Economical, Eco-Friendly and Eye-Popping
Pacific Decorative Concrete, Inc. creates floor finishes that dazzle in every dimension
Dave Stratton had spent 10 years in project management with Fortune 500 information technology and logistics companies—and he was ready for a major career change. After the dot-com crash, he invested in a laid-off coworker with previous experience in pool design and founded Pacific Decorative Concrete, Inc. (PDCI) in 2002. Working from his garage in Antelope, California, they began by refreshing pool decks during remodels for several pool service companies.
When they couldn’t find decorative concrete contractors to remove a delaminating coating for a warranty repair, desperation led to inspiration. Stratton participated in a training seminar hosted by renowned specialist Tom Ralston Concrete and met with equipment representatives there. They convinced him to pursue the growing opportunity in architectural concrete floor finishes—and his long-held dream of building his own business.
Stratton purchased his first floor grinder for $50,000 in 2005 to remove the original failed pool deck coating. Sixteen years and 100 floor grinders later, PDCI is the largest concrete polisher west of Denver, Colorado.
“Dave could see the industry needed professional contractors with the expertise and equipment to install these finishes,” says Zak Zumwalt, PDCI Sales Director. “He took the ball and ran with it.”
Initially, the company focused on residential work, staining about 100,000 square feet of driveways and patios. Later, it began installing polished floors for Trader Joe’s. As polished concrete finishes became favored by architects and owners, the project base rapidly pivoted to large commercial, retail and industrial customers. With that leap, PDCI grew exponentially. It now diamond-polishes, seals, stains, coats and restores more than 10 million square feet of concrete annually across 13 Western states.
“What’s nice is that we began when polished concrete was just kind of a whisper, just starting to become popular. Now it’s one of the most prevalent finishes out there,” Zumwalt says.
Evolution and Expansion
As polished concrete became ever more popular, equipment manufacturers invented easier, faster, more productive ways to polish concrete.
“We continually stay on top of industry developments to always be one of the leading installers with the newest equipment,” Zumwalt adds.
Over the years, the company’s reputation for high-quality workmanship and customer service spurred referrals, repeat customers and a growing book of business. The one-time small startup currently has more than 150 employees.
In addition to its Sacramento headquarters, there are now three full-operation satellite offices: in Phoenix, Arizona; Albany, Oregon (suburban Portland); and Honolulu, Hawaii. Most of its work is for general contractors and end users that include Amazon, Apple, The Home Depot, Starbucks, Safeway, Whole Foods Market and many other marquee names.
Balancing Aesthetics and Cost Efficiency
As its value as a partner has grown, PDCI is now frequently brought in at the design phase when general contractors and architects are first creating the plans, specifications and project criteria.
“At that point, when we introduce polished concrete, they already have that overall trust and belief in what we do,” Zumwalt explains. “Beautifying their existing slab provides a cost-effective option that exceeds their expectations of a finished floor and satisfies high-end design needs, compared to using a vinyl composition tile or other vinyl floor.”
At other times, another type of floor finish has already been specified. In those cases, when the client isn’t familiar with polished concrete, PDCI likes to install a free mock-up or sample on site to help the owner visualize the product’s potential.
“There have been multiple times where polished concrete was not even in the picture, but we introduced that option,” he says. “Our track record often convinces them to go with this type of floor finish. And, with references throughout the West Coast, they can go see those installations in person.”
The company offers such design-savvy offerings as diamond-polished concrete, epoxy/resinous flooring and concrete dyeing and acid staining. For customers seeking traffic-tested maintenance and upkeep, PDCI brings a full mastery of concrete sealing, remediation and restoration, plus underlays and overlays honed over nearly two decades.
Added Coatings Extend Options
Zumwalt highlights PDCI’s newest division focused on increasingly popular epoxy/resinous flooring. Because these epoxy coatings provide a chemical- and solvent-resistant floor finish for high-traffic applications, they appeal to customers particularly in the retail, medical and education industries. In fact, they’ve become a staple in certain environments, such as grocery store deli and seafood departments.
