By Alicia Cunningham | Aug 13, 2017
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Artisan concrete
Just a few years ago, everything about Sandoval signaled that he was just a pilot. Everything, that is, except for his pedigree.
"I'm a third-generation concrete mason," Sandoval admits, and it was this experience he reached back to during the recession.
"There was just not much movement for me as a pilot," he says, "but there were projects that needed to be done on our rental properties. I started doing these projects, took a few additional classes, and decided this was something I wanted to do."
Sandoval's initial investment -- a building, tools, equipment, materials -- was a true leap of faith. "I was all in," he recollects. "But I had no idea how I was going to pay the rent the next month. I got a job -- a fire pit -- and that paid the rent. And one job turned into two and then three."
Timing was also kind to Sandoval. He started WhiteStone Concrete Design right when other concrete masons, beat up from the recession, were getting out. "The economy flushed a lot of businesses out," Sandoval explains. "By the time I got in, there were only two or three businesses left doing artisan concrete design. Everyone else was just doing it on the side and struggling."
That struggle could possibly be blamed on their technique and the limitations of the industry up to that point, Sandoval notes. "Concrete is too difficult to master in order to stay on the side. By only taking on an occasional project, contractors are not keeping up with the innovations which have occurred in the industry."
And lack of practice leads to costly errors, Sandoval adds. "Some people enter the industry thinking it will be easy, only to find out the mistakes they made in the beginning catches up with them. It snowballs. You have to go back and redo $100,000 worth of work, and it ruins them. They cannot absorb the losses."
He continues, "Things happen: You can use a bad sealer, the concrete cracks, or there is an installation problem. For three years, I had to put everything back into my business. I did not take a paycheck. I put everything into my training, equipment, techniques, quality control, and employees with the goal of having the best product in Salt Lake City."
Artisan concrete remains an emerging market. "I would say the real industry, where the capabilities are today, is only 15 years old," Sandoval says. "If you're not innovating, you're falling behind. For awhile, concrete had a bad reputation here in Salt Lake City because it was not being done the right way. I came in with a better understanding, because of the work I had done with my father and grandfather, but I was also willing to put in the money for the right technology and time to learn how to do these projects right."
And that's where being a pilot helped Sandoval lift this company off. Sandoval travelled around the country to work with other artisans. "My mentors were people like Buddy Rhodes, Jon Schuler, Jeremy French, and Cody Carpenter. I would travel and train with them, take classes from them, work on project with them. They really helped me directly."
Today, WhiteStone Concrete Design is growing, an oddity in its field. "I've heard that 95 percent of businesses who try to specialize in artisan concrete fail or move to something else," Sandoval says. "But we're just getting started. We're constantly learning new finishing techniques. We're putting everything we can back into innovating and growing this business."
Challenges: The fickle nature of concrete. "It never acts the same way," Sandoval explains. The finished product depends on the temperature, season, and humidity. "You have to do it all day, every day, in order to understand everything about it. And it can be a challenge, but that challenge can be mitigated through experience."
Opportunities: New products with Salt Lake City-based 3form. "We're excited about launching it," Sandoval says. "We are also developing a new line of products on our website." The new line will give WhiteStone Concrete Design options Sandoval did not even dream of years ago. "People can go to a website, point, click, pick out some colors, and we manufacture and ship it. We don't have to do the field consulting, measures, or install. And we can serve much larger markets." WhiteStone Concrete Design can also accommodate large-scale projects such as restaurants and hotels.
Needs: Talent. "We are not a common trade," Sandoval says. "Training requires a lot of time and money. We are currently looking to find the right people to grow our company."