Suppliers Endorse Staff Education


Attendees of a training event at The Stamp Store in Oklahoma City watch as Castle Stone mats from Brickform are laid out on a slab.
Photos courtesy of The Stamp Store

Doug Bannister of The Stamp Store, in Oklahoma City, describes one of his key employees. "He's been with me for five years. He's one of my leading tech people and a good trainer."

Whatever drew Bannister's attention to the kid at the interview, it wasn't his resume. "He was a 19-year-old manager of a pizza restaurant," says Bannister.

The fact that this particular employee came from so far outside the concrete industry, or even construction, was an important selling point rather than a drawback. Bannister's hiring strategy is, in fact, to avoid the sins of too much experience.

"I've learned that when someone has a great deal of concrete experience, they tend to not be as willing to do things differently," he says. "There are too many of them out there who'll tell you, ‘I've been doing it like this for 20 years.' Well, they may have been doing it wrong for 20 years."

Bannister, like many leading distributors of decorative concrete products, believes that assuming employees and customers need education - and providing it for them - is an essential part of doing business.

The promoter Training is also an integral part of business for Bart Sacco, president of Concrete Texturing Tool & Supply, in the Scranton, Pa., area. He built his own in-house training center with a classroom and an exterior concrete slab for hands-on experience. He educates contractors here and teaches occasional classes at area colleges and vocational centers.

But it's not just customers who attend his sessions. "I encourage my own people to show up whenever possible," he says. "When your staff is fully acclimated to the latest products and technologies, they can relay that information to anyone."

Ken Heitzmann, president of Decorative Concrete Systems in Oregon, is similarly committed to education - though he's had to scale back on account of the economy.

"We deal with so many manufacturers that we're in constant need of training," he says. "So we've got events scheduled for November, December and January."

At a course hosted by The Stamp Store, a sink
blockout is leveled to match forms.

Heitzmann's training events are booked for the supply houses that make up his customer base, the contractors served by the supply houses and a few of his own salespeople. He rents meeting space in a centralized location in the Pacific Northwest and invites manufacturers' reps to present the latest products and processes to groups that have numbered as many as 450 people through the years.

"I'm just the promoter," he says modestly. "I bring it all together."

As a presentation tool, Heitzmann also produces several brief (3-to-5-minute) DVDs, each of which shows a single decorative process start to finish. After the events, he'll market the DVDs to his supply-store customer base.

In Heitzmann's view, the need for industry training will only grow. "We've spent the last 10 or 15 years putting jobs out there," he observes. "We'll be spending the next 15 years learning about maintaining them."

Getting into training
When it comes to teaching the right way to do decorative concrete, Bannister knows what he's talking about. He noticed a lack of genuine contractor training way back in the mid-1990s and made the most of it.

"There was very little being offered, and one of the few programs that was out there was more of a sales pitch," he recalls.

So he started offering his own courses in stamping, staining, countertop overlays and other products and techniques. "I'd take on 12 contractors at a time, a total of 1,100 in all through the years. They came from all across the country, all over the world. From India, China, Egypt, Brazil, the Philippines, New Zealand. They'd go out with our crews and spend days watching and learning."

At an enCounter countertop class at The Stamp Store, students watch as the instructor pops epoxy bubbles with a
heat gun.

Or more to the point, watching and doing. The hands-on component was key. "People really got dirty. They'd be stamping with a powder release and end up falling into the concrete. But that was okay. They all learned by their mistakes."

That's the critical component of any effective training program, whether it's geared toward your contractor customers or your own employees: Let them learn it by doing it.

Which brings to mind an old Chinese proverb: "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand."

In 2002, Doug Bannister closed down his contractor business to focus on The Stamp Store and new products he's been developing. If you haven't met him yet, you'll get your chance when you visit the Concrete Decor Show & Decorative Concrete Spring Training in Phoenix, Ariz., this March.

"It's all about decorative," says Bannister, who'll be a trainer at the event. "There will be plenty of information, lots of chances to network, experts everywhere. Anytime creative people get together, you can't help but learn something."

You can kick-start your own learning initiative by bringing your key people and attending the Concrete Decor Show in Phoenix. For details and to register, visit...