Find Contractors & Dealers

Inside Out Podcast #19: Paving Success

March 8, 2024
0
Episode 19 of the Inside Out With Belgard Podcast

In Episode #19, Joe Raboine welcomes hardscape and business experts Cory Frank, Co-Owner of CG Hardscapes, and Danilo Abdala, Founder of Black Diamond Hardscapes, to discuss their leadership roles in the industry and share behind-the-scenes insights into the intricacies of large-scale projects. For more information, visit Belgard.com/InsideOut.

Products Mentioned: Papyrus™, Origins™, Dimensions™, Artforms™, Diamond Pro®, Mega-Arbel®, Lafitt®

Joe Raboine 

Welcome back to Inside Out with Belgard, a podcast made for professionals by professionals who are passionate about outdoor living. I’m your host, Joe Raboine, and we’re thrilled to bring you the latest insights from some of the top experts in the industry. 

Today I am pleased to announce two guests, which I’m excited to have on. We’ve got Danilo Abdala, owner of Black Diamond Hardscapes out of Orlando, Florida, and Cory Frank, also owner of CG Hardscapes out of Rochester, New York.

Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Out by Belgard. How are you doing?

Cory Frank

Great.

Danilo Abdala

Doing great as well.

Joe Raboine 

Awesome. Well guys, I’m super pumped to have you on the show. Cory, I think I’ve known you maybe four or five years. You were a part of our inaugural Belgard Advisory Council, a council we put together starting four years ago where we actually have different contractors who are nominated throughout the country. So every one of our business operating units nominates a contractor to be on the council. And the council is really set up to provide insights and help us become better. And hopefully in the process result in better products, better services, and ultimately better relationships between us and our contracting network. So Cory was on that first council.

Danilo was on the second council, which kicked off a little over a year ago. So it’s awesome. We really appreciate all that you guys have done on the council. I know it’s a big commitment, but it’s something we truly believe, really makes our business better and ultimately like I said, helps your businesses.

Before we get started, I’d love to have you guys just do a quick intro about yourselves, your company, what you guys are doing, what you’re all about. 

Cory Frank

Yep. Again, Cory Frank out of Rochester, New York. My business partner, Brandon Smith, and I were on the first council there. And we started about 13 years ago when we were in college. And it was one of those things where, you know, once we graduated college, we already had a couple of employees and we said, hey, let’s give it five years. And that was about six years ago now. You know, I mean, it’s as we were growing, we were so young in the business and a lot of people, I mean, they kind of see these young, ambitious people and they’re like, you know, do we really want to do these projects with them? So what we started to do is we started to kind of over-educate ourselves with the process, talk to every manufacturer out there that we could, you know, we became master craftsmen through Belgard and, you know, there’s a lot of other programs that we did to kind of, including ICPI certifications, all of our installers get ICPI certified.

So when it comes to it, there’s an old adage out there of professionals use professional terms. So it’s always reassuring to our customers when they ask us a question, then ask our installers a question, it’s the same answer across the board. So been fun, but we’ve been definitely seeing the outdoor living trend taking over a lot more than just being the guys who lay some pavers and blocks on the ground.

Joe Raboine

Awesome. Yeah, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and Brandon and the team. And I would say we’ve we formed a good friendship over the years. And that’s really what it’s all about. 

Danilo, I know you’re fresh into the most recent council. I love your story. I think you and your brother, you guys are inspiring. If you wouldn’t mind just giving a quick background on your company as well, that’d be great.

Danilo Abdala

Yes, for sure. Danilo here. Thank you for inviting us for the show, Joe. It’s a pleasure to be here. We started from basically the bottom. We started installing pavers as installers when we were about 19 years old. That was around 2010 during college time. So we were doing that during college time. 

The funny thing is that we were doing a more show in the summer times, in which in Florida used to be very hot. And it’s also a hot time for outdoor living areas. Most of the times just paver flat in Florida. Now we are trying to change that concept a little bit. Around 2017 and 18, we started doing a few projects ourselves, residential. And with that being said, that’s when we kind of opened Black Diamond.

So it will be five, six years now as well. And together we have grown into having a team developing different types of projects as the industry is actually changing. And not just doing flat pavers, and square backyards and things like that. So trying to be different and trying to follow what the industry is leading us to. And basically combine all those craftsmanship into an outdoor living area where everybody can be a little bit healthier outside as well. COVID has been a big boom for everybody that works in our industry that does it the right way for sure. And we seen that tremendously after that. And it was a good boom for the business. It was great for the brand.

You know, and, it has been hard, but very nice ride. 

Joe Raboine

Yeah, I know you guys know my background. It’s funny you said you both said you started during college which was the same as me. It’s funny how things kind of evolve and change and your plans don’t always work out the way you think when you’re 18 years old, right? 

Danilo Abdala

Exactly.

Joe Raboine

We’ll get into a little bit of the trends and kind of what you’re seeing in your market a little bit later on. I think it’s fascinating. First of all, you guys are from two radically different markets. You know, upstate New York versus Florida. You couldn’t get more different, probably. But I think that diversity of thought and perspective is really what we hope for when we when we put these councils together.

Danilo Abdala

Mm-hmm.

