Next in our Hindsight series is Barbara Sargent, president and owner of Kemiko Concrete Products in Leonard, Texas. Kemiko's acid stains and sealers have been used by architects, builders, designers and specifiers for over 75 years. Since 1930, the company has offered a product line of quality stains, sealers and architectural coatings known for their color reliability and permanence.

In 1956, Kemiko stains were used on the exterior concrete walls of the famous Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, where through sub-zero winters and summer sun, Kemiko Concrete Stains have provided permanent, maintenance-free color. The lodge looks as beautiful today as it did in 1956.

Here are Sargents Hindsight tips:

1. Marketing
Proving that you don't have to be in a major metroplex to be successful, Sargent has taken Kemiko to the next level, all from the little town of Leonard, Texas. Back in 1989, when she started Kemiko Concrete Stains, Sargent says she promoted the products to the Dallas residential market before expanding throughout Texas and eventually nationally.

"I knew concrete stain had been used in major commercial venues to great success, and in error I thought stained concrete would be a good product for low-income housing," she explains. "The market, however, had other ideas, and in the late 80's," Sargent says "high-end builders were drawn to the material, touting its beauty and economic values."

"Then, three out of five Parade of Home Shows started using Kemiko, and it jumped to the top of the residential world," she adds, noting that from there people with expendable incomes were using it for its inherent beauty, low maintenance and lack of allergens. She also promoted the product for upscale retirement homes, where wheelchair accessibility often came into play.

"Times changed things," Sargent notes. "I was fortunate to pursue an opening when I did in the decorative concrete residential world."

2. Dealers
Today, Sargent works with dealers across the nation, as well as in Canada and the Caribbean. But things weren't always this way. Sargent explains, "I'm extremely particular about Kemiko representation. I like our dealers to be hands on and take their customers all the way through the proper application and maintenance process from A to Z.

With 127 current dealers, all of whom Sargent says are very tuned into their customers, the end goal is about the quality of service provided. "It's difficult in today's world," she admits of the service standards she looks for in a dealer. "If customer satisfaction is not met, your product line will never have a chance to shine."

3. Business Etiquette
"I may be beating a philosophy to death, but I have to go back to what I believe are the basics of business," Sargent explains. "They're so simple that one might think they're old-fashioned, however, I believe in today's fast paced, automated world, these basic concepts of good business practice are more important to a company's success than ever before. Why does our office hear this phrase so often? Thank you for your timely response, how refreshing! It makes one think some common courtesies may be forgotten in today's workplace.

4. Trade shows
Sargent says she's always recognized the value of trade shows, and she strives to attend every major trade show, in the process reaching a variety of markets and audiences.

But it goes beyond just attending a trade show. "You can't just stand there and hand out brochures," she explains. "You have to connect with people and make them remember you and you must remember them as well. If you can, make personal connections at trade shows."

After the show, Sargent recommends immediate follow up. "It would be better, in my opinion, not to exhibit in a trade show unless you are committed to a complete and thorough follow through."

5. Training
"So many people are entering the decorative concrete world, and if they are not trained well they can put a black mark on the industry," observes Sargent. That's why she says she brings in Bob Harris for all of her training workshops, which he has been teaching since 2005 through the Decorative Concrete Institute.

Adding that she prefers to align herself with like-minded professionals in the industry, Sargent says she likes to support what she calls the front runners, such as Harris.

6. Employees
Sargent says a wise mentor once told her to picture her company as a boat. "You have a crew and you need everyone to row together," she explains. "But if someone rocks the boat, you let them go quickly and with more than fair salary. You make a quick adjustment and get back on course.

Among other qualities Sargent says she has learned to look for in her employees are compassion (especially towards customers), good manners, follow through, and no fear of mistakes. "Mistakes are just a learning curve," she adds. "At the end of the day, I like a staff that takes pride in what they do. Courtesy is both recognized and appreciated."

7. Impressions
Sargent recommends providing a good first impression to all customers.

And the impressions dont stop once you get the job. She also recommends ensuring any crew you leave behind on the job site represents you and your company well, because whether they are your crew or a sub crew, there is no difference to the customer.

Sargent is adamant about following up with customers and assuring they are completely satisfied. She says, "If you do not correct that one percent flaw at the end of a project, your customer will not recommend your service and you may very well lose the referrals you would otherwise have gained."

8. Preparation
"Expect the unexpected," according to Sargent. "Be prepared with backup equipment, because you never know what you're going to encounter," she advises, adding that "that goes double for safety equipment.

Another way to avoid the unexpected is to educate your customers, which Sargent also highly recommends. "Let them know concrete's not perfect," she says.

9. Just say no
She's also a believer in saying no.

"Learn to say no when a job isn't for you," Sargent comments. "When you're first starting out in business, you may have a tendency to chase any job, but eventually you will learn when a job is not right for you."

10. The name game
The last recommendation from Sargent is also one that many contractors don't adhere to. "Tell what you do in your company name," she explains. "It's easier for customers to find you if you incorporate what you do into your company name.

While Sargent's tips could certainly apply to any industry, following them is clearly in the best interests of any decorative concrete contractor.

Success Tips From Barbara Sargent

Read other articles in the Hindsight Series.