Curb Appeal: Decorative Concrete Curbing
|By ELIZABETH LEXAU|
Decorative concrete curbing is coming soon to a neighborhood near you! And when it does, it will be in high demand as the edging of choice in commercial and residential landscaping. That has already happened in some parts of the country, and the trend is now popping up everywhere and spreading fast.
This is why a growing number of landscape contractors are adding concrete curbing to their list of services – with hugely successful results.
“There is an enormous market potential in this industry,” says Patrick Roach of Borderline Stamp USA in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Roach introduced the first curbing machine to the U.S. in 1982 in partnership with the machine’s inventor, Richard Eggleton.
“This is still a relatively new product that’s growing rapidly,” says Roach. “Everyone in the western part of the country knows about it, but it’s relatively unknown in the eastern United States. That means the potential for growth is enormous. There is a great opportunity to get in on this.”
Concrete curbing machines extrude a continuous edge of concrete with no forming needed. With different mold attachments, machines can produce concrete edging in just about any shape for use in a variety of applications from driveways to flower beds. By using a number of stamping and coloring techniques, contractors can create edging with infinite design possibilities that offer the look of brick, cobblestone, slate, and more.
Curbing machines are typically used to make edging that’s four to six inches high for residential projects, or up to twelve inches for commercial projects. Some machines can even make a 24-inch wide garden path in any color and pattern.
Curbing has gained popularity with both contractors and consumers for a number of reasons. For the consumer, the most obvious reasons are performance, eye appeal, and the value it adds to the landscape.
“Concrete curbing is simply a superior edging material compared to other options that are out there,” says Jeremy Garret of Tygar Manufacturing. “Plastic can rot and break; wood decays and is subject to destruction from insects; brick looks good but the mortar will eventually deteriorate and become unstable. Curbing is permanent. It simply lasts longer.”
Dave Stevens , owner of Dave’s Landscaping in DeBary, Florida, was so impressed with the product when he saw it that he decided to add curbing to his line of residential landscaping services. “I’ve experimented through the years with all of the edging materials,” says Stevens, who has been in the landscape field for over 20 years and has owned his own business since 1988. “The timbers rot; the stones eventually fall apart, the plastic stuff works its way out and gets chopped by the mower. This is different. This is permanent.”
“And curbing definitely gets the award for eye-appeal,” Stevens adds. He made his decision to buy a curbing machine after he started seeing it pop up in a few homes is his area. “In fact, several of my own customers were having this done by curbing contractors,” says Stevens. “I was amazed at how it looked, and I decided I wanted to do it myself rather than have someone else do it for my customers.”
Curbing adds eye appeal in several ways. The continuous piece of concrete can follow any contour. This makes for a more free-flowing approach than other edging materials. In addition, with the variety of forms, coloring, and stamping techniques available, contractors can match the edging to fit any look the customer is going for.
Some machines also make it easy to create beautiful nighttime landscapes with the addition of low-voltage lighting systems integrated directly into the curb. “The fact that it’s extruded directly into the curb ensures that the lighting system won’t detract from the overall beauty of the curbing,” says Roach. “Our lighting systems produce a tremendous amount of light but it’s indirect lighting so it’s subtle, not bright. As the light comes on in the evening it bounces around all of the plants for a beautiful, magical effect.”
Other features, such as irrigation systems and electrical wire for speakers and other equipment, can also be integrated into curbing.
One of the biggest reasons residential consumers choose curbing is because it adds real value to their home. “All contractors use edging as part of their design to separate different areas of the landscape,” says Jay Aparicio, manager of Curb World, which sells Edgemaster curbing machines. “But a contractor who uses curbing will be adding something permanent and valuable to the home. Landscaping is always an investment. Because this product is so attractive and because it is permanent, a homeowner who includes curbing has a much better chance to realize the full investment potential when they go to sell. For example, an investment of around $2,000 in curbing has the potential to increase the value of the home by over $10,000. This adds great value to the contractor’s work.”
Value for the consumer is only one part of the equation. Value for the contractor is the other. And, let’s face it, this is the most important part if you’re considering branching out into this field.
Market potential is one of the biggest draws for contractors. “I could see that it was really starting to take off here in Florida,” says Dave Stevens of his decision to add curbing to his business. “It seems like it’s actually contagious. There are some communities that have it and some that don’t, but once it gets going in a particular development or community, it spreads like wildfire. In some developments, over fifty percent of the homes have it. I saw a great opportunity there.”