Joe Raboine

And you know, in the first Council, Cory, we had never done this before. And, um, you know, it was a learning experience for us. And I think, uh, for us, it’s been super rewarding. I mean, if you wouldn’t mind maybe give a little bit of your perspective on what it was like to be part of that council and, you know, how maybe it shaped you, changed your perspective and really helped your business.

Cory Frank

To be honest when we first were approached by it by Greg Piper who’s vice president of sales in our region. I remember him coming to me is like, you know, I appreciate your candor and you know I appreciate the fact that you can just tell it the way it is and that’s how I am and I’m not really exactly sure what this board’s about, but it’s something I think you guys should be interested in and it was one of those things that at the time I said to him the only way I’d be interested in doing it is if my business partner did it, we’ve always kind of done everything together. And so it was actually cool. It was a different dynamic to the board. We were the only company that consistently had two people there. And I think we brought a great perspective because we are such yin and yang. We’re on the same page as building the business, but he is the design guru, you know, driving force of moving forward with the company. And I’ve always kind of been, let’s figure it out, right? You know what I mean? I’m the guy that figures it out, helps build the leaders, you know, does a lot of that type of stuff. But it was fun on the board, just seeing the different, I think the most refreshing thing to me was like when we were sitting in Georgia, right? We went there and kind of seeing the personality side of Oldcastle, you know, Belgard.

It was fun to see such a large company founded by so many small companies that still have their own personalities and passion to it. So the thing that I love the most about it was that the board actually listens. I mean, we’re starting to see the fruition now with modularity and stuff like that. That’s stuff we were talking about three, four years ago, some of those textures, some of the stuff we voted on when we had our meeting in Philly. We’re just starting to see some of that. So it’s exciting to see the feedback actually taken because there’s a lot of boards and whatever you want to call it. And I think a lot of times it’s more of a formality whereas you guys really embraced it and kind of use as a stepping stone to really develop a system and a product that contractors love using. Whether it be Rooms, whether it be Design Studio, whether it be the actual products themselves.

Because at the end of the day, if the contractor is happy and loves the overall service. I think maybe in my business, I’ve had three times where customers have driven product decisions. The rest of it has been, you’re the expert, you tell me. So if we work with a manufacturer, we have a great relationship and a great product with great support behind it, I think that’s key. And that’s something that Belgard has done a great job, even though they are a huge company. From the reps to the regional people to national, it’s always been about feedback and follow through.

Joe Raboine 

It’s funny you think about a company of our size and it would be easy to lose that personal touch. But just like everything in life, it’s all about relationships. And we don’t take that lightly. And as you mentioned, the feedback from you guys, I mean, we all take it all to heart and have made some pretty major changes, especially in certain markets like yourself, you’re starting to see kinda the fruits of your labor, which has got to be pretty satisfying I would suspect.

Cory Frank

It’s nice because it’s like you get a lot of our suppliers that are calling us and stuff like hey, there’s these new textures. Hey, there’s this new system. I just kind of laugh. I’m like yeah, no, I know. It’s nice, especially in a market that is very short on labor and stuff to have systems that kind of you know, one plus one equals two. Um, you know, I think some of the paver systems in the past, um, you know, especially when you get into like a four piece combo, it makes it a little intimidating for some of the contractors. So by going in the increments of three, um, and having something that you could truly interchange and create these, you know, we like to call them like inlays, like carpets under tables, stuff like that. It takes away that intimidating factor without cheapening the outcome. You know what I mean?

Joe Raboine

Yeah, well that was that was our goal, right? It’s to continue to simplify and make it attainable and ultimately offers the most flexibility in terms of creativity. 

Danilo, so you’ve been a little over a year. Last year at H&A we kicked off the…We said goodbye to the first council, kicked off the second council. So what, I guess, what are your thoughts so far about what we’re doing and the impact the council has?

Danilo Abdala

Yeah, the council is definitely something very, very impactful in everyone’s lives inside that group. I mean, including you guys, you know, at Oldcastle Belgard family. I have met, you know, great contractors throughout the whole group. Um, I have, I have been closer, uh, to people, um, around, uh, Belgard and Oldcastle family. 

The same way, uh, Audi, the VP of sales over here approached me and he asked if I wanted to be a part of the council for the second council and you know he kind of didn’t know exactly as well what was the council about but he knew there was for a better change for the company you know in the relationship between contractor and Oldcastle and Belgard. For us it just has been great I have been seeing all these new products, uh, new prototypes and all this kind of stuff. And every time I ask, you know, when are we getting this in Florida? 

It was great to be a part of it. Like you said, we started last year. I’ve been pushing that. I’ve been pushing that a lot too, through you guys. And we are finally getting some different material for the beginning of the year now. You know, some of which I didn’t think we were going to get it in, which is the new favorite Papyrus, you know.

And they’re gonna be manufacturing here in our area. And I’m excited about it. And for sure, there’s different things that we see happening in the country overall that we’re like, oh my gosh, we were part of that idea. And it’s very nice to see it happening. Belgard is a huge company. When we went to Atlanta too in Georgia, it was just crazy to see all these higher ups coming up, Tim, Jenny, even Joe, sitting there in that room with us. And they listened to us and taking notes and basically just putting everything in place. And you see changes happening, emails getting sent to Sales Rep, the VP of Sales, and everything going on like that. It’s just a good feeling for sure.

