The Story Behind The Concrete Countertop Institute

I recently created a video explaining how and why I started The Concrete Countertop Institute. I thought I’d post it here, along with the text of what I said. You can also view this on the About Us page of my website.

Here’s what I said in the video:

I’d like to give you a little insight into what CCI is all about.

I started making concrete countertops back in 1999, when it was virtually unheard-of. All I wanted to do was make concrete countertops for my own kitchen remodel. Lane and I had bought our first house, and it was a 1990s cookie-cutter subdivision house. You know – white cabinets, white laminate countertops, white vinyl floors, white wallpaper with little pink roses – that was the first to go. It was pretty horrid, as you can see. We had grand visions of moving doors, getting new cabinets, etc., then reality set in and we looked at just replacing the floor and redoing the countertops. Those had to be replaced, because the previous owner had cut on them and scratched them, and set a hot pot on them and scorched them.

My neighbor gave me a stack of home improvement magazines to help give us ideas, and in one of those magazines was an article about this guy in California named Buddy Rhodes. That was the first time I’d ever seen concrete that wasn’t gray, and it totally blew me away. To engineers, concrete is just numbers and a utilitarian material, but this concrete was beautiful.

I had no idea how to color concrete, or to polish concrete, or to make concrete look like that. As I researched how to do this, I found very little information. Remember, back then, there were no books, no videos, no products, just anecdotes on a few discussion boards, from people who had tried it for themselves. All of those stories had something in common. “It turned out nice, but it stained”; “it worked, but the color didn’t turn out”; and, “it came out okay, but it cracked.” They all ended in “but”. I certainly didn’t want a countertop that did that, and I knew I had the background and knowledge to do better.

So instead of following the same problematic path, I started from first principles, and applied my engineering knowledge to figure out how to make concrete countertops that didn’t stain or crack, and didn’t require a lot of maintenance. I literally pulled my textbooks off the shelf, created spreadsheets to figure out the mix design and correct reinforcing, and finally, after 8 months, created my first concrete countertop.

In the course of doing all this research, I found that there were a handful of concrete countertop companies in major cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., and Atlanta. I thought, maybe there’s an opportunity for this new, upcoming market. So I set up a website, and lo and behold, a few weeks later, I had my first customer. [In the video, you can see] a picture of my very first paid project.

As early as 2000, contractors started asking me, “How do you make concrete countertops that don’t stain and crack?” I started helping a few contractors one-on-one. Then in October 2001, I was invited to the first concrete countertop summit, hosted by Steve Rosenblatt of Sonoma Cast Stone. There were 8 people there, including Buddy Rhodes and Fu Tung Cheng, and Fu Tung showed us a slide show of his book-to-be.

That book came out in 2002, and then the interest in concrete countertops exploded. More and more contractors were getting into it, with a variety of success and quality levels. I continued to train one-on-one until I saw that I was just never going to make a dent that way. There were too many people getting into this, and too many instances of clients having bad experiences. I was really afraid the concrete countertop industry would be ruined.

So in 2004, I had my first training class, and here’s a class photo from June 24, 2004.
That first class, we created a simple concrete countertop, using an all-sand mix. Over the years, I’ve kept up with the latest products and techniques, and carefully adopted the ones that really made an impact on students’ businesses, such as GFRC.

I’ve also applied rigorous, quantitative testing to products like sealers and admixtures, to determine whether they really worked and solved a business problem for concrete countertop pros. My latest round of testing in June 2014 will determine what the real, quantitative benefits of various new admixtures are.

This has always been my approach – hard data over anecdotal evidence, rigorous testing over casual experience, determining why over just blindly following a recipe or the latest fashion. That is what CCI is all about – learning both the how and the why behind it, so you have a solid foundation of technical knowledge on which to build your creativity.

This continues my original mission, the reason I started CCI: to raise the standard for concrete countertops by helping people succeed at them without having so many problems. As my logo says, I wanted to provide “knowledge, confidence, and success.”

Many years later, CCI has trained thousands of people. We’ve provided hands-on training to people in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, many Caribbean islands, Ireland, England, Scotland, Iceland, Finland, Venezuela, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, South Korea, New Zealand and most recently Australia, plus self-study training to many more countries.

It has been an absolute privilege to meet so many diverse people, and to influence the concrete countertop industry worldwide.

I no longer produce concrete countertops for customers myself. Because I am 100% dedicated to my students, I would rather support them than compete with them. I refer projects to my students, or help students with their projects. By keeping in touch with students all around the world, I see the challenges they face, not just the challenges I faced producing concrete creations in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I am so proud of my students’ successes and all the amazing projects they’ve completed. It has been a privilege to be part of the concrete countertop industry’s growth, and my students’ success. Check out their stories.

CCI provides many ways to learn and grow as a concrete countertop maker – from hands-on classes, to self-study videos, to in-depth product information. I hope to provide you with what you need to achieve knowledge, confidence and success at concrete countertops.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you.

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