Hello! Who are you and what business did you start
Hi, all DIYR’s and pros alike.
My name is Ed Baldoni and I am the founder and owner of Concrete Countertop Solutions. Please don’t let our name fool you, we are more than concrete countertops!
As our name insinuates we do sell everything needed to build concrete countertops but have expanded into the swimming pool industry as well.
Our Z Counterform System for countertops and Z Poolform System for concrete pool coping are the go-to solutions for cast-in-place concrete forms. With a small but dedicated team, we grew this business from an idea to over $12M in revenue in 10 years.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was a developer/ home builder for over 40 years. As a builder, I was always looking to stay ahead of the curve and offer new ideas to my clients. To stay on top of the curve, I would go to the national home show every year to see what was new and what new home buyers were interested in. Concrete countertops caught my attention in a big way at the NAHB show. Maybe because of my Italian heritage or the fact that concrete was relatively inexpensive I figured that I should give building countertops a try in one of my homes under construction.
Be patient, success is not going to happen overnight.
I have to be honest and say that it was not as easy as I thought it would be. There were not many resources online nor products available to do a pour-in-place countertop. With the idea that there should be an easier way, I started brainstorming ways to create a break-away form specifically for countertops. Not long after, the Z Counterform System was born.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My original design for a pour-in-place countertop form took me five minutes. I thought this was such a simple idea that someone surely had thought of it before me. I knew the importance of having a patent so my next step was to find a patent attorney who understood construction practices.
Applying for and receiving a patent was a long journey. My first patent review was denied because the examiner was confusing my idea with something unrelated. Getting a patent approved can be an intimidating process for a layperson. Only a small percentage of attorneys do patent work and when you do find an attorney that does patents you want to find one that specializes in the field that you are trying to get your patent in.
There are two types of patents, design, and utility. While a utility patent is usually more expensive and can take two to three years to be approved, it provides broad protection making it difficult for a competing product to avoid patent infringement. My best advice, if you are applying for a patent, be patient and don't give up. The money and time spent are well worth the effort.
It now took another year to find an extrusion factory that could and was willing to do small runs of an unknown and unproven product.
After three years our first run of countertop forms was finally delivered to us. I could not wait to build our first countertop with our new forming system. After forming and pouring our first countertops we waited until the next day to give the countertop forms the real test. Would they perform as designed and snap off as we hoped? They did! Exactly as designed.
Here is a photo that shows the original hand sketch of a Poolform part to final CAD prototyping which will be 3D printed to confirm all parts work before tooling gets made.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Now I knew I had a great new product but did not know anything about bringing it to market. I knew that I needed a website and had to have an eCommerce presence. At the time I was still a home builder and this was nothing more than a side hustle that I was financing myself.
In the early days, I would get a few orders a week. Many of my customers would ask things like “what concrete should I use?” or “where can I buy concrete stains?” I quickly realized the potential of having a “one-stop shop”. Through a few strategic partnerships with some great manufacturers who let me white label their already successful products, I was able to rapidly expand our product offering.
One thing I can contribute much of our early success to was our instructional videos.There were not many good resources online where you could learn how to install concrete countertops. So we started putting out instructional videos showing how to use our products and doing full tutorials of start to finish countertop installations.
It’s important to figure out where your customers are doing their product research and try to get your first interaction with them there.
Besides greatly helping our SEO, these YouTube videos started getting a lot of traffic from a passionate DIY community. What I originally envisioned as a product for professionals like myself, was quickly becoming a great tool for DIYers to save money by installing their countertops. Once I realized the potential this market could offer, we started producing more educational content and focusing much of our SEO keywords and advertising on attracting the DIYer. This is really what made the business take off.
When I first launched our website we only had a few products to sell so the design was pretty simple. I had a local company build the original website and maintain it for me. However, as our eCommerce store began to get busier and busier I realized the importance of an in-house IT person.
As luck would have it my son Dario had just graduated with a degree in computer science. He revamped the original website and began doing a lot of work on SEO and PPC marketing such as Google Adwords and Facebook which allowed the business to grow rapidly in a short amount of time.
There are plenty of companies you can hire to do this kind of work but my frustration was always paying someone and not truly knowing how much their work was paying off. Having an internal person who was strongly incentivized to see the business grow and who understood our customers/ products gave me confidence we were making the right moves and allowed me to focus on developing new products.
The next chapter in Concrete Countertop Solutions products was to venture into the swimming pool industry. Our goal was to create a reusable forming system for cantilevered concrete coping.
After our design was completed we went back to our patent attorneys to make sure we had a patentable product. Once our patent was granted we had our CAD drawings and 3D models made and sent to our extrusion factory for production runs.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the early days, we focused much of our time and effort on SEO as well as PPC marketing. I always felt we had the best products available, we just needed to get them in front of the right customers.
One of the best SEO and marketing tools for us has always been YouTube. It serves as a great top-of-the-funnel tool to help new customers (still in the researching phase) find us, but it also serves as our main educational tool as well. For a project as involved as installing a concrete countertop, being able to offer step by steps tutorials is one thing that has always put us ahead of our competition. Our YouTube channel currently has almost 20K subscribers and over 6M video views.
Pinterest has been a great tool for our top-of-the-funnel customer acquisition since it is where a lot of people will do research and get ideas before beginning their home improvement projects. I think it is important to figure out where your customers are doing their product research and try to get your first interaction with them there.
Another platform that should not be overlooked is social media. When we first started, social media was much smaller than it is now and was not a major part of our marketing strategy. Originally we used it mainly to communicate with our customers. However, it is now a huge part of our marketing strategy.
Today we use it for communication, to share our customer’s photos, and we do a lot of targeted advertising on Facebook and Instagram. We also do plenty of sponsored posts with DIY and Home Improvement bloggers/ influencers.
In the last 2-3 years, this has probably contributed to the most growth with the largest ROI. It is also something that very few of our competitors are doing yet so it allows us to stay a leg up.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have continued to grow every year we have been in business. In the past two years, we have gone from $7M in revenue to a projected $13M this year. I think there are a few big factors that have allowed us to keep up this growth.
One is the addition of new products. We are always striving to develop new innovative products to make our customers' lives easier. This helps us retain customers but also allows new customers to find us. A prime example of this was the development of the Z Poolform System in 2014. This allowed us to expand into the swimming pool market which is much larger than the concrete countertop market. 2022 will be the first year that we may see our sales of pool coping products overtake the concrete countertop products and there is no slow down in site. We consider this market relatively untapped with huge growth potential.
Another factor is that we continue to reinvest in advertising. We are always expanding our marketing strategy and looking for new ways to attract customers. As our revenue increases, so does our marketing budget so that we can continue to reach a wider audience in more places. This is the first year we have begun experimenting with national TV commercials.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For our eCommerce platform, we are currently on Shopify Plus. We recently switched to ShipHawk as our in cart rating and fulfillment software which has been a big change but will allow us to grow faster with fewer people.
We use Front App for email communications which I love. It is an excellent tool for email when you have a lot of internal communication going on. It allows our teams to collaborate on email messages in the background so we can always make sure a customer or a contact is receiving the best info from the right person.
We use YotPo for reviews because of their powerful marketing tool. YotPo Visual suite is what runs all of the galleries on our website. There are many other tools and integrations we use but these are the ones that come to mind that make the biggest impact.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love the Podcast How I Built This which is very similar to Start Story! As an entrepreneur, it is always fascinating to me to learn about other entrepreneurs' stories and to try and learn from the best.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be patient, success is not going to happen overnight. It took me 3 years to go from idea to product that could be sold and another 4 years until I was able to quit my old job and focus on this full time.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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