And it’s a company that listens, you know, and listens for some of their customers that are in that group, but that definitely our goal is to help everybody, you know, everybody, even competitors. I mean, you know, we are all here to do something better for our customers and, 

it’s great to be a part of something that changes, you know, and helps everybody. So yeah.

Joe Raboine

You know, it’s funny, because we go back to when this started. We didn’t know what to expect with this, right. And we wanted this to be something that was impactful. And it’s made radical changes. And I think, you know, for the senior leadership all the way up, as you mentioned to Tim and Jenny and that whole team, we truly take to heart what you guys are telling us and nobody’s perfect. We’re always looking to improve. And if there are pain points throughout and things that are missing, I mean, we wanna hear it. And we told you, we don’t want yes men on the council. We want people who are gonna challenge us and really force us to think about what we need to do to be better. And I can’t express enough thanks to you and the rest of the council, both councils for the impact that you made. It’s been great. I mean, not only have you guys made an impact, you’ve become personal friends of ours. We really became a part of your lives, which is really cool. And that’s really, as I said, really what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Cory Frank

And to kind of tie into that point, Joe, I still remember Jenny sitting up in front of the room in Georgia. And she said, she said, we’ll be the first to admit, we’re a big ship, we’re a slow moving ship, but we are moving. And we’ve definitely seen that, I think, when we first started using Belgard, it was a smorgasbord of acquisitions as far as pavers and selections and color options. Because some came from one market, some came from another. But like I said, is that ship has been consistently steering in a direction which sometimes slow is better because it’s really listening along the way and you know applying that you know along the way and that’s one thing I think Belgard has done very well is evolving.

Joe Raboine

It has been challenging. As you said, we’ve grown through acquisition. We really cover coast to coast throughout Canada. And we still have around 20 different catalogs. But when you start looking at the past, the history, we’ve transitioned to modularity, we’ve introduced Origins,  Dimensions. This past year, Papyrus is really our first paver that’s being launched across all of the geographies that we’re in. Artforms, prior to that, was the first product really that started the crossover. But I think with the advent of social media and being on the council, you guys are sharing what’s going on. I mean, we wanna strive for that consistency while maintaining that regionality too, right? You gotta have that local touch and nuance. So it’s a bit of a balancing act, but I feel like we’re on the right track and we’re making progress. And again, the feedback from you guys and the rest of the group has been instrumental in that. I mean, our…

Not just nationally, I mean the local companies, I mean if the council says, hey we think this should be this, that carries more weight than probably my vote or any other vote in the company, right? So it’s like, we get all of it opinion, but if you guys are telling us we should do it a certain way, I mean we’re probably gonna err on that side than not. So it’s been super cool to get to know you guys and looking forward to great things to come from the councils.

I’m going to shift gears a little bit. I think, uh, you both have been involved in something that I think I hope was a great experience. For those listeners out there, hopefully you’re familiar with the fact that we have been sponsors of the HGTV Dream Home for around a decade. That home, uh, bounces from market to market each year. I mean, we’ve been Montana, Colorado, uh, Hilton head, you know, Vermont, uh, Florida, all over the place.

And each year, I would say the outdoor living space continues to grow and evolve. And the last few years in particular, they, I would say that the surface area of the outside has actually been on par or has eclipsed the size of the home itself, which I think is a testament to where outdoor living is, right? I mean, the people are shifting, have, you know, their thoughts and ideas about what an outdoor living space is. And because of that, the spaces have become more elaborate, they become larger and more complex and more interesting. 

But you both have participated in the Dream Home builds. Cory and team back a couple years ago in Vermont and then Danilo this year in St. Augustine, which is kicking off very shortly. What’s interesting about that is when we work with the HGTV Dream Home team,

They asked for recommendations in the market and we said, you know, both of your companies were fantastic. You guys are on the advisory council and you’re highly recommended. And they selected you both for both of the respective homes. And man, the projects that you guys have done there have been incredible. And so why don’t we kick it off, Cory, because it’s the first one, you know, a couple of years ago. What are your thoughts about that whole experience?

Cory Frank

If I had to sum it up in a few words, I would say roller coaster of emotions would definitely be it. I remember getting the phone call. I don’t remember their exact details, but basically, it was right after 4th of July weekend. I was with a customer all of a sudden my phone went off from joe and he was like, how do you guys feel about doing the Dream Home? You know, like, you know, and I was like when would it start? Like about a month.

So, you know, conversations were evolving. First and foremost, the next thing we did was, like, let’s see this job site. You know what I mean? So we picked up our local vice president in Albany, which is still four hours away, drove another two hours or so to the project site. And it was one of those things where pretty much everywhere where we had to do patio was about six foot off grade.

Because the way they poured the foundations, the way they did all that. And I was trying not to have a mini panic attack while, um, my business partner did what he did best. He was talking, you know, um, trying to figure out some of the design, some of that element. And then we were sitting there. I was talking with, um, Luke from Kingsbury Construction, the local site contractor, um, explained to him how important it was for, we can’t just backfill those areas with dirt, you know, it needs to be done with gravel.

So it was definitely interesting. I think in total when we did that it was about, we personally put about a thousand yards of washed stone in before we laid any pavers. They put about another thousand before we got there. So it was definitely a challenge for sure in the middle of absolute nowhere off dirt roads. 

