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Plaster application is very profitable for applicators, contractors, architects and designers. For applicators especially, plaster might be 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, breathes, is 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 stuff in every way. 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 have never heard of it. Those who have heard of it might think it's an unaffordable luxury product. We want to change that. Whether you're buying our product or not, we want to elevate the plaster industry to become the standard of wall finishes, not more of an 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 give a mixed impression among customers.
A few numbers on plaster application and products
Competitor lime plaster brands (not ours) can cost up to $80 per gallon, and many are synthetic. Veneziano from imported brands ends up costing up to $2 per square foot in material cost, not to mention the special primers and sealers. Even synthetic plasters are often expensive for what they are. Marmorino can cost $3 or more per foot from other manufacturers.
Vasari products, made from crushed marble and lime, cost $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 $0.20 cents 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. The dry mixes are about half of the cost of the wet. The only difference is you have to mix the dry mix.
The US average price for applying a basic 2 coat lime plaster in an interior is somewhere around $8 per square foot. Sometimes cheaper, sometimes a lot more. For example, a 3000 square foot house would end up costing $50,000. We want to make it more affordable. The bottom line is that even the most affluent people, in good economy or bad, find it expensive. It has to be more affordable, 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...
The wet mix is $0.40-$0.60 per square foot, per layer product cost, or $0.90 - $1.20 per square foot for 2 layers. The cost depends on the color of plaster (the darker tints are more expensive), on how thickly it's applied, and also on artistic embellishments and difficult to reach (or finish) areas.
Dry mix is about $0.60 cents for a 2 coat application. Colorants might be another $0.05 or $0.10 per square foot.
The first coat takes about 30-45 minutes to apply approximately 100 square feet. The second layer, because it must be finessed a little more, takes about one hour per 100 square feet. On average, for a basic 2 coat application, one can cover about 250-400+ square feet of product per day. That estimate includes masking to unmasking. Of course, this figure can change depending on size of wall, nooks, details, etc.
The cost for Marmorino is $0.60 per square foot for dry mix, and it's reasonable to apply about 300 square feet per day. Assume another $0.20 cents per square foot for masking, gas, etc. That puts material cost at $0.80 cents per square foot. Everything afterwards is profit. So if you charged $3.80 cents per square foot, the net profit is $3. Multiply that by your average daily coverage of 300 square feet per day, and you have $900 per day. If you charged $4.80, $1200 per day, $5.80 per square foot yields $1500 per day.
Of course you should charge extra for extra coats, sealers, waxes, etc, if they're needed. Artistic efforts and unusual walls (shape/ height) make a reasonable case to charge more. Charge what's fair for you and your client.
For both coats included (or even three), the material cost about $0.40-0.60 per square foot. The dry mix costs $0.20-0.35 cents per square foot.
Like Marmorino, a basic two coat Veneziano application average is about 300 square feet of finished product per day. Sometimes less, sometimes much more. With Veneziano, your material cost is much less because it's a thinner material and your coverage is much greater than with Marmorino.
Even for $3.80 per foot, at 300 square feet per day, the daily net profit can average out to over $1,000 per day. Of course it's assuming everything goes very smoothly.
Our Carerra product, if used for interiors, is about the same cost and application speed as the Marmorino. It's used when a thicker, more robust finish is desired.
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 $0.05 per square foot. You can add many layers, and the cost will rise accordingly. You can charge $0.50 -2.00 per square foot for each layer of Lime Wash.
Dry mixes are about half of the price of wet mixes, as listed above. 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 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.
You can spray plaster with a hopper or mastic pump. This way you can apply thousands of square feet per day. Just thin down the plaster with a little water to the right consistency.
For soap, the product cost per square foot is about $0.05 cent per square foot. You can apply soap sealer at a rate of 100 square feet per day or more. It's like gently washing the walls with water. It's very fast and easy.
Acrylic Sealer is about $0.10-0.20 cent per square foot in product cost. It goes on with a roller and brush. It is as fast as paint to apply.
Waxes are more labor intensive, especially for large scale areas. Wax can be charged at a minimum of $1.00 per square foot. Your material square foot cost is about $0.10-0.20 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 instead of just a plastered wall. At some point, the sky's the limit on price. Charge what's fair for your time, artistry and sore shoulder.
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. We offer portfolio books that show a broad range of applications. Presentation is important considering the cost of the service. A portfolio book 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.
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 Paint). 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. Sample boards can be made any size, but most typically are 2' x 2', and 1' x 1'. Sometimes, with large scale subtle techniques, a 4' x 4' board may be necessary to show adequate variation. Use 1/4" or 1/8" MDF particle board or 1/4" drywall. 1/4" drywall and MDF are usually sold in stores that sell a range of drywall products. In 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 or better yet have it cut by the store if possible. 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.
Large hardware stores usually have a saw and will cut your MDF boards to your desired size. MDF is really the best because it's lighter and leaves no gypsum dust like drywall will.
It takes contacting a potential customer 6-7 times or more before you get the job. This is true in most marketing and it also applies to selling plaster projects.
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' naturally fights mold and regulates 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 it in the Louvre, after all. Ultimately, plaster 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, including 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 want 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 efficient way of growing your business. There are more small remodels going on every day than large high end construction projects. It's easier for many homeowners to justify a remodel, compared to building a new custom home. Getting paid is also sometimes a little easier with the homeowner directly.
Check out pricier neighborhoods and look for new construction. All builders and architects have their signs 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 that developers offer plaster as an extra option to their home buyers. 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 pictures. 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 online. 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 free job a month after it's done, and ask who did it, chances are they won't know. That doesn't help.
Creating a print ad - This can make a fortune. 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 successful ad that went in a glossy magazine. It took 2 hours to put it together:
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 whatever works for you. Make sure you have all of your contract forms in order. Make sure you make yourself very clear about when you get paid. There's nothing worse than someone dragging their feet on paying you. You have bills to pay, too. Don't be shy about money. Some people will see your apprehension and take advantage of your generosity. Be firm.
Technology: have it. 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.