concrete Systems), recently joined our podcast to discuss conditions in the industry. Koerner is starting his own selling and distribution business for coatings and equipment, and he shares lessons learned from his extensive time in the field. See below for a complete transcript.
Ben DuBose: Matt, good afternoon. Welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Matthew Koerner: Hey, doing good today, thanks.
BD: For anyone who doesn’t know your story — because I know you’ve recently transitioned as far as companies — tell folks a little bit more about your background in the industry. For example, I know you started with epoxy flooring. How did you get into that over the years, and what are you doing now?
MK: I started my business in New York City in 2010. I was fairly young, about 23, 24 years old. Started this business small, just me and one guy, doing some decorative concrete floors, some epoxy coatings. It was a trendy thing at the time, and it kind of just took off from there.
BD: What companies have you been involved in? I know that recently switched up for you, but what was the name of the company that you started? And then what was your recent transition?
MK: The company I started was Manhattan Concrete Design. I worked at this for several years, growing this company and grew this company from one guy to many. Recently sold this company to one of the largest flooring installers in the United States. The name of the company now is Manhattan Concrete Systems.
BD: What are you doing now that you’ve sold the company? What’s your new focus in 2021?
MK: I’m still staying in the industry. I’m just not going to be doing the installs anymore. I’m opening more of a brick-and-mortar store right outside of New York City in New Jersey. I’m going to be selling all of the equipment, tooling, supplies, a full line of epoxy coatings —
BD: Do you have a name for it yet?
MK: — to all the guys in my industry. We’re also going to be doing some machine rentals, so hopefully I can help out some of the new guys get going. I’m actually operating under the name of the manufacturer that I’ll be selling all of their materials and equipment. It’s Xtreme Polishing Systems. They have a pretty big name in the industry. They manufacture and private label basically everything that you would need to be in this business. I’ve been doing business with them for years, and I’ve become real good friends with those guys over there. It was a real easy deal for us to make to open the store and sell all of their products up here.
BD: What was your motivation to change? I know when you were with what’s now Manhattan Concrete Systems, you had a lot of success. I’m reading your bio. You covered more than 25 floors of One World Trade Center, as far as an example of the work that you’ve done. What was your motivation to go from running a floor contracting company to now being on the selling and distribution side?
MK: This install business, I have to say, is quite a bit of work. I think my market is a little special, being in Manhattan. It was a day and night business. The work was mostly done at night in these office buildings. These grinding machines are loud. We had to work after hours around the offices. I was running jobs all night, and then I was working in the office during the day. I was basically in this by myself. I was, I don’t want to say overwhelmed, but it was a lot of work running a company like this by myself. As we grew, it became a lot. It was attractive to me to sell my company to a larger company that had the infrastructure to really grow it. It just made sense like that. I did stick around with them quite a while, running things for them, kind of trained some of their people on what we do and got things running pretty smoothly to where I didn’t really need to be anymore. Recently, I was able to step away and start this new thing.
BD: I think that’s a pretty cool story as far as your transition in the industry. Certainly, if you have expertise on one side, it can help you on the other as well, so I know you’re well positioned for success.
MK: I’m really excited about this new thing. Just being that I’ve been there, done that as an installer. I feel like I can add a lot of value to my new customers.
BD: Absolutely. As far as the year 2021, I’m just going to ask you broadly about the industry at large. It’s a year of transition in a lot of fronts, I feel like, but certainly the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the months progress, hopefully vaccinations will ramp up. What are the factors that you’re watching this year from a business perspective as far as success for coatings installers, what they need, what the general business landscape is like? What’s your outlook for 2021?
MK: It’s hard to say. It’s something that’s never happened before. I see other installers adding a COVID surcharge to their install prices to cover the lost time with the safety equipment or the cost of the safety equipment. I don’t really see that going away. Within my industry, the concrete polishing and the epoxy floors, I think there’s still going to be a lot of opportunity. People going away from carpet and going away from these other surfaces that aren’t so easily cleaned. The seamless flooring is very attractive right now. I think there’ll definitely be opportunity out there. As these businesses change their way of doing business and have to redesign the way they operate, I think there’s going to be some opportunity coming once everyone gets going again.
BD: I agree. I think a few months from now, it could be really exciting. Let’s switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about your relationship with CoatingsPro. As I mentioned earlier, you’re part of our Editorial Advisory Group. You also vote on the Contractor Awards. Why do you see — I don’t know if giving back is the right way to phrase it, but certainly taking on extracurricular interests, being a part of an industry publication like CoatingsPro — what do you get out of that? Why is that a worthwhile time commitment for you? And how has that helped you in your career?