Joe Raboine

Yeah, that was in that was in Warren, Vermont, which is what hour and a half outside of Burlington. Its beautiful area, but you’re right. There literally is nothing nearby at all. But so that house was interesting because they had to, I think I was on 11 or 12 acres and they had to move it because essentially there was a massive flowing spring underneath, correct? And that’s so they had to raise the house and engineer all kinds of stuff.

Cory Frank 

I think it was a split between raising and minimizing the height of the basement. The site contractor said, and I quote, this is the wettest job site we’ve ever had in 26 years. 

Joe Raboine

You look at the scale of that, that thing was massive, right? That had two fire pit areas, it had a pool, it had an outdoor kitchen. The driveway, walkway, big dining area, built in Artforms. I mean, you guys were camped out there for how long? A month? More?

Cory Frank 

We did everything except for the pool area in about three and a half weeks. If that was at home, it probably would have been like a three month project or so. But we quite literally went to, you know, we were fully booked. This was during COVID. So we went to a couple of our customers, explained the situation and pretty much told them, like we didn’t ask them. We pretty much told them, this is what we have to do as a company. This is what we really want to do.

And it was actually surprising. Our customers were like, that is awesome. And they were telling everybody, oh, we’re going to have our patio done by one of the installers that did the Dream Home. And so we had a lot of support there. And we had a lot of support going in from our team. But I think it was more of a hesitation. Like what does this mean? But when we were up there, just a constant camaraderie.

The 16 hour work days, but we try not to work on the weekend that much. That’s where we kind of went, you know, there’s river tubing and stuff like that. But it was funny, but, you know, in the beginning, they’re like, when can I go home and transfer them by the end? They were asking, you know, to stay pretty much the entire time. And that’s what a bunch of our head guys did is they stayed up there the entire time. So we were thankful for our team. Most importantly, the only reason it really pulled off is because your guys support and then once you guys told me we had access to the full design studio and Mike Miles in particular…I don’t think our jobs go that smooth at home, let alone six hours away from home because of the you know, you guys had the support you had the trucking and you had the resources so we could only bring six or eight pallets in at a time because local DEC really restricted…

We couldn’t just go into the woods and put stuff. So I spent the first day or two labeling pallets one through 140, because every pallet was stored 45 minutes away. So we’d have to call each night and tell them what pallets they’re bringing, what pallets they’re bringing out. So it was definitely, it was something.

Joe Raboine

Yeah. I mean, it turned out incredible. I would say, um, you really set the standard and raised the bar for what that team could expect. And I know that impacted what happened last year out in Colorado with that crew and that contractor. And I’m sure Danilo as well. Right. I mean, you really set the expectation that the outdoor living space is going to be a key part of, of the Dream Home. You know, the quality has to be there. I mean, all of those aspects of, you know, the cut, the finish, the whole piece has to look fantastic.

Cory Frank

Let alone, thousands of square feet of three inch herringbone. 

Joe Raboine

Yes, yeah. Yeah, that was fun. We had a lot of fun as well. And I know you guys put your heart and soul into that and it really showed. So very, very nice job. 

Cory Frank

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Joe Raboine

So Danilo, you probably listen to this going, man, some of this sounds familiar. You’re just coming off of that build. Was your experience similar or a little bit different? Um, what were your thoughts?

Danilo Abdala

Well, yeah, pretty similar to the point where it was a challenging location as well, being that it was kind of like an island. So, you know, access there for semi trucks was horrible. You know, every truck we had to go meet with them at the gate, you know, tell them exactly what to do. 

We were actually in Nashville just so Cory knows as well. We were in Nashville meeting with the advisory council and Joe and he kind of asked me, Steve kind of asked me if I would like to be kind of a part, at least be one of the companies that they would kind of send it to HGTV to the network. And it’ll be potentially one of the ones that they were going to be kind of like interviewing for the job, right? And I was I was excited. That was June, you know, mid of June. And we waited until like mid of July. And I was like, what’s going on? I haven’t heard anything. And they said that the job had to be, you know, starting at the end of July or beginning of August. And I was like, OK. And then it finally happened.

We went there to meet with some of the guys. And we found a few things. There wasn’t a retaining wall initially in the driveway area, but the house was built up so high that we told the Belgard team that we need a retaining wall in the front. And that was a whole different level of ballpark as well.

There was retaining walls in the back in which they built a CMU wall because of the pool. And so we had to build a retaining wall based on that CMU wall. 

There was different challenges in there. Mike Miles was my best friend. Every morning we were there. You know? Yeah, Mike Miles was my best friend. I know Joe is really busy…

Cory Frank 

Did you get him to panic at any point? He never panicked. He never panicked. He was always just cool and collected. We had to get our papers in by, you know, Monday in order to lay them. They came out of Chicago Thursday night. Everything showed up flawlessly Saturday morning. And that’s a 20-hour trek there. And Mike made it happen.

Danilo Abdala

He made it happen every time. And our stuff came from Chicago too, Cory. So we are in Florida. So it was a long trip. And he made it happen, man. It was like a Tuesday and Friday, we were getting trucks delivered there, you know. My brother and I, we were there with the machines and loading the trucks so they could put more material on the trucks too. You know, there was one corner of the wall that they, they stick the survey wrong and they had to cut the CMU wall. Our Diamond Pro wall was already built too. So that means we had to take that down for them to cut it out and then redo that portion. But it was a few challenges here and there, but honestly, it’s a great experience for us, you know, and for the team. 

