The Plaster Man: The Trip Out West, Part 2
June 28, 2007
I mentioned in the May column that I recently took a trip out to California. I had a list of companies to visit who manufacture and/or import a wide variety of plaster products. One company I was anxious to meet with is the manufacturer and distributor of Vella Venetian Systems. They had originally contacted me and sent product information to me to try out. Myron Ferguson, “That Drywall Guy” tested their product with me recently. We both thought the product performed so well that I was really looking forward to meeting the people who had invented it. I was not disappointed. I think you’ll find the highlights of the trip interesting and will agree in the end that this type of plaster is well worth a closer look. So let’s get right to it:
DAN THE MAN!When I arrived at the manufacturing plant, I could sense right away that this company had its act together. There was excitement in the air, and it felt like something good was happening here. The whole staff came out to meet me, and that’s when I met the inventor of this great product, Dan Kirkland (that‘s Dan and me together in the photo), and the manufacturer, Dan Schiefelbein. After a tour of the facility we sat down and talked about how this product came about.
A little background on Dan Kirkland is helpful: Dan is a big, enthusiastic guy who loves life! We hit it off right away, as he’s had his hand in plastering for over 15 years, working in England and Italy and other places as well. He’s worked with marble and slake lime-based products, as well as synthetics. Though he liked something about each of them, there were drawbacks to every one of them. The main problem that he kept running into was that most of these products were very expensive. This narrowed the market since many clients just could not afford them, which made them a hard sell for those in the field trying to promote them. He also found that it was extremely expensive to receive the training for applying them, and that it was difficult to use many of these plasters since the techniques for applying them were complicated.
A NEW PLASTER IS CREATEDIn the brief time I was able to spend with Dan, I learned that when he sets out to do something, he’s going to find a way to make it happen! And that’s the story behind Vella. Four years ago he started experimenting. He began to mix and tinker with formulations, learning more and more as he went, until he got so involved with the process that he became a chemist himself. And to me, it makes perfect sense. I mean, who would be better at making a plaster product than someone who is out there in the field using it?
Dan had a goal in mind: He wanted a product that was easy to use, had a beautiful finish and simple application techniques that could be learned quickly. In the end, that’s the plaster that he created. And, after seeing the product up close myself, I would have to say that he reached his goal. Along the way Dan found an outstanding wax that could be applied over the plaster that enhanced the colors and really made it “pop.”
He then looked into a special stain that could be added to the wax that really made for some stunning finishes, as well as metallic pigments that add luster to the product. After 30 phone calls to manufacturers who were not the right fit, he called Dan Schiefelbein who was ready, willing and able to help him get this product off the ground. The packaging was designed and it was ready for the market. Today there are two types available – an “Old World” original Vella premium plaster and a resin based synthetic called “Liscio.”
AVAILABILITY AND COSTSo far the product is sold through 60 locations and that number is growing each month. One of their most significant accomplishments is getting distribution channels set up through Sherwin Williams paint stores, so it‘s convenient to get it anywhere in the country. This also gives the advantage of being able to tint the plaster at the store to any color the client wants. Using universal tints brings the cost of this product way down. This is one of the biggest advantages. Pricing is around $50 per 3 1/2-gallon bucket, as opposed to $250-$450 or more for some of the higher-end marble and similar plasters.
MY TAKE ON ITSince I work on plaster repair most of the time, I look at things a little differently than most, more from the angle of “what if something bad happens to the wall or ceiling?” I feel a product is only as good as its ability to be patched and repaired. And it’s tricky, if not impossible, to repair most of the products out there today. But this product is super easy to repair. If it’s gouged or scraped, it’s simple to apply material to that area and blend it into the existing wall area. This is possible because consistent color matching is used, making any repairs virtually invisible. It also builds up nicely so it fills in imperfections on a surface – much different than products that follow the contour of what’s there. So it’s meant for new construction application, as well as older homes and remodeling projects where a new look is desired.
It’s a two-coat system. The first coat is applied, then about eight hours later the second coat is applied, then burnished down, and it’s then time for the waxing. The first coat can be applied with a trowel or thinned down and applied with an airless spray gun. One of the biggest advantages it has is that it can be used over a Level 3 finished surface. One thing I found when applying it is that it builds up quickly like a base coat, but has the smoothness of a finish coat. Since it’s colored with universal tints, the darkest colored plaster covers the surface with the very first coat. The products aren‘t confusing; rather, they let you express your creative side by allowing you to combine colors and the finishing effects in a way that is completely unique. It proves the company motto true: “Turn Any Wall Into a Masterpiece.” And have fun while you’re doing it!
I have every confidence that Vella Venetian plaster systems will be well known in the near future, and perhaps you’ll be among those who will profit greatly from working with – and profiting from – these high-end finishes. One thing that really stood out to me with this visit is that they really want to help people learn how to apply their product. Vella offers FREE training on how to apply their product (a radical but welcome marketing strategy!). Dan regularly flies out to locations to train groups of applicators, and you can get personal training at their location in Orange, Calif. To find out more, you can visit www.Vellaplaster.com.
Stay tuned to this magazine, as soon a teleconference on the topic of Venetian plasters will be announced. It’s an idea I’ve been talking over with Myron Ferguson, “That Drywall Guy,” and we’re going to make it happen. So many contractors are just too busy to come to a live workshop or conference, so we think it’s high time to have a telephone conference where we can share the latest on the tools and new products that are out there. I’ve been part of such a conference recently and I am convinced this is the wave of the future.
Contest winners: The winner of the Skywalker stilts from Marshalltown is Allen H. Boucher, of Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y., and the winner of the T-shirt is John Fedakao, of Shamokin, Pa.
Congratulations! We’ll start another contest soon. Until next time, I hope your overhead is low and your profits are high - and continue to ‘Plaster On!’