MK: I kind of just like to meet new people. I always say it’s all about who you know. The more people I can meet in the industry, the better. It’s just nice to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry as much as you can. I looked at it as an opportunity to meet new people, get my name out there, and it was kind of fun.
BD: I would think so. One of the things that I’ve noticed — anecdotally, being a staff member for CoatingsPro, over the years — the Contractor Awards Program, which we’re going to be naming those in the coming weeks, that’s something that’s really evolved well over the past few years in terms of the quality of submissions, the folks around the entire domestic and sometimes international industry that you see contributing to this. What were your thoughts on the projects for the 2021 program that you looked at? Was it a pretty good year as far as the Awards Program and the quality of submissions?
MK: Yes, there was a little bit of everything in there and some pretty impressive projects, really. You see some of these massive projects going on around the world, and you don’t really get any details or really even take the time to think about what goes into some of these big projects. It was kind of cool to see the detail and the planning and everything that went into some of these larger projects, just as far as doing a coating, let alone the whole project.
BD: Definitely. As we wind down with Matt Koerner, member of our CoatingsPro Editorial Advisory Group and now starting his own selling and distribution company in New York, I want to ask you a few rapid-fire personal questions. We started doing this with our guests on the CoatingsPro Interview Series just to get a little more personal and let our listeners learn a little bit more about them, a part of “virtual networking,” if you will. When I ask you these things, your answers can be related to the industry. They can also be related to something else on your personal time. I’ll start with this: What’s one of your biggest pet peeves?
MK: In the industry? Huge pet peeve in my industry. Our clients always say, “We’re ready. Come do our floor.” We get there and there’s stuff all over the floor. They are not ready.
BD: I imagine that happens a lot.
MK: Right. And I’m talking stuff that can’t be moved. Stacks of sheetrock and skids of bricks.
BD: Again, it can be industry, it can be otherwise, but who’s someone that you consider a mentor for you? I know you got in this industry fairly young. Is there someone that was a guidance force for you when you were just getting started?
MK: Definitely several. All of my vendors really stepped up. I was brutally honest with them, and they really stepped up to help me get up to speed and get some of these jobs done. But there’s definitely one guy, my guy Rodney. He was working for CMP at the time. They make a self-leveling cement. He really went above and beyond for me. He had been there, done that as an installer previously and was now working for this cement company. He went above and beyond for me with business advice and helping me with other products that weren’t his. I still talk to him frequently, and I definitely look up to Rodney as a mentor. Really all of my vendors stepped up and helped me get where I am.
BD: I was telling you offline, before we started recording, as far as our schedule, we were going to get you in at some point. But this week it made a lot of sense because a lot of the guests that we were considering for this week were completely unavailable because the winter weather in the South, especially Texas, took a lot of people off the grid this week entirely. You come at it from a different perspective. Certainly, winter weather does not phase you living in New York. What’s different when you talk to other contractors, other people in the industry around the country? What’s different about doing what you do in or near a huge city on the East Coast?
MK: Right. My market was definitely special. Ninety-nine percent of my work was in midtown or downtown Manhattan, where there basically is no parking, traffic like crazy, we’re taking all of our stuff up and down elevators. We had to pack our materials on elevator-sized skids. Your guys can’t drive to work. Everyone takes public transit. There’s no work truck at the job, so when we’re loading up jobs, we really needed to make sure that we took everything we needed for that job from start to finish, day one, and drop it off so our guys can do the job. Then you’ve got one more shot to get your stuff out of that building because they’ll give you an elevator for about an hour to get your stuff in and out, and that’s it. Some of these buildings are really busy, and you’ll be waiting in line for that freight elevator for hours. That’s kind of special, just the logistics of working in Manhattan. These buildings have a lot of rules.
BD: I can imagine. Matt, before we close up. Any advice for our contractors listening that we haven’t already touched on? How can people get in touch with you if they want more info from you or they want to learn more about your new business?
MK: Advice for the industry is tough. I feel like I was brutally honest with everybody when I didn’t know what I was doing or when I did know what I was doing or if we were late to finish a job and why. I found that being brutally honest to everybody kept things simple. If anyone would like to get a hold of me, if you just plug my name into Google, I’m sure you’ll find my cell phone number. You can also look up Xtreme Polishing Systems. I’ll have the store, Xtreme Polishing Systems New York City, and you can get a hold of me that way. LinkedIn. Instagram. Nowadays it’s not hard to find me online.
BD: That sounds good.
MK: Anybody in the industry that has a question, need anything, that’s basically why I’m doing this now, because I’ve been there and done that. I’m real confident that I could help a lot of guys in the industry. I know what it takes here in our business. It is a tough business, day and night. I’m just here to make it happen for the other guys.
BD: I think that’s — you’re potentially a great resource for them, and I’m sure people will appreciate you throwing that out.