Joe Raboine

And by the way, I, you know, shout out to Mike, Mike’s fantastic. He’s yeah, we couldn’t do these jobs without him. Um, cause there’s a lot of moving parts. What’s interesting about this and having worked with them for years now and Brian Patrick Flynn and that whole team, um, there’s, there’s a design process that happens upfront, but once things get started, just like any job, right? It’s, it’s, it has to be fluid. There, there might be some regulations that you know, took place or some changes that happened and you kind of have to react on the fly. So I would say almost every one of these, it changes and morphs a little bit. And usually they’re in challenging locations, in beautiful locations but that could mean there’s a hillside or it’s on the waterfront or in the woods. And so I think you have to be flexible and but the house is being built literally in a few months. So while you guys are building the house is being built. So I know that I know I’ve talked to you both many times on the phone during the build. You’re like, man, I keep laying this somebody drives over something. They spill something on it. I got to redo this and it’s definitely not like you’re going to come in there like a normal job after the house is built. It’s literally being built while you’re working on it.

Cory Frank

I’m sure you saw when you were at ours, they were so backwards on stuff, but the GC made it happen. They had the drywall up before they even had the windows in, and the framer that did it all. When the windows came in, they had to redo all the rough framing, and it was incredible. By the time, we had no running water there when we got there. We had to make pumping stations from the local stream.

I got used to the term, it’s an on-site decision, which means it’s up to you to figure it out, so…

Joe Raboine

Yeah. I mean that one, Cory in Vermont was during COVID. So there’s all kinds of shortages with stuff showing up. I remember that we were, we were there working. It was raining out the windows weren’t completely in. I’m like, this is crazy, but you got to keep moving forward. 

I had the pleasure of being on the job when the, when it was being built in Vermont and then seeing it all, um, in December afterwards, we had a wonderful time up there.

I have not been to the one in Florida yet, so I think in two weeks we’ll be there. I’m super excited to see it in person, Danilo. Just from the photos, it looks spectacular, so I can’t wait.

Danilo Abdala 

Yeah, it’s a beautiful job there. And like I said, a beautiful project. The challenges are there. When we started laying the driveway, the granite countertop showed up the truck and they just backed up to the parish. I was like, what? But other than that, I mean, it’s a great, great project. I mean, we all knew that was going to happen. You know, TV show, all these people coming and going.

You know, painters, everything is going on at the same time. So, you know, we kind of knew, but in the end is, I think is worthy. And as Cory said, our customers were really pumped and excited about delaying their jobs for that project as well. So, you know, it was a good experience.

Joe Raboine

The fascinating thing about the Dream Home is that the millions and millions of people who watch that and participate in it, it’s absolutely mind boggling. And for us, that’s really our keystone marketing piece and one that we know helps build the connection between the consumer and the contractor. So…

For any of the contractors out there listening, I would lean into that and say, Belgard, you may have seen them on the Dream Home. That resonates with people and it does help build a sense of, I guess, calmness or appreciation for it that they feel comfortable partnering with somebody who’s participated something of that level. So we’re excited about next steps and seeing that all come to fruition. And again, both of you guys and you and your crews, fantastic job. It’s been incredible.

I would love again, since Cory, you’re in the northern part of the country and Danilo, you’re in the southern part. Cory, what are you seeing in the market? I mean, what are some of the trends you’re seeing out there? Just give us a little insight on what’s happening in upstate New York.

Cory Frank

Before 2020, you know, COVID, we always kind of got that question from people, right? Like, why would I spend that money on an outdoor area like that if I only have six months a year to enjoy it? Whereas I think COVID kind of then rewrote that answer of saying, I only have six months to enjoy it, so let me invest to enjoy all six months. What we have found is just an expansion of the need for an outdoor area. Paired together with the outdoor kitchens, the outdoor fireplaces, something that we’re incorporating quite a bit now to extend the season a little bit as we do a ton with infrared heating. There’s a lot of great brands out there, both electric and gas.

And we found a lot of customers, they can kind of get that extra two, three weeks in the spring and two, three weeks in the fall to, you know, gain a little extra time out there. But we’ve seen a huge, um, kind of shift as far as people going back into the pool houses and the pavilions off the houses and a lot of that type of stuff. Cause especially during COVID, cause at that point money was so cheap as far as you know, interest rates and stuff like that. Even now, even with interest rates being a little bit higher, a lot of that higher end clientele that we’ve kind of come accustomed to servicing. They understand the value of investing in those outdoor areas. It really is something that we find a lot of people are sometimes putting it before the kitchen remodel, whereas before the kitchen remodel always kind of came first.

It’s not just a patio outside anymore. People are starting to call it an outdoor area. And like we said on the council there, it’s kind of like the joy factor that you get from it, right? We always used to get that question of, will I get the value out of my home if I put it into and stuff like that? But with the cost of new builds skyrocketing and everything else, we’re finding a lot of these people, they just want to stay there and build up their outdoors because the indoors is how they want it. So the old mindset of let’s downsize doesn’t make sense because especially around here, we’ll have a lot of these people selling their huge houses for $400,000 and going to move into a ranch new build at $500,000, right? It’s assessed at $5,000. Their taxes almost doubled. Their interest rates are higher. So it doesn’t really kind of make sense to downsize at this point. It kind of just makes sense to invest in what you already have and, you know, build that outdoor area because the lingering question everybody’s had is will we have something like that again or whatever and we’re always able to use our outdoor spaces, right? And I think a lot of people are getting this fatigue from the vacation needed after a vacation and just that constant need to get away would cause a lot more stress to people than just being able to enjoy your outdoor space more regularly.

