Our customers like having choices, for the size of the addition they are planning for their home, as well as updates for their kitchen. Many customers also like being able to make choices about the finish they’ll select for the walls and ceilings for each room in their latest project.

It’s a fact of life that when it comes to making decisions, we all enjoy having choices, whether it be to select work clothes, a truck, or where to go on vacation. Our customers also like having choices, for the size of the addition they are planning for their home, as well as updates for their kitchen. Many customers also like being able to make choices about the finish they’ll select for the walls and ceilings for each room in their latest project.

I’ve been seeing a troubling trend in how some of these choices are being made. It has to do with who makes the choices. Of course, in the end it’s ultimately the homeowner’s decision, but sometimes I wonder about the circumstances leading to the decisions. For instance, some plastering contractors that have prided themselves on being the “best of the best” in applying textured finishes consider it their first “mission” to convince their customer that they should go with–what else?–TEXTURE! I think sometimes they spend more energy doing this convincing than actually doing the plastering!

This can lead to trouble as things progress. If the homeowner initially had his or her heart set on doing the entire project–ceiling and walls–in smooth plaster, they may feel they were pressured and that they didn’t really have much of a choice. The customer may complain that there seemed to be one choice actually, getting textured surfaces.


Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “The man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still!” And it seems the “Lincoln Factor” often causes problems when customers are not settled on the decision to texture, but were merely convinced to change their minds. Things really spiral downward when the customers have friends or relatives weigh in with their opinions: “We really wanted to go with smooth walls and ceilings, but we chose to go with textures after all,” the customer explains.

“Oh, well smooth is the rage!” comes the reply. And here we go! “We didn’t feel we had any choice in the matter!” the customer says.

“Oh yeah?!! Well who’s paying for this project anyway?!” ….

We can see where this scenario ends; sometimes in court, sometimes with the final payment not being paid out for several months, or maybe not at all. These situations are not uncommon and seem to be happening more and more.

Something that I think gets mixed up along the way is the role that’s played when working with customers. Somehow, if a contractor’s view or suggestion is not taken up, it’s immediately taken as an insult, as if the customer is saying the contractor is not “professional,” when that’s really not the issue at all.

In dealing with customers I try to think of myself as the “guide,” pointing out choices, and the various directions customers can take the project, and let them make the choice. Whatever it is, that’s what we’ll go with.

One reason that letting the customer make the real decisions can be a challenge–especially over time–is we’ve “seen it all.” We’ve seen a ton of mistakes made and feel that we know what’s best. We believe we have the best answer for the customer and we do all we can to make sure that’s the answer the customer finally comes up with. But in reality, what’s really needed is more guidance from us.


A solution may be that it’s time for us to expand what we can offer the customer: it’s all about “teaching an old dog new tricks.”

If some of us are experts in ornamental plaster repair, that’s a wonderful talent to have. But if we’re in a locale where that type of work is not in demand, one of two things has to happen: Either we are going to move to where our work is in demand, or we’re going to diversify and expand the choices we offer to our customers.

I get a tremendous amount of e-mails from all over the country. One growing area of interest for contractors is the matter of “adding on” some new type of Venetian plaster to their repertoire. Those who do drywall finishing, smooth or textured plaster–even exterior plaster systems–are looking for a Venetian system to jump into. I’m asked again and again, ‘which one do you like’? There are usually two responses:

1. What type of customer base are you serving now, and what type do you see yourself working for in the future? That will determine the type of Venetian plaster a person will aim for. Once this is answered, the second point I bring up is just as important:

2. There are many “Venetian plasters,” available and more suppliers are added to the list continually. Get to know the different products.

Most Venetian plastering companies have websites. If you can’t get to the website, you can call their toll-free phone numbers. Get them to send their brochures. Attempt to get them to send you their product samples so you can try them out. They usually send detailed instructions on how to use their products properly. If it says to apply over “latex primer,” don’t use “oil based primer.” Now, go at it and see how it feels to use these types of products. There is no “right” or “wrong” product in my opinion. There is an application for pretty much every situation out there. The big question is going to be if you tend to go more for the synthetic products or the “all green” types. One applicator may prefer to apply five different coats over the surface to complete a Venetian finish. Someone else may be looking for an easy “one coat” system. They’re all out there.

Another tip is to take advantage of the offer by many companies to send you a DVD of their products, either showing them being applied, or showing photographs of the finished projects. It’s a worthwhile homework project to take the time to purchase and watch these DVDs. It will narrow down your search for the right product for you.

Huge advantages in new skills

Learning a new skill like applying Venetian plaster has a huge advantage: It gives your customers more choices! I must admit that for a long time I stayed away from applying any Venetian plasters. I was satisfied to coast on through just doing repair work on plaster. But I’ve grown too, and learned new systems in the last few years that have really helped me rediscover plaster from another angle.

I started out tackling a small project and then moved on to larger ones in time. And this in turn has encouraged me to look at some more systems for the future.

If you’ve used a plaster or Venetian plastering system that you like, I’d like to hear about it. You can write me in care of this magazine, or e-mail me at robin@plasterzone.com. You can also send your name and address along and I’ll enter you in the “Walls & Ceilings/Plaster Man T-shirt contest”. The winner this month is John Fedako of Pennsylvania. Congrats John! Until next time, “Plaster On!”