Business Tips

Business Tips For Applicators

 

 

 

Plaster application is very profitable for applicators, contractors, architects and designers. For applicators especially, plaster is one of the most lucrative and rewarding building trades around. There is tremendous potential in plaster. 


There are billions and billions of square feet of walls and ceilings in the world. Most of it is covered in paint, wallpaper or paneling, and not enough plaster. Plaster should be almost everywhere. It looks great, it's natural, it's environmentally proactive, breaths, hypoallergenic and easy to fix. It's been used for thousands of years in every part of the world for a good reason. It's beautiful in every way. It can look however you want it look. Why cover the inside of a house with paint (plastic)?


Most customers aren't aware of what natural plaster is. It's always surprising when designers or architects never really heard of it or know what it's about. And those who heard of it might think it's an unaffordable luxury and is exclusive only to the very high end. We want to change all that. Whether you're buying our product or not, we want to contribute to the plaster industry as being the standard for wall finishes, not on exception. It should be everywhere. Well, almost.


We sometimes try to steer away from the term 'Venetian' Plaster. There are so many synthetic looking 'Venetian' products and so many unique artistic jobs, that the term sometimes can create a misconception for  customers as a shiney accent piece.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

First, a few numbers on plaster application and products 


Competitor lime plaster brands (not ours) can cost up to $100 per gallon, and many are synthetic. Veneziano from imported brands ends up costing up to $2 per square foot in material cost, in addition to special primers or sealers. Marmorino can cost $3 or more per foot from other manufacturers.


Vasari products made from crushed marble and lime, are $28 to $32 per gallon for the wet mix of Marmorino and Veneziano, and only $18 per gallon for the dry mix. That's as low as $.20 per square foot for 2 coats.


The following is a cost and time analysis for applying each of our products. We have wet and dry mixes available. The dry mixes are about half the cost of the wet. The only difference is you have to mix the dry mix and the Veneziano does require straining.


The US average price for applying two coats of lime plaster to an interior is somewhere around $8 per square foot. Sometimes its less, sometimes a lot more. For example, a 3000 square foot house would end up costing $50,000. We want to make ot more affordable. The bottom line is that even most affluent people, in good economy or bad, can hardly afford it. It has to be more affordable for the rich, and not so rich. Otherwise plaster will remain another exclusive luxury and the industry will never reach its true potential.


Charge what's fair to you and your customers. We don't want to tell you how much it should be, but we'll tell you what it could be...


Marmorino:

The wet mix is $.40-$.60 per square foot, per layer for product cost, or $.90 - $1.20 per square foot for two layers. The cost depends on the color of plaster (the darker tints are more expensive) and on how thick it's applied.


Dry mix is about $.60 for a two-coat application. Tint may cost another $.10 - $.50.


The first coat takes about 30-45 minutes to apply appromately 100 square feet. The second layer, because it must be finessed a little more, takes about an hour per 100 square feet. On average, for a basic two coat application, one can cover about 250-400+ square feet of finished product per day. That estimate includes masking and unmasking. Of course, this figure can change depending on size of wall, nooks, details, and how fast the applicator is.


Let's assume your cost  for Marmorino is $.60 per foot for dry mix, and you're applying 300 square feet per day. Assume another $.20 for masking, gas, etc. Bringing the cost up to $.80 per foot. Everything after that is profit. If you charge $3.80 per square foot, you profit is $3 per square foot. Multiply that by your average daily coverage of 300 square feet per day, and you have $900 per day profit. If you charge $4.80, you have $1200 in profit, $5.80 is $1500 in profit, etc.


Of course you should charge extra for extra coats, sealers, and waxes if they're needed. Charge what's fair for you and your client. 


Veneziano

For two coats (or even three), it costs about $.40 - $.60 per square foot. The dry mix costs $.20 - $.35 per square foot. 


Like Marmorino, a basic two coat Veneziano application averages about 300 square feet of finished products per day. It may take less time but can also take much more. With Veneziano, your material cost is much less because it's a thinner material and your coverage is much greater than Marmorino.


Charging $3.80 per foot at 300 square feet per day, the daily profit can average out to $1,020 per day, assuming everything goes smoothly.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Stucco:

Our Stucco, if used for interior, is about the same cost and application speed as the Marmorino. It's used when a thicker, more robust finish is desired.


Lime Wash:

Lime Wash goes a very long way and application is very fast. 100 square feet should take about 30 minutes or less to apply. You can stretch a gallon to cover 600 square feet or more. Each layer costs around $.5 per square foot. You can add many layers, and the cost will rise accordingly. You can charge $.50 - $2.00 per square foot for each layer of Lime Wash.


Dry mixes:  

Dry Mixes are about half the price of wet mixes. With dry mixes, you can charge very little and still do very well. Each bucket of dry mix takes about 5-10 minutes to mix and tint.


