The last few years have been an interesting (to put it kindly) business cycle with a lot of pain for many companies. I had an opportunity to speak with Paul Koury, founder and president of Westcoat Specialty Coating Systems, in early December to ask him for success tips that contractors could mull over during the holiday season. Not only has Westcoat survived and advanced over the last few years, but Paul has unique insights in that he also owns Life Deck Coating Installations which installs decorative concrete coatings and waterproof deck systems in the San Diego area.


Jim: Paul, you note that most people in sales and management don’t plan enough (though they won’t admit it). What types of plans are there and how does one make a plan?

Paul: First, pinpoint your strengths and build a strategy that complements what the company is best at. This is the easy part. Next, challenge yourself and admit your weaknesses. Many mistakes start with not having a plan. On a typical Friday, you can ask many contractors what they are doing next week and they don’t know. Contractors need to set time aside on a weekly basis to plan what they are going to do next week and follow up on what has happened in the current week.

Schedule a time with yourself for planning. It can’t be “I’ll plan when I get the time.” I suggest allowing a minimum of 1-3 hours per week for planning.

Jim: You talk about different types of planning, please explain.

Paul: Both short and long term plans are necessary. This should include a weekly plan, a quarterly organization and planning review and finally an annual review. “How did I do this year, what do I need to do differently next year?”

Short and longer term plans have different goals. Weekly planning is more tactical with a focus on what is immediately at hand. Quarterly planning looks out a little farther featuring short term goals. Annual planning looks at the whole picture of the company including sales objectives, net profit and marketing return on investment.


Jim: Paul I can see some eyes rolling when we talk about all this planning.

Paul: Yes. In the decorative concrete industry most contractors are builders and artisans - they are not planners. We all need to assess what we are good at and what we are not good at. We need to either force ourselves to improve in our weak areas or get help in that area from an outside source. Personally, I naturally want to jump right in and attack a problem. I am not an exceptional organizer or planner, so I surround myself with organizers and planners.

Editor’s note: While Koury says he is not a planner, he is a work in progress. Koury has read approximately 50 books on management and sales over the span of his career! So I think he is working hard at improving.

Jim: You talk about the value of having a mentor.

Paul: Most small businesses need a mentor. My mentor was Don Kramer, co-founder of Pacific Pebbles in 1991 (Pacific Pebbles evolved into Life Deck Installations). Don taught me some basics like how to write a letter, how to organize a file, and other administrative tasks plus some valuable sales and marketing insights. I excelled on technical issues and was a hustler. I’m proud of the fact that since I was an installer I can talk to contractors using our products and be a mentor to them. Also, I noticed that of the contractors that have closed during the recession, most had a weakness in the financial and/or organizational administrative arena. These are concrete guys, not managers. If they had received more support in these important areas of business perhaps they still would be in business today.

Running Your Business

Jim: In building a team, how do you get the best out of people?

Paul: Create a work environment that people want to work in. You do that by listening to them, letting them know they make a difference (and meaning it), and paying them fairly. I also work hard to challenge people, have open communication and be available at all times when issues come up.

In addition, provide employees with clear instructions and job descriptions. Communication is not all one-sided, you can learn from your employees.

Finally, organize in teams that work. People can individually be a good employee but not work well together. You have to remove people who are not team players.

Jim: What about sales tips?

Paul: Many contractors get as far as getting their name out there: yard signs, advertising on the Internet or in print, etc. But only a few get set up to take the phone calls and tend to the prospects that call in response to advertising and marketing efforts. Return your phone calls in an hour. Someone in the company needs to be assigned the job of personally answering the phone and turn sales leads into action. I had estimators and renamed them salespeople so they knew they needed to sell.

Jim: You have mentioned that sometimes contractor advertising can be confusing, please elaborate.

Paul: Market what you want your potential customers to order. If you do concrete floors, feature your best concrete floor projects in your advertising. Photography should clearly show what you do and what you are advertising. Learn how to market from the big boys. Watch football on a Sunday and check out the commercials. GMC tells you exactly the style and model of truck you should buy.

Jim: To finish up, Paul, you mentioned something very interesting about managing emotions as a business owner. Please elaborate.

Paul: The key to managing emotions, especially during times of crisis, is to think slow. If there is a fire, yes, grab the hose and put out the fire but aim to put more thought into solving problems rather than just shooting off a quick answer.

When possible, carefully consider the problem and put the best brains on it. One time, I remember asking Byron Klemaske of T.B Penick a question about the best time to saw cut a 5 inch slab. He said it depended: if the slab was cut in the afternoon of the pour, the concrete might chip along the cut line, and if the slab was cut the next morning the slab might crack before you cut it. So it depends what your goals are and what you can live with.

Good answers often start with “it depends”.

Westcoat Specialty Coating Systems