Concrete Curbing Offers Opportunities

If you're like many in the landscape business, just trying to keep your doors open has been a challenge these last few years. With fewer new homes being built and many of your former clients who have either cut back on spending for landscaping or lost their homes entirely, you’ve been busy just trying to stay afloat.

You haven’t had time to think about growing your business.

But you’re a survivor, and you’ve learned to become leaner and more versatile. Now, with positive signs of an improving economy, it may be time to think about what other areas you might explore to help grow your business. What additional revenue streams should you look into?

You just might want to consider concrete curbing. If you look over the properties that you service, you’ll see that many of your clients could use concrete curbs or borders. After all, you already have a good base of clients, so why not start there?

You might also find that other contractors who don’t offer the service may use you for their curbing jobs.

Concrete curbing can be that additional revenue stream, with very little cost. Many of the tools needed for the job, other than a curbing machine, are probably already in your truck or trailer. So with a minimum investment for the piece of equipment, you could be ready to go. And with an average 60 percent gross profit, you should be able to pay off that investment in a relatively short period of time.

You may also want to look into possibly buying a franchise for curbing. Franchising is gaining favor in our markets, because it has a proven track record of success. Though your investment will be higher, you will be buying a turn-key operation.

But more than an additional revenue stream, is there a demand for curbing? We think so. More importantly, can we fill our customers’ needs and satisfy them?

Since concrete curbing was introduced almost 30 years ago, quite a bit has changed. It used to be just a concrete block, possibly with a little color added. Now, with a little imagination, concrete borders can enhance almost any landscape. You can control the shape and contours of the edge. In addition, concrete provides permanence—it won’t rot or decay.

“For any person who wants to control their own destiny and be an entrepreneur, this is a great business to be in,” said Patrick Roach of Borderline Stamp in Peoria, Arizona, who introduced concrete curbing to the U.S. in 1982.

Chad Hames agrees. He started his curbing business, Hames Enterprises, in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois in 2008, after seeing a machine at a trade show. “I realized that there was not much like this in my neck of the woods; I saw a real potential for growth. I’d always wanted to start my own business,” Hames said. He’d been working for a number of years as a regional sales manager for a pool and spa company, but wanted to get off the road and settle down after getting married. Despite a slow economy, Hames managed to grow his company, and adds, “To me, the product nearly sells itself.”

Concrete curbing is a small job with big rewards. The preparation is relatively easy. Use your sod cutter to simply remove the sod and one inch of topsoil from the area where you’re planning to build the curb. No cumbersome equipment needed here, only a curbing machine, a wheelbarrow and cement mix.

The cement is actually mixed on the street, so you won’t have to haul heavy equipment onto your customer’s yard; there is no need for deep excavation or disturbance of the existing landscape, either.

Start-up costs vary, but you can purchase a basic curbing machine for about $3,000, or you can buy a package, which includes the curbing machine, sod cutter/bed edger, and concrete mixer. If you go the franchising route, those packages range from $9,000 up to $40,000. However, these packages include everything you need to start your curbing business, even your own website and Internet advertising. Many of the curbing machine manufacturers also offer training.

Once you have the equipment and the proper training, concrete curbing can be extremely profitable.

Curbing is quick and efficient; a two man crew can do an average of 400 feet in one day.

With concrete curbing, you have the opportunity to offer your customers something that other landscape contractors don’t—and it’s not that difficult to up-sell. Whether they want to be the first on the block with new curbing, or they want to follow the trend, you should have no trouble convincing your clients of the benefits.

Curbing machines put out a continuous flow of concrete, so it can follow any contour. In the past, homeowners were limited to either a yard with all straight edges or the frustration of trying to lay bricks or plastic in a curve. But with concrete, they can now have smooth-flowing, more natural-looking curbs to line their driveways and walkways and to showcase the flowerbeds.

Concrete curbing is completely customizable, so the design possibilities are endless. Almost any landscape design can be achieved, and there seems to be no end in sight. The add-ons, however, are what make curbing stand out, and what will add greatly to your profits.

With decorative add-ons, you can offer your customer nearly any design they want. Color can be added to the concrete for added interest in almost any shade imaginable. There are stamp designs that can mimic the look of brick, cobblestone, wood , a n d many different types of rock. You can also add mold attachments to your machine to produce a variety of shapes.

Piping can also be included in concrete curbing, to work in conjunction with the irrigation system. And if you want to sell your customer on drama, then curbing with lights is the way to go.

Low-voltage lighting in the curbing provides a bright, but indirect light that shines on the landscape and casts shadows that not only showcase the home, but create an elegant and serene atmosphere perfect for outdoor entertaining at night.

James Adams, who operates All American Kwik Kerb and Landscapes in The Villages, Florida, says he couldn’t imagine not doing both landscaping and concrete curbing. He started his curbing business as a stand-alone, but often found that he was doing a lot of the prep work for other landscape contractors in his area. Eventually, he decided to add landscaping to his business mix and now, they are about equal, in terms of bringing in income.

Concrete work used to be a problem in the colder climates, but with the advances in technology, it isn’t anymore. Polymer additives, along with pea gravel or cables for support, can now prevent the heaving and cracking that used to discourage curbing in colder weather. With the proper training and know-how, you can curb well into the winter months, ensuring year-round work.

Chad Livingston, owner of A Better Edge in Colorado Springs, Colorado, experimented with getting the right mix for the drier, colder high-desert climate of Colorado. He tried finer sand in the mix, but that didn’t hold up well in the first freeze/thaw cycle. Livingston finally found success with coarser sand and additives.

After his experience, he says that the best thing to do is to go to a concrete ready-mix plant in your area and speak with one of the engineers. “They’ll explain what they do and how to acclimate to the conditions of the area,” says Livingston. “That would have given me a leg up if I’d done that first.”

Landscaping is a good investment for any home. It almost always pays for itself in higher resale value. According to Money magazine, the recovery value on landscape investments is between 100 and 200 percent, more than any other home improvement. Concrete curbing fits the bill like no other edging material can.

The National Association of Realtors reports that at least 20 percent of home buyers base their decisions on curb appeal and landscaping. So it’s important for homeowners who may someday want to sell their homes to have a landscape that is beautiful and unique.

Just as importantly, while your client is still living in their home they can enjoy all the benefits of a beautiful landscape.

There doesn’t appear to be any downside to concrete curbing. It’s a relatively inexpensive start-up, and can be an excellent added service to your existing landscape business. The product itself is unique and doesn’t have to be repaired, replaced, or refurbished often. The work is not limited by climate, is a viable option no matter where your business is located, and doesn’t seem to be affected by the recent economic recession.