Rolling plaster:

Rolling is a quick way to apply large areas in little time, especially with Veneziano. You can roll on the plaster with a thick roller, and have someone else trowel it out with a large trowel or knife. Two people can average 1000 square feet per day of finished product.


Spraying plaster:

You can spray plaster with a hopper or mastic pump and apply thousands of square feet per day. Make sure to thin down the plaster with a little water to the right consistency.

 

 

 

 

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Sealers:

For soap, the product cost per square foot is about .05 cent  per square foot in cost. You can apply soap seal at leat a 100 square feet per day. It's like gently washing the walls with water. It's very fast and easy.

Acrylic Sealer is about .10-.20 cent per square foot product cost. It goes on with a roller and brush. Goes on as fast as paint.

Waxes: 

They are more labor intensive, especially for large scale areas. Wax can be charged at least $1.00 per square foot. Your material square foot cost is about .10 cents to $.20 cents per foot.

More artistic application:

Obviously there are unlimited possibilities with plaster. You can burnish it perfectly, add different colors, extra layers, metallic finishes...you get the idea. A wall can turn into a laborious work of art intead of just a plaster wall. At the some point, the sky's the limit on price. Charge what's fair for your time, artistry and sore shoulder.



Extra Costs:

Remember to include the price of masking materials, ladder rentals, scaffolding, etc. into your price to your customer. 


Basic business guidelines:

- You should be licensed in the state you work in. Have bonding and insurance for your business. Insurance is for damage you may incur on the property. Bonding is an assurance to your clients that the job will be completed, either by you or someone else. Different states have different requirements. Some states don't require licensing.

- Have the proper contract forms when making bids or writing contracts. Always make a duplicate copy of everything for your records. 

-When bidding on a job, make sure you will profit. Measure everything out twice and write a day to day plan of what you need to make the money you want on the job.

- Make attractive, professional business cards. Stand-out cards can make the difference. Keep them simple and elegant. Don't overdo it with colors and by-lines.

- Always calculate extra material costs in your bid. Masking, primer, sealer, scaffolding, gas, and travel time all need to be considered when making bids. You can charge your clients extra for scaffolds and out of the ordinary things, but it is usually better to just include everything in the bid as a price per square foot cost.

- Have a portfolio of pictures of projects and samples. If you haven't done any projects; no problem. Email us if you need project pictures. We'll email you the ones you want.  Put the pictures into transparent plastic sheet protectors with 3 ring holes for a binder. There are fancy binders that look more like leather bound portfolios. Presentation is important considering the cost of the service. Your picture portfolio with about 10 great physical samples (small samples on primed MDF boards) makes a perfect presentation for clients. If you have a laptop, you can do a digital slideshow for your clients or just show them our Galleries and even the intro video on our homepage.

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- Make lots of samples. You should be able to make a great sample before doing the real thing. Samples are very important to show any client. For presentations, you should have at least 10 great samples (four Marmorino, three Veneziano, three Lime Wash). If you're just starting out, you should make dozens of samples just to practice. You don't have to order all of our colors to do so. You can purchase a few gallons of untinted products and purchase tints from your local paint store.

- Making samples. There are 2 sizes in which you can make samples: 2' x 2', and 1' x 1'. Sometimes, with the more large scale subtle techniques, you have to make 4' x 4' to show variation on a larger scales, otherwise the smaller boards don't capture the effect and end up looking like not much. This is done on a 1/4" or 1/8"  MDF particle board or 1/4" drywall. 1/4" drywall and MDF is usually sold in store that sell a range of drywall products. In more general construction stores, drywall is sold as ½" to 5/8" sheets. These are very heavy to carry around. The ¼" sheets of drywall come in sheets measuring 8' x 4'. This is awkward to haul home, so, with a razor knife, measuring tape and a pencil, cut your pieces on the spot where you purchase your sheetrock. Ask the salesperson at the store how to cut drywall. It's very simple. Take the pieces home. You can now cut them to smaller pieces of 1' x 1' or 2' x 2'. The 2' x 2' samples are much better for samples as they let the client see the variation of color and texture better. Use smaller samples for color matching samples. Prime your samples using a regular PVA primer. When priming, be sure to get the side edges so that the samples don't leave a trail of drywall dust. Then follow the instructions in the Applications section of this website. If you can do this successfully; be confident that you can do a whole house successfully.

A large hardware store usually has a free service that will cut your MDF boards to size. MDF is really the best because it's lightes and leaves no gypsum dust like drywall will. You just can't cut them with a knife. It requires a saw.

It takes contacting a potential customer 6-7 times before you get the job. This is true in most marketing and it applies to selling plaster projects. If you don't do this, you won't get jobs.