Joe Raboine

I love that. I think that’s perfectly articulated, kind of the state of what’s going on. I mean, the suspicion is, is that these higher rates will lead to people investing again, maybe not to the level of what we saw during COVID. But I think once they feel comfortable, this is something we’re hearing kind of coming from all over, is that people are busy. But you know, they’re looking, like you said, if they downsize and I end up paying more, that doesn’t make sense. Why don’t I just stay here and invest my money in here and have a place I can enjoy every day and it helps me feel better. 

Cory Frank

People are starting to realize that now everyone’s like, oh, like, you know, you used to get that crowd of, I’m gonna wait to buy till home prices drop. And the more we’re hearing with suppliers and manufacturers and stuff like that is this is the best time to invest because once interest rates do go down, the demand is still there and house prices are going to skyrocket even more. And so this is the best time to invest in a home and buy a home. You can always refinance later.

Joe Raboine

So for you, you guys are still seeing a pretty good amount of interest in business and all that good stuff.

Cory Frank 

Yeah, you know, obviously there’s a little bit of a down tick with some of like the walkways and just kind of functional boring spaces, right? But again, we’ve also kind of have switched our business to cater to that crowd of outdoor living and stuff like that as well. So in all fairness, we do still get some of those leads in, and I love sidewalks and small patios in out the most happy customers that you’ve had. Because you’re in for two or three days, you’re not there for months and develop that customer fatigue as you call it, Joe. So it is, but there is a little bit of down tick in some of that smaller stuff. But, you know, as you said, Danilo, like there’s more than enough business out there if you’re doing business correctly and you kind of diversify yourselves enough.

Joe Raboine

Well, cool. Appreciate that, Cory. Thank you. 

Danilo, what are you seeing down in Florida?

Danilo Abdala

Florida is definitely a place where the basic demand for basic outdoor areas is always going to be there. Now it’s just finding that correct customer, the right customer that wants to do different things into their back areas. Like I said, flat and square pavers that go from corner to corner.

That demand is still out there. Definitely there is a little bit of a downside right now due to everything going on in the world right now, especially in our country with the economy. But interest is being as high as it is now. There is more and more homeowners that are just like, I’m not gonna switch my 3% or 2.9% interest for a 7% or 8% interest right now.

So I’m going to stay at this house. I save some money. I want to do a project. The projects are still there. We have some great projects coming up. There’s one I actually put up today that we just finished, Backyard, Pergola, Seating area, Fire Pit, a nice putting green connecting with the pavers. And if you look at the project, it’s just something different. I mean, you don’t see that every day in Florida. You might see where Cory is at. You might see it in California.

You might see in all those places, you know, but it’s very, I feel very proud to say like, it’s a different type of project and it looks very eye appealing. I use that phrase that you came up with Joe that says live well outside that Oldcastle now is all about it. You got, he’s got stickers, you guys got bottles with it. Um, I tell my customers, I tell my customers all the time, you know, live well outside. I mean, it’s good for your show. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your mental health.

Let us help you do something that is going to be different for you. You know, you’re going to look at outside and you’ll be like, man, I prefer to be outside sitting and reading a book or drinking a coffee or being on my laptop and working than being inside the house, being inside the office or being inside a room or being inside the living room, you know, watching TV, you know? That’s, that’s, uh, it’s just like, how do I say it? The gratitude about it, you know, it’s like, it’s just, it’s beautiful. Yeah, the fulfilling part. Yes, exactly. You know, what we do is people kind of trading that interior mindset, oh, Florida, very hot. We have the season, you know, every month is almost hot in here. This might be a cool, you know, a cool down winter this time, but you know, it’s just like one month, you know. Other than that, everybody’s outside.

When it’s cold in Florida, everybody’s outside because we’re enjoying that cold weather. You know, so now that fire pit, that fireplace, you know, all of that is, is just, um, you know, it’s just getting out there. I mean, we’ve been putting Artforms and fireplaces and fire pits, even if my customers don’t ask, but we are working with them on a design. We are including those there in the design because I’m going to show them, Hey, look, this is what I’m thinking. It’s not what you asked me for.

Cory Frank 

Show them the Cadillac, you know what I mean? I don’t know, Danilo with you, like we always incorporate lighting because when do you have your friends over? Typically in the evening. I mean, that was part of our business. We never really did a lot, but then, you know, as we started using TrueScapes a lot, it’s just huge and it’s a no brainer and people quite honestly don’t think about it.

Joe Raboine

Just tack it on.

Danilo Abdala

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. I mean, I love TrueScapes too, Cory. So we do use them a lot. I like them a lot. And I like any project like that, that we do, we should incorporate lighting. Like you said, it just makes the project a lot prettier. So, yeah.

Joe Raboine

You were saying you’re outside enjoying the cold weather in Florida. I’m not sure it’s quite the same in Rochester in the winter, right? 

