Earl Choate is the founder and CEO of Concrete Camouflage, a company that manufactures concrete acid stain, concrete sealer, and concrete floor wax, along with related cleaning products and tools. The company offers three grades of products depending on the customer’s need and budget. “We didn’t get into this because we want to become super-rich,”Choate said. “We got into it because we are passionate about what we do and we want to be the best forever.”
Why did you start the business?
I owned a contracting company. We did decorative concrete, stamped and stenciled, back when that was just catching on. Then, we started acid staining when it was really in its infant stages. There weren’t many options available and the products that were available weren’t as user-friendly or as consistent as we would have liked. The quality just wasn’t there. So, we started creating our own acid stains. We weren’t happy with the sealers at the time, so we started working on that. And then, of course, the floor wax. What we developed was awesome. It was a quality product. We had more than twice the number of colors generally available at the time. It was very user-friendly. As a contractor, labor is your biggest expense. What we made meant we could spend less money on labor and have less people on the crew for each job, which increased our profit. We realized that we had a product that was so much better than what was on the market. We decided we couldn’t keep it to ourselves – We wanted to share it with the world.
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How did you get the money to start the business?
We sold the contracting company and used that to start Concrete Camouflage. Most people can’t sell contracting companies because they are not difficult to start on their own, but we had such a good reputation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that we were able to sell it. I did do a couple jobs here and there to bring in some extra money to help supplement my income for my family, since all of the money from the sale went into founding Concrete Camouflage.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
In the beginning, we decided that rather than manufacturing and bottling and labeling ourselves, we would hire a company to private-label our products for us. That was the biggest mistake we made, because in the interest of them increasing their profit margin, they would use cheaper raw materials and cut corners. That hurt the quality of our product. We brought it back in-house so we could be in complete control.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
E-commerce was the smartest thing we did. We started back in the ‘90s before e-commerce took off. Back then, you had a business and you sold to contractors and lumberyards and anybody riding up and down the street who you could shout at. We decided that the World Wide Web might have something going for it. We created a website with the products on it and educational material. We had to educate the public on what the product was and how to use it to achieve awesome results. We were positioned in the right place at the right time as e-commerce blew up.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
We don’t do credit. We don’t offer credit to customers and we don’t use credit from vendors. When we make our orders, we pay for our products. When we make a sale, our customer pays for it when they pick it up. We own all of our inventory, so all the money we have in the bank is our cash. That makes it really simple for us. We can tell when we are making money and when things are slowing down. Sometimes we don’t get contractors because of that, but it makes it pretty easy for us.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
The most challenging thing is growth. If you grow too slowly, you risk stagnating. You also risk letting your competitors surpass you. If you grow too quickly, that could directly affect the quality of your product, your packaging, your customer service, everything. The most challenging thing is maintaining consistent, manageable growth, because the company tends to want to blow up and get ahead of itself. We spend a lot of time pulling back on the reins, because Concrete Camouflage is about quality first.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
The most rewarding thing is being able to be creative and also inspiring. Our products are created by nature. Applying them is an artistic process. Anyone can do it and everyone gets unique colors. I’m a creative person and I like being able to share that with people.
A famous quote said a great person is great because they inspire other people to believe that they, too, can be great. It’s not only inspiring people within Concrete Camouflage to be the best they can be, but it’s inspiring contractors to be able to do amazing work and create amazing pieces of art. Even a do-it-yourselfer can do things they would never believe they could be able to do.
What advice would you give a new entrepreneur?
Always run the numbers on everything, big and small. We think things make sense in our minds, but it might not always make sense in the numbers. Run the numbers on doing it this way, on doing it that way, and on doing it a way that doesn’t make sense, because, a lot of times, you’ll be surprised. We do that on everything we do, for every product, every price, and every way we think about doing things. We let the numbers tell us what’s the wisest course of action.
What’s next for Concrete Camouflage?
We are focusing on coming out with some new products to add to the lineup. We have a new sealer that is waterproof for concrete countertops and showers. We also have a wood sealer that we created by accident. You can put it on house paint that’s faded. It keeps the dust and mold off and keeps it looking brand new. We’re also focused on growth. We want to capture more of the market share.
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