- Sell your clients. You need to be a convincing salesperson.  Lime plaster is simply the best wall finish. It is the Rolls Royce or Prius (or whatever fits your client) of wall treatments. It is what  faux finishes try to imitate (and it comes out at the same price). It's made of limestone and marble.   Plaster is durable, healthy, keeps the home fresh, easily reparable and timeless in its beauty. It's a natural mildewcide and keeps relative humidity. It keeps the home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Plaster only improves with time. It can be used in contemporary or old world settings. This is not only a Tuscan  or old world look. Lime plaster is the same as the wall treatments used throughout Europe and the Middle East for thousands of years… Not only do you want to let your clients know they are getting the absolute best product, but it is important to make them feel educated and part of something intelligent. The Mona Lisa hangs on itin the Louvre, after all. Ultimately, makes a more inviting, vibrant, natural space that your customers will enjoy much more.

- Call the professionals and set up an appointment to show them your samples: Interior Decorators, Custom Home Contractors, Architects, Designers, High-end furniture stores, and high-end art galleries. Don't let them tell you to send a card or a brochure. This doesn't work. If they really don't want to meet with you, ask for their e-mail address so you can send them pictures of samples, prices, and information about how fabulous the product is. Don't rely on paint stores to refer you to clients.  Crunch the numbers for them; Interior Decorators do 20% to 30% markups, so give rates accordingly. In the interim, try to convince these potential 'partners' to allow you to set up your own little display at their place of business as a "value-added" service to their customers. Again, contact them at least 6 or 7 times. Wait at least 10 days before each contact or what you feel is comfortable. Bring some new piece of info or sample each time you see them or contact them.

-Homeowners might be your best contacts because they're the ones who need things done ASAP. Designers and alike might have jobs, but they are months if not years away.  Directly dealing with homeowners is often the most effecient way of growing your business. There are more small remodels going on every day than larger high end construction. It's easier for many homeowners to justify a remodel, compared to building a new custom home. Also, getting paid is sometimes a little easier than with the homeowner directly.

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Check out pricier neighborhoods and look for new construction. All builders/architects have their sign out in front of new buildings or major remodels. Take note and call them. You may even want to walk around inside and ask the workers who is doing what on the site. People often walk around job sites. Dress professionally. If someone asks what you're doing there, hand out a card and tell them what you do.

- Talk to developers building speculation homes. The developers may ask why they should spend extra on a spec home. Tell them that their house value and curb appeal will both increase. Suggest developers offer plaster as an extra option to their homebuyers. For instance, a custom plastered powder room or bedroom. The client can then meet with you to pick a color. If this costs the developer $5,000, then he can increase the price of the house by $10,000. Building and selling a house is like selling a car; you can offer leather or vinyl. With your help, developers can give their buyers a greater choice.

- Do presentations at local home and garden décor shows. If you get even one job, it will be worth your time.

- After a successful large job, call your local newspaper (Lifestyles or Décor section) and design magazines. Find out the name and contact information of the assignment editor and appropriate journalists. Pitch them the story of plaster or your business, offering quotes from yourself and happy customers, and pics. Customers love to have their homes featured. Media folks are always looking for good stories. Business sections may also be interested in covering plaster as a growing business; papers always want to get the 'scoop' on hot trends. Even if you are turned down initially, it's worth regularly checking in with your media contacts to offer new angles or interesting jobs just completed. PR is the the easy and free. It's definitely one of the best sources of promotions you can have.

- Visit other miscellaneous high-end vendors, such as jewelry stores, hair salons, clothing boutiques, wine stores and cigar shops. Imagine where your likely clients shop. You can offer these businesses a deal on referrals, do a wall for them, or both. You want potential clients to see your work and want it for themselves.

- Contact contractors who specialize in alternative building methods, such as rastra block, ICF or e-crete. Pitch them the idea of an alternative/traditional finish plaster.

- Send brochures or emails to prosperous lawyers, medical offices, and big companies with nice conference rooms. You should include testimonials from happy customers.

- Most importantly when contacting people; be persistent but polite. If the decorator does not get back to you, call again in two weeks until they have a meeting with you. Your enthusiasm for the product should be contagious.

- Set up a booth at your local farmers market and or arts fair.

- When displaying your stuff, make sure both your presentation and you look professional. Dress sharp, groom well. No one wants to buy $50,000 worth of luxurious wall finishes from someone who can't be bothered to iron their own clothes. Sorry, it has to be said.

- Advertising is important but needs to be tailored to what works in your region. You can advertise on your car, advertise in local décor magazines, and make sure you are easy to find in the yellow pages. Experiment with newspaper ads; but a story done on your work will go farther than an ad. Word of mouth is great, but it takes time to build and won't get you jobs right away.  Doing free walls for high-end businesses can get you great recognition (as long as your name is next to it). Otherwise, don't be overly generous since it will be your materials and time. In most cases, if you call this freebee job a month after it's done, and ask who did it, chances are they won't know. That doesn't help.