“The strength and durability alone of this floor finish is very high, and we can make it slip-resistant,” he explains. “It’s also very popular in medical and industrial environments because it’s low-maintenance, and many of these new materials are low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products.”
He cites convenience to customers as another benefit of providing so many choices: While PDCI installers are on a property polishing the sales floor, they can apply the epoxy flooring as well.
While the visual transformation of a client’s concrete flooring is frequently stunning, the environmental impact is equally positive.
“Both the products and services we provide are very green friendly. In beautifying an existing concrete slab, we’re not taking away trees or other natural elements from our environment to cover a floor,” Zumwalt notes.
“While grinding concrete creates dust, we follow all OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements and stay ahead of other stringent guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of the general public and our installers alike,” he adds. “For example, we have a special type of filter vacuum that mitigates 99.9 percent of airborne dust.”
This flooring approach is enlightened in other ways, too. A diamond-polished concrete floor allows for more light reflection, so it can actually save energy.
“At many of the large groceries, retail stores and warehouses we serve, the shine from our floor creates so much more brightness in the environment, the building requires less lighting. This potentially reduces its use of electricity, too.”
All PDCI installers are craftsmen in finishing concrete, which requires following a very detailed, eight-step process to ensure they achieve a high-quality floor polish.
“There are a lot of companies out there saying they do polished concrete, but they’re only doing it in two or three steps,” Zumwalt asserts. “Authenticity is important. No matter what, we’re going out there and doing it the right way.”
In fact, another reason PDCI is brought in on so many projects is its “no-punch” quality and service. They finish a project, meet all requirements and don’t need to return to make any repairs identified on a punch list as not conforming to contract specifications.
“That’s one thing that we always are complimented on: doing the job right the first time,” Zumwalt states. “Once the owner and general contractor work with us, they know we make it easy. There are times I hear a customer from 20 years ago calling Dave and he talks to him like they just had lunch yesterday. That says a lot.”
Investing in ‘Green’ Installers
The company is also committed to engaging, training and investing in young people to build their skills—and the PDCI family.
“We love bringing in what we call ‘green installers’—18-year-olds right out of high school—and teaching them the craft,” Zumwalt says. “Often, it’s the friend of somebody who’s worked here and who wants to figure out what trade they want to be in. We are always willing to have someone join our team without any prior knowledge or background in the field and teach them how to do it the right way.”
He says many of the company’s current, longtime installers started that way and credits the patience and dedication of their operations team with helping them learn and grow in their craft and in their careers.
“It’s important that we provide all of the resources and training they need to be successful, including safety training,” he says.
Signature and Satisfying Projects
The PDCI team is very proud of its work on a huge high-profile project in its home city: the expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center, newly renamed the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. They’re currently completing installation of a high-sheen, natural polish on the concrete throughout the exhibit halls and in the main lobbies.
Another project particularly close to Zumwalt’s heart was for the 2018 opening of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, part of a major initiative in Portland to improve cancer research in the Pacific Northwest.
“I was a big proponent of this endeavor after losing my father to cancer. It’s such a frustrating and terrible disease people deal with,” he relates. “So whenever we can work on a project that will help the community help its citizens, there’s a different value to it.”
The company also quietly supports many worthy organizations through pro bono contributions.
“Sometimes our services are 100 percent donated; other times we complete work at a very discounted rate,” he says. “But we’re always willing to help out. They’ll just say, ‘Now, we only have this amount in our budget.’ If it’s for a good cause, we’ll go above and beyond to deliver what they need.”
“A floor is like a canvas,” Zumwalt says. “One of the main positives of polished concrete is actually beautifying the existing slab, the natural substrate. Sometimes, even we don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out. But once the customer gets to see the finished result, it always blows them away. We hear, ‘Wow. This cracked, ugly, gray concrete slab now looks like a piece of marble.’ Yet it’s a smart alternative that keeps clients within—or even beats—their budget.”