And just knowing your two markets are so different in terms of, you know, like the cost per square foot is the overall complexity. And I know Danilo and I know with Audi, we’ve talked about it for years about how do we start to change that in Florida, for example, where I would say a lot of the projects go in, or just, you know, standard flat work. And so I love seeing and hearing what you’re doing to kind of elevate and really show that it is possible in Florida to do these elaborate projects and that there is a demand for it because, I mean, man, I think what almost 30 million people live in Florida now, so there’s a huge market of people that are coming from all over.

Danilo Abdala

It’s a huge market. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we understand for Oldcastle, it’s a huge business, you know, selling those pavers and volume, you know, but as a company, you guys have understood that portion of it, too. You know, let’s make it different in Florida as well. So we’re getting Papyrus. We are also getting Dimensions in which many markets already have Dimensions for a few, you know, for maybe a year or over a year. Right. And, you know, so those things are actually getting asked by customers because we also have customers that come from different states from up north. Most of my customers are not from here, from Florida. They just moved here. They moved here a year ago, maybe a few months ago. You know, and they have been watching, they have been looking at, you know, I wanna do a project outdoor and things like that. So they are asking for different things. They’re asking for three by 12s. They’re asking for three by nines. They’re asking for bigger slabs. You know, so.

That’s when now we are able to be a little bit more creative with our designs. I was able to just now recently get a project done, not done, I designed done and closed that contract. And when I looked at the square footage, I was like, oh, now we’re talking. This looked more like up north. You know, we had to, we had to, we had to mix this slab, the Lafitt slab that we still have that is going to get replaced by Dimension. You know, we had to, to mix the cobblestones, the four by eights, the Mega-Arbel and all those kinds of stuff in there, you know? And when you look at it, you’re like, okay, this looks like a nice project and this customer is gonna love it. It’s a sick thing. It’s a lot of materials. This is gonna look beautiful when it’s done, you know? But when you’re done, you did a different project. You did something nice. You did something different. And people are seeing those things right now in Florida. So they want different. They want prettier. 

Cory Frank

When it comes to the price per square footage argument, that’s what we always dealt with is, how do we optimize our profit on that job? We already have that customer and stuff like that. So during the design phase and stuff, that’s what Brandon is a phenomenal job of is, how do you sell something unique? So that 400 square foot patty, you can only get this much for. How are you going to change it by doing the inlays, by doing the cuttings, cutting perfectly up to the boulders. So, and then along with the product selections and stuff, it’s kind of like Belgard went from handing us a small pack of crayons we got in kindergarten to the 150 pack now and stuff. When you have more options, you can create more. So if we don’t have the paint to put on the canvas, we can’t put it on the canvas.

Joe Raboine

Yeah. I get to talk to contractors throughout North America and in different pockets, I would say, you know, in the South and different parts of the nation, really, is you’ll hear things like, well, things are different here and our customers different. I would say there certainly are regional differences. But when you look for where the consumer’s head is, it’s really universal. Like they want these spaces, they want a kitchen, they want a fire feature, they want, you know, segmented areas that are specific to a use and that is really universal. So for the contractors out here listening and are thinking about how do I change and become more aspire to become a Black Diamond or a CG hardscape is really the point of differences is in that design phase, right? When you start to offer projects that have the details in them, like you mentioned, the inlays, the borders, the banding, the features, all of a sudden you start to, you become an apple in a sea of oranges, right? Where it becomes difficult to price shop because no one else is doing exactly what you’re doing. And it becomes much more interesting and you end up building a clientele base of referrals and work that, you know, you talk to those types of contractors today, despite the softening that we’re seeing, they’re still busy, very busy in some cases, because they’ve carved out a niche that is unique and is difficult to replicate.

And that’s where we hope to help by, hey, here’s some tools and products that, you know, you can utilize without taking five or 10 years to train your crew to do, which in the past would have been the case. But so I think in areas like Florida or like Texas or Arizona or areas where, again, it’s very much a commodity like, you know, driven space, there are huge opportunities. But even outside there, I mean, really in every market, to approach it that way. It’s really, there’s just tremendous upside.

Cory Frank 

And it’s just, it’s elevating the hardscape aspect of it. Everybody always used to call us a hardscape, you know, a landscaper, a landscraper, and it just delivering that level of service that just is different. 

Danilo Abdala

Now, especially with the after the Dream Home too. And we had customers already We’ve been watching you for a year and you guys do these, you guys do that. I want to use you. And I, with the Dream Home. We are utilizing that, you know, as far as speaking with customers, you know, and they definitely like it. Like Joe said, it’s different. You have dealt, I mean, that Vermont house right behind Cory, that looks beautiful and the job over there was amazing, you know, how can Cory not perform a good job, you know? That speaks for itself. 

Cory Frank

But it is a slippery slope too because once you start to do business at that level, and you start to do that quality, that’s what people expect to have at their house.

I tell my employees all the time, when you do an average job and everything looks average, the customer pays, there’s no problems. But when everything looks 100% and something’s 95%, it’s going to stick out way more than anything else. So it’s that’s something that we definitely have strived with our employees as cut quality. We always take on a ton of different things. Joe, the foursome job we did there with the Mega-Arbel and stuff like that. We like to kind of push the envelope again. How can you utilize that job to give as much value to the customer and create a social point when they have friends and family over like, I have never seen something like this before, right? 

