Robin discusses the importance of profit, marketing and if the trade is "really for you"

I wanted to share a letter that I received here lately. It reads in part:

I am a plasterer in the Augusta, Ga., area with about 20 years experience. While most of our work consists of exterior stucco, we are occasionally called on for interior plaster repairs ?. I enjoy your articles and agree that this is an art form as well as a dying art. Other than hospitals, prisons and the few-and -far-between house or church applications in new construction, the apprentices coming up in today's work environment are not being given the opportunity to really learn this application of their trade.

John Armstrong

I agree with John, and it seems many of you do, as well. I think for this column I will address many of the questions that have come through in the past few months.

Who would profit from adding plaster repair on to the services they already offer? This is a great question, and it comes up often. The answer includes several groups.

Stucco and EIFS applicators. These are mainly with exterior work but afford several advantages in getting involved with plaster repair. Just as John mentioned in his letter, there are occasions when those working on the exterior are asked to come inside to do work. To me this is a one-two punch; the winning combination that needs to be cultivated and promoted! Those of you that work outside have often complained to me that you get tired of the heat, the cold, the rain and the snow. Here is the perfect answer-and I mean perfect-in several ways:

o You already have the project, the home or building that's being worked on outside. It's simply a matter of going to the next step, asking for the interior work, as well. Leave it out and you've just left money on the table.

o You have the basic skills in using a hawk and trowel that are the same tools used for interior work.

Who wants to make some pretty green?

You're halfway home already with what you already know. Change the recipe on what you're putting on the wall or ceiling, learn a few basic principles on how to bid the jobs and you've got new shoes to wear to the bank!

Painters and drywall finishers. Those of you in these two groups are already doing inside work. You've already got your foot in the door with the client. Okay, so you don't use a hawk and trowel. Do you need to? No. In my first video I demonstrated every repair using a 4-inch plastic knife. So the choice of tool is up to you. Mixing the materials is very similar to what you already do now. Change the recipe a little, add some marketing know how into the mix and you've just added a few more rungs to the extension ladder of success!

Here are a few more meaningful morsels for meditation:

People, homeowners and workers alike, are absolutely sick and tired of sanding. Homeowners get hyped about the mess it creates. In older homes, there's also the fear of releasing lead from paint surrounding the repairs being sanded. Put lead into the wrong person's breathing space and you'll find yourself visiting "Litigation Station." The answer for this very environmentally sensitive issue? Plaster. Plaster means "No Sanding." You use a wet sponge to finish out the repairs. That technique alone has been known to lower heart rates and cholesterol levels! Plaster lets everyone breathe easier. Most importantly you, the one who came up with the financially brilliant idea of adding on plaster repair as just another one of your specialties. On to the next question, which ties in beautifully to our discussion.

Is "real" plastering done anymore? And how does it differ from drywall? For years I have heard there was or is supposed to be this big rivalry between drywallers and plasterers. To me, I see a blending of both worlds here. Years ago buildings, and all the walls inside of them, were built to last forever and to stay put. But things have changed radically over the past few decades. People move from job to job. The President's office is changed into 10 tiny cubicles. Remodeling in general is done at an increasingly rapid rate. For these and other applications, drywall is the perfect answer. The quality and stateliness of plaster is not always as practical as the drywall system, which allows for convenience, flexibility and ease of change. Even if an occasional seam shows, it's a small price to pay in a world that's ever changing and moving. I'm not saying I like where things are headed, but let's look at things realistically.

I will often hear people use the word plastering when they actually mean drywall. Homeowners will say, "Yeah, I plastered a room in my house, and, man, was that messy! I had dust everywhere." What they basically did was use joint compound that is spread over the seams and nail holes of the sheets that are hung. To me, plastering is either a one- or two-coat system that is spread over the entire sheet of board. Another term for this type of plastering is veneer coat. The board takes the place of the lath and heavy scratch and basecoat that used to be applied to form the wall or ceiling. So basically the plasterer is applying a thin basecoat over this surface and then a very thin finish coat. Or they may be putting a single coat (one-coat system) in which the seams and butt joints are run, and then a double coat of material is run on all at once and troweled to a smooth finish. This type of plastering is still done in concentrated pockets of the country.

There is another side of the coin. I have often said when speaking to groups that one of the biggest reasons plaster has gone downhill is that it simply is being forgotten. Kids go to school in drywall finished classrooms. They go to see movies in drywall finished theatres. They grow up and visit mom and dad in drywall finished condominiums, and grandma or grandpa in a drywall finished nursing home.

Don't take it to the grave

Often people will ask me, "Where do you even do plaster repair work? Nobody plasters anymore." When I go and visit a city here in the States, I'll often work on or look at restoration projects. On a trip just a few weeks back, I looked at historic districts in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York. I could have spent a lifetime doing repairs in just one neighborhood of one of these homes! Many plasterers who do repairs generally stay to a pretty small area geographically. That's why even around where I work, people practically beg plasterers to come out to a small town or country area to do their projects.

This has led to something I am trying to turn around in the industry, and that is the availability of materials that plasterers use. If we're going to bring plastering back to some degree, the materials must be available for use. There is no "plaster pipeline" set up anymore. My father-in-law went over to Marshalltown, Iowa, to do some repairs for some friends. He brought his tools and planned on getting materials when he got there. Forget it! Nowhere to be found in the whole town. So he goes to Des Moines, an hour away, with a population of about 175,000, roughly. After a thorough-and may I add frantic-search, he came back empty-handed. He had to have someone go back home to get materials, a four-hour ride both ways! This has been my biggest challenge when training individuals who want to get into plaster repair.

If someone wanted to add on plaster repair to what they are already doing, or they wanted to do it full time, how would you recommend they do it?

A few things are needed in order to get into this type of work.

o The techniques in doing the repairs. This includes how to recognize and troubleshoot the problems, as well as the recipes on what to use in doing the repairs.

o The materials. I am working with companies and manufacturers on getting the material shortage problem resolved. As the demand for something grows, the supply for that demand will grow.

o How to make money. I know many plasterers who have 10 times the skill level I have and yet are still scraping to make ends meet.

These are three areas that I have spent the last several years working to put into a package to help individuals learn. My videos show how to make $750 per day for doing these types of repairs. Of course, I'm not the only person teaching today.

There are groups such as Job Corps and some areas of the country the union is helping in the area of training. It's just the demand far outstrips the amount of teaching that's taking place. If a person could go to someone in his or her area and ask to be trained, this is a possibility. However, the trade secrets are held pretty close to the chest by most who know the skills. Many are willing to teach their sons or daughters and that's about it. Sad but true. If the son or daughter decides to call it quits and launch into another profession, the business dies. One individual I trained offered a plasterer in his town in Minnesota $500 per day to accompany him, so he could learn some of the tricks of the trade. This was flatly refused.

My goal overall is to preserve and promote the plastering industry. My battle cry is, "Plaster is Back!"