-How to do a print ad - This can make a fortube. The only downside is that it's expensive. It's almost only worth doing if this goes in a nice local magazine if you have one in the area. Newspapers will work or whatever you have. You can even try billboards if you got the guts. Local magazines will ask for about $4,000 for a full page for 1-2 months. They'll ask for a 50% deposit. If you don't have it, ask them to wait at least a month after the ad comes out. They'll usually do this for you. Magazines have nothing to loose. It costs them nickels to put your ad in. Their return on you is a thousand fold, so don't be shy. They're lucky to have any business from you at all.

When doing a print ad, be direct and use bright contrasting colors. Nobody cares what you write. When flipping through a magazine, it's the colors of the ad which will get attention. Try going through a magazine and see for yourself. DO NOT use a dark background with light font. It's the worst mistake you can make in print. It's a small thing, but surprisingly important in reader psychology. This applies to everything you market. Don't have a black background with white or gold font. It's harder to read. You want an ad that grabs attention and is to the point. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need months of repetition, you just need 1 hard marketing hit that stays for at least a month. Here's an almost perfect suuccessful ad that went in a glossy magazine. It took 2 hours to put it together:

 

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 - Get a 50% deposit at the job start. If it's huge job, take 25%. Take another 25% in the middle of the job, or whetver works for you. Make sure you have all your contract forms in order. Make sure you make yourself very clear on when you get paid. Some people will see your apprehension and stretch out your generosity. Be firm.

- Technology - Use our website to promote yourself. You have a gallery to use there and an intro video. If you like our site, so will your customers. We made the site for you and them. You ought to have a computer to e-mail pictures and a good digital camera with a decent flash to take pictures. Have a good printer to print pictures for your great portfolio. It's important that your work, or our gallery pictures, look great on a laptop computer if you are showing clients a compelling slide show.

Blogs, Craiglist, Constant Contact. There can be volumes written on internet campaigns, and there are. Research all these tools. They can make your business stellar. Most online campaigns are very cheap if not free. There is too much to say on the subject so I leave it up to you to do your homework. 

- Make sure your contacts understand how your referral incentive works. On a $20,000 job, this can be $4,000 in their pockets. Surprisingly, most people will never react to this offer, so use it as a last resort.

- Drop names. It's a nice marketing tool when beating the pavement. People will be less likely to close the door on you. Research your targets well. Try not to come in blind when selling someone on your services and product. Find out what projects they're doing. If you know something about them, use it in your opening line. Stroke their egos. Use charm and jokes. It's not unlike getting a date; except you are profiting financially from the relationship. That's most any business. Remember most salesmen are usually bland and same as the last guy. Personality is a welcome change of pace to prospects.

- Be CONFIDENT. Come into a project site knowing that you are the best wall finisher ever and that your work will transform the space. Your customers desperately need you, they just don't know it yet. 

- Again, be persistent. It takes at least 6-7 contacts with someone to make them comfortable with you. Make an excuse for each time you see them, or call them. Say you have new samples, or you want to email them your/our sample pictures, or you were in the neighborhood, whatever fits your personality; just keep trying until they think of you as The Plaster Wall Finisher to go to. Keep going nice and steady. Successful people appreciate others who are persistant. They will eventually give you a shot.

-As a plaster business, your job is to sell plaster, not apply it. Most two-coat applications are very easy. Selling is the hard part. That's the real creative element of your business. It's should be so easy, that it shouldn't be a problem hiring part-time people to apply it for you. Hire drywallers or other plasterers. All you have to do is supervise. If you think of plaster as an art, you'll start to think that only you or specially trained people can do it. This limits your business potential. If you have to, do the cool colorful stuff that your workers can't do. Show off on the accent areas so that your customer is impressed and leave the basic stuff to your crew. Pay them well, and they'll treat you well. If you're making $1000 per person per day, you have plenty of room to be generous. Consider also that if you're making only $300 per day per person (meaning you're applying at something like $2-$3 per foot, 5 guys constantly working for you is still a small fortune.

Again, there are billions of square feet of walls and ceilings out there. More than enough for everyone, and most of should be covered in plaster. People spend fortunes on countertops, wood floors, tiles, etc. Yet end up surrounding themselves in a coat of plastic paint. Gypsum texture, primer, and two coats of paint can cost up to two dollars per foot. Plaster is just a little more expensive. The beauty, longevity and health factors are incomprable to anything else. Make sure you know how to convey it. Show your passion and your customers will be more than just a paycheck. Make it rewarding and beneficial for everyone.



And lastly -
IF YOU DON'T PUT A SMILE ON EVERYONE'S FACE WHO'S INVOLVED WITH THE PROJECT, THEN IT'S NOT WORTH DOING. THIS SHOULD BE YOUR ULTIMATE MOTIVATION, AND IT WILL SHOW.

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