Savvy landscape contractors are creating a nice sideline, if not a full-time gig, doing something that is pretty simple, and with most of the tools and equipment already at their disposal.
Ken Murray, owner of Murray Landscaping in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Fred Riedel, owner of Paver Restoration in Clayton, North Carolina, offer brick and paver cleaning and refurbishing services in their respective markets. Murray Landscaping is already well diversified, furnishing a number of services to clients and customers including landscape and hardscape installation, as well as nursery retail products.
So it wasn’t much of a stretch for Murray to go into the business of sprucing up patios and other surfaces where decorative stone had been installed. Riedel has experience as a landscaper and also worked as a sales rep for a supplier of brick pavers. Murray, who doesn’t travel much more than a 45-mile radius of where he is headquartered in Kalamazoo, uses a two-to three-person crew to install brick pavers but only one person for the cleaning and repair business, while Riedel and two others work the Raleigh area.
Clean and seal a new installation.
Murray says whether it’s making a new installation or refurbishing an old one, prepping the site by properly compacting the sand before laying the brick is essential.
“Ninety percent of a proper patio is what you don’t see,” he says. “If anybody is going to skimp, that is where they’re going to do it and that’s a big mistake.”
After completing a new installation, his crew will clean the surface of the brick, let it dry, then come back the next day and apply polymeric sand to the cracks. They’ll then sand it and apply a sealer that will provide a wet or dry look or sometimes leave it as is.
“We prefer to seal it,” Murray says. “But sometimes customers are adamant against it,” he adds. “We seal with a joint sand stabilizer, it hardens the polymeric sand extremely hard and we think that is pretty important.”
Refurbishing an old patio.
“That’s the beauty of brick over concrete,” Murray says. “It can all be repaired and made to look good again.”
Murray’s one-person crew arrives at the site with a small trailer containing everything needed to repair and clean an aging installation. Murray says the tools and equipment needed for this business include a trailer, plate compactor, power washer, hand sprayer, wheelbarrow, hoses and some rollers and brushes.
After any needed repairs are completed, he can go to work cleaning the surface with a power washer and restoration solvent that can be purchased from any home improvement store.
“We need to clean every crevice and get all the sand out of the joints,” Murray says. The power washer, a 9 horsepower, 4200 psi Dewalt, has a spinning nozzle that can “peel the paint off a house.”
Once that work is done, the employee can refill the joints between the brick with polymeric sand, let it dry for a day, and then come back and sand and seal the joints. This is a two- to three-day project, since the sand between the joints needs to dry before a sealer is applied.
It’s the ability to repair a neglected patio that sets Murray and Riedel apart from the guys who only do the cleaning. Repairs range from replacing a few sunken or damaged pavers to much more.
“A guy had one that was sunken badly,” Murray says. “It was 25 years old. We tore everything out, including the concrete. There was no way to patch it.
“The base was not installed properly, which is usually what happens. The initial construction is subpar,” he says.
Servicing a southern market.
Paver Restoration’s three-person crew travels about the same distance to service clients as Murray’s paver restorer does.
Riedel says he learned the business while working as a manufacturer’s rep with a company in the Raleigh area that sells brick pavers and accessories, and also from his 20-plus years as a golf course superintendent.
He follows pretty much the same methods as Murray to clean, sand and seal the brick.
“Ninety percent of a proper patio is what you don’t see.” Ken Murray, owner, Murray Landscaping
Reidel has been in business working with pavers for about a year and a half and has done more than 100 cleaning and refurbishing jobs.
Since landscape installation work can be done year-round in the Raleigh area, he anticipates they’ll do most of their repair work over the winter, saving the warmer months for cleaning and sealing work.
Patios are popular.
Reidel says there are more patio installations in some states than others. For instance, he says many more patios and brick walkways have been installed in Michigan over the years than in North Carolina, so it may be prudent to do your research before hanging out your shingle.
But for landscape contractors like Riedel and Murray, paver maintenance is keeping the checks coming in, as long as they market their business.
“You can spend all you want on big trucks and equipment but if the phone isn’t ringing you’re not making money,” Riedel says.
Riedel markets his business with ads in a local home improvement magazine, via his Facebook and Twitter accounts and on his website.
Currently, he is getting more residential work than commercial, about a 70-30 percent split. He says it can be harder to get in touch with the corporate types than “Mrs. Jones” down the street.
That’s why he relies on installation contractors he met when he was a sales rep to spread the word among commercial clients. Murray relies on word of mouth and his website, and says he’s also gotten a lot of referrals from Angie’s List.
“There is a need for this, a good niche,” Murray says. “That’s why I put in a section on the website to attract more business and it’s working real well. I think it’s an up-and-coming business.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
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