Joe Raboine

You’re right. When you get to that level, you’re finding that client who is price conscious, but price is like third or fourth on the list behind quality and design. They just expect perfection. Hopefully, you’re charging for that. You’re getting to that level where that costs something. Quality costs something. That’s something you shouldn’t be shy about at all. In fact, throw that up in the front, right? I mean, like, we pay our guys well, we’re top, you know, top quality, and it’s going to cost you. We’re not the cheapest, you know, cheapest company around. But this is why.

Cory Frank 

In all fairness to you guys too, that one that we did with the porcelain and the Mega-Arbel Design Studio actually came to us and gave us that design. And the customer loved that so much that we were like, oh geez, now we got to figure out how to do that. So in all fairness, we were definitely driven. We were kind of pushed in that position, but it was nice. We delivered it and yeah.

Joe Raboine

I think that made the catalog the next year, didn’t it? The cover.

Cory Frank

Yeah, I made a bunch of regions. Yep.

Danilo Abdala 

Which one is that? Is that a porcelain with the Mega-Arbel? Okay, I’ve seen that one, yeah.

Cory Frank

Yeah. My installer who actually did the cutting, my guy Justin, who I’ve mentored for years and stuff. When we were at HNA the next year, I swear he was a celebrity. You were the one that made those cuts. Oh my God. The entire weekend. Everyone just said that the whole time. I couldn’t take credit for the actual cuts.

You know, I got about three feet down with him and then I’m like, good luck.

Joe Raboine

That’s great. I love it. That’s incredible project. That’s a good segue. I mean, it’s my last question for you guys, but you think about what drives you, right? I mean, those types of that type of feedback for your foreman, for instance, is like, they thrive on that. But for you, I guess I’ll start with you, Cory. I mean, when you think about what you do every day and the company that you have, what would you say the most fulfilling thing is that you do as part of your job?

Cory Frank

I would say the most fulfilling thing that we do is yes, you can say a lot of the customer stuff and all that, but I think one thing that Brandon and I do very well is we create leaders, right? Sometimes that has its own cost, right? As far as people wanting to go off on their own and stuff like that. But it’s nice to create those leaders who take passion in what they do and put their best foot forward every day for the company and for themselves and just want to constantly want to do better. 

You know, creating these great spaces and creating, you know, good memories with customers, and I think that just a byproduct of it, um, you know, just showing up every day and doing great work. Um, but I would say the most, uh, satisfying part, um, is kind of creating the leadership team, um, and just creating leaders along the way. Um, like I said, you know, sometimes that comes at a sacrifice and its own cost of sometimes people thinking they can go off and do their own thing. But I’ve always been a strong believer in giving people the right tools. 

There was always a great quote that I loved was, the CFO and the CEO were talking to each other. And the CFO said to the CEO, what if we invest all this money in people and they leave? And the CEO replied, well, what happens if we don’t invest the money and they stay? So it’s always been something that’s important to us as far as that is bringing them to HNA, getting their ICPI certifications and stuff like that. Cause I think if you build a strong team of leaders that all have the same drive to create something great, it just makes the daily grind a little bit easier to deal with.

Joe Raboine

So Danilo, when you think about what it is that gets you excited, it gets you up out of bed every morning and out on the job, what would you say the most fulfilling thing is that you do?

Danilo Abdala 

For me, honestly, as Cory was saying, he said build leaders. I believe the same way, but one word that will explain mainly what I do, what I do, and I’m pretty sure my brother as well, is to provide. We definitely wanna teach and lead our guys to become leaders as well, but just to see, and now, I mean, we have our in-house crew, you know?

It’s just, it’s totally different than when we started that we were using paver installer crews only that were doing their jobs. One that saves us a lot of headache, uh, me and my brother and, and two now we are providing, we are providing our guys, uh, you know, a better, a better life, they are providing their family a better life. We have coached them, we have led some guys that they could do anything to either to open their own company or have their own installing crew and go make more money outside of us. But it’s just so, I’m so proud that they don’t do that stuff. They know how much we have done for them, how much we have taught them. And we basically treat them like family as well. So provide to one another is definitely one of my things. And it’s just, I’m quite proud of it too, so yeah.

Joe Raboine

Yeah. Man, I love that. It’s an idea of like servant leader, right? Where you really take to heart that you’re in a position that can help provide for people and shape them. And I think some of the best companies out there, right, are this idea of you know, truly feeling like you’re part of a family, especially in a small company, but really in any company you wanna feel like the people you work with have your back and vice versa. And it’s great to hear, man, I love that.

Danilo Abdala

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, exactly. So that’s one of the biggest things for me for sure.

Joe Raboine

Well thank you for that, and again, appreciate your time and look forward to staying in touch.

Danilo Abdala

Thank you!

Cory Frank

Thank you!

Joe Raboine

Thanks again for joining us on Inside Out with Belgard. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, and please leave us a rating and review! Head over to Belgard.com/InsideOut. To find hardscape educational resources, product details, design inspiration and more, visit Belgard.com, and keep up with us on social media at Belgard Outdoor Living on Instagram and Facebook, and Belgard Hardscapes on YouTube. Join us again next time on Inside Out with Belgard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For best results enter the ZIP code where your project is located.

Belgard products are manufactured regionally.

Are you looking for a Professional in your area?

Yes, I am

Want to explore products in your area?

Yes, Let's Go