Jay Stafford, marketing manager for Kwik Kerb, has seen this trend among other landscape professionals. Kwik Kerb, based in Orlando, Florida, offers turnkey concrete curbing business systems “A significant percentage of our customers are landscape contractors who are interested in branching out into this field,” says Stafford. “It goes hand in hand with lawn beautification, irrigation, and erosion control landscaping.”
“I’m seeing it sprout up everywhere here in Florida,” he says, “partly because of all the housing starts. A lot of people are building a six-figure business out of curbing alone. This can create a great opportunity for diversification.”
Cliff Dodge, general manager of the Concrete Edge company, makers of the Li’l Bubba line of curbing equipment, is seeing the same trend. “We see landscape contractors branching off into this all the time. It really sets them apart. The more well-known the curbing industry becomes, the more landscape contractors are getting involved and adding this as another profit center.”
“Some contractors are adding it to their business under a separate identity,” says Garrett. “That way they don’t limit its use to their own landscaping projects. They can contract their services out to other projects as well and keep the machine in use.”
Diversification was a key factor in Stevens’ decision. “I was looking for another avenue for my landscape business. I already had a great client load established and this seemed like an easy thing to add. I can already foresee what this will do to my business next fall during our downtime. We typically have our slow season from October through February. When we were doing strictly landscaping, these slow periods were tough on my crew. Now we’ll be able to keep busy during that time. I looked at this as a great opportunity to keep my crew busy year round.”
As Stevens noticed, in places where curbing is a known product, it tends to sell itself. “Where it’s not already well-known, it’s important for contractors to do some client education,” says Dodge. Photos and display yards can help a lot. “But what really helps,” says Dodge “are actual physical samples. I suggest that contractors make samples they can take to their clients. They can lay them right out on their lawn, to give them a great idea of what the finished product will look like.”
Not only is it easy to sell the curbing project itself, adding curbing to their businesess makes it easier for contractors get landscape projects in the first place. “This gives them a chance to offer customers something the other guy can’t,” says Garrett.
“Curbing allows landscape professionals to offer clients a whole separate service,” agrees Dodge. “Now, not only are they offering landscaping and irrigation, but they can offer thi,s too.”
“The flexibility of curbing also allows landscape contractors
to be extremely creative in their designs,” Jay Aparicio points
out. “This creativity gives them a real edge when they’re
trying to sell projects.”
The installation is fairly straightforward. Typically a two-person crew works on a project together. Equipment includes a mortar mixer, wheelbarrow, concrete tint, a mold attachment, and stamping tools. Contractors usually mix and color the concrete on site, then wheel-barrow it to the machine and feed it in. After the basic shape is laid, a variety of stamps, textured rollers, and additional colorants can be used to create any look the client wants. As in other concrete work, expansion joints are added every two to four feet, depending on climate, to allow for shifting and prevent breakage. Finally an acrylic sealer is applied. This helps the concrete to cure and adds UV protection to keep the color vibrant.
Although service diversification and the fact that it’s easy install and sell to clients are all important, the biggest thing that draws landscape contractors to the curbing market is profit potential.
“Many landscape professionals start in the curbing business by contracting it out to curbing companies,” says Patrick Roach. “However, they quickly see the profit potential they could realize by investing in their own machine. That’s when they decide to add it to their inventory.”
While prices vary significantly depending on location, contractors can typically charge from $3-$5 a foot for basic gray on up to $10 a foot or more for edging that’s colored and stamped. Total costs to the contractor, including labor, can be as low as $1 a foot.
“The profit margin is excellent,” says Dodge “and return on investment is quick. A two- person crew can install 400 feet of stamped curbing per day with one machine.” You do the math.
Contractors should take into account a number of things when deciding which piece of equipment to buy. “One of the biggest things to look for is training and support,” says Garrett. “A lot of people overlook thi,s but it’s one of the most critical factors in your success with the equipment.”
Another factor to consider is overall productivity. According to Cliff Dodge, productivity means more than just speed. “The quality of the product you’re laying down has a much greater impact on productivity than speed,” says Dodge, “because a quality product doesn’t require as much hand work when it’s done. We have machines that can put out thirteen feet per minute. That’s great but more important is the fact that it looks great right out of the machine. I’d rather have seven feet per minute if it comes out looking like you want it to.”
“It’s very important to pay attention to maintenance issues”, says Dodge. “Look for something that’s relatively maintenance free so it can keep working day in and day out.”
Has decorative concrete edging caught on in your region yet? If so, it may be time to think about incorporating it to diversify your business. If not, you may be in a great position to introduce it and capitalize on this rapidly growing industry.