Creating a Concrete Canvas

Signature Surfaces owner takes a turn into the construction sector

by Scott Salwolke

One would think that if Jamie Yager started a business it would be related to the automobile industry.
After all, he had grown up working on cars for his dad's business, Yager Auto Body, and the family name seemed synonymous with automobiles.

Yet, when his father began to phase out his involvement in the business, he inadvertently led Jamie to another path."As my dad started to leave the business to let us take over, he started buying homes to fix up and then turn into rentals," Yager said. "This became his new career. I'd work in the body shop during the day, and then help him out at night and on the weekends."So I started learning the construction trade. I realized I wanted to do something in the construction business, but I also needed some sort of niche. I thought there had to be something out there that wasn't being done in Dubuque."What Yager discovered was a concrete overlay process that rejuvenated an existing countertop.

After doing much research and attending training programs, he opened Signature Surfaces four years ago."We either do new construction for countertops, if they are changing the configuration of their countertop or, what is unique to us, we can resurface an existing countertop," said Yager.

"We have a hybrid concrete that we can put over their countertop. It gives us a blank white canvas to work with."We can do this in people's homes and we can do whatever they want for coloring. I like to say it's like when you have someone come in to do an accent wall in your home. It's a complete collaboration between the homeowner, the designer or whoever is in charge of the coloring, and me. When the coloring is done we put on a high build epoxy coating."If the homeowner doesn't have a countertop, one is made from a wood base, then overlaid with concrete.

Before and After Countertop

One thing Yager has found is that even homeowners that could afford a granite or quartz countertop find advantages to his product."No matter how big a kitchen countertop is or what configuration it is, we can do it completely seamless," Yager said. "Because we are doing an overlay, there are no seams. We have customers that could easily afford the granite countertops, but don't like the seams. Also, this is a nonporous surface so that if something like Kool-Aid or wine is spilled it just lies there until you wipe it up. It doesn't stain the surface.""There are environmental advantages to this, as well. Instead of taking the old countertop to the dump we are reusing it. And we use a renewable man-made resource to resurface their existing countertop. With granite and quartz you are carving those out of the earth just to use for a countertop."

It's also more affordable than traditional granite or quartz countertops. Although it's more expensive than Formica or laminate, it's a fraction of the cost of the harder surfaces"People usually don't do laminate because they want to, it's because they've seen how expensive a granite countertop is," Yager said. "We are a middle-of-the-road alternative.

And there are advantages to our countertops over the real granite countertops than just the price. Some need to be resealed every year. And this type of surface can also be repaired. In the past, if your countertop was scratched or chipped, you either lived with it or bought a new countertop. Here we can come in and repair it."Countertops are just part of what Signature Surfaces offers. They also redo interior and exterior floors using a similar process.After the concrete base, at least one coat of overlay is put down. If the customer wants a decorative pattern, such as one that gives the appearance of tiles, a special tape is put down prior to a second coat.

Then as the second coat is about to dry, the tape is removed, leaving a decorative impression.The company begun providing other services such as concrete molded countertops and polyurethane floors for a garage. The overlay technique can be used on shower stalls, outdoor kitchens and barbecue pits.The difficult part for Yager when the business started was marketing something consumers weren't familiar with. Although he had a workshop, it wasn't a showroom.He attended home shows and spoke to contractors in the area. He put a lot of time into his website, showing images of work he'd done for homeowners.As his customer base expanded, however, it became easier to market his products. Especially as people realized their countertop would be one of a kind.

"One of the big selling points is that every project is a one-of-kind piece," said Yager. "A customer won't walk into someone else's home and see the same countertop. Even if the same stains are used, they all react differently depending on the conditions."Yager's experience with his and his father's business gives him a unique perspective on starting one."I think the big thing is to you have to have the time and dedication to put into it," said Yager. "You'll have to put in more hours. A good week is 60 hours a week. I'm doing bids at night and on the weekends. Right now I'm the owner, the estimator, the salesman and one of the workers on site. It will, however, get better as you become more established.

"And most businesses don't succeed from the get-go, so you need to have some money saved up. You're basically leaving a job that is less hours and has guaranteed money for something that will pay less in the beginning and require more hours. Hopefully, however, you'll have something that is sustainable and that in the long run will provide even more for your family. That is what it's all about."

Before and After Flooring