Concrete is more than just a job for this passionate couple. Discover how a chance encounter led the Gallaghers to the creative world of stamped concrete.
It takes only minutes to realize just how passionate Chris Gallagher is about concrete.
He and wife Michelle own Stampworks by Design, a Rockford-based concrete business. The company mixes and pours decorative concrete for everything from countertops, pools, patios, sidewalks and driveways to vertical structures. The concrete can be stamped or acid-stained for decorative results.
Whether he’s chatting about a recently completed project or future plans to expand his impressive showroom, Chris talks concrete like a proud father talks Little League baseball after his son hits a game-winning home run.
“You can’t help but get excited around Chris,” says Michelle. “People will call and say, ‘You weren’t the least expensive bid, but your passion, enthusiasm and ideas are why you’re getting the job.’ Chris always wants to take any project to the next level. Hence the 9-foot concrete palm tree and concrete treasure chest you see in our showroom. He’s always thinking about the next thing he can create that will knock someone’s socks off.”
The proof is visible upon entering the Stampworks showroom, 1210 Buchanan St., Rockford. There’s a rock wall grotto overlooking a hot tub, a large concrete waterfall, an outdoor kitchen, several stamped patterns hanging along the walls, and even a carved concrete surfboard resting next to the front door. To further illustrate his talent, Chris is in the process of building an interior kitchen and walk-in wine room. “It’s art,” he says of his work. “Where can you go in Rockford and see a 9-foot tree carved out of concrete? Seeing is believing.”
Nearly 17 years ago, Chris was working full-time for a local construction company when he discovered his unique love for concrete. It started when a good friend invited him to tag along for a four-day concrete seminar in Knoxville, Tenn. There, he learned the basics of stamp work – how to use different techniques to color concrete and the importance of stenciling, for example. When he returned home, Chris began picking up concrete jobs in his spare time. The more he did, the more his skills improved, leading to even more well-paying jobs. Still, he was perfectly content with his full-time construction job. “I never sat around thinking I was going to be a concrete guy,” he says.
Finally, the urge became too great. Six years ago, he took the plunge and branched out on his own. He bought a building just off South Main Street, formerly an Indian motorcycle store. These days, he spends most of his waking hours there. “You can’t do this part-time,” he says. “If you’re going to do this, you have to put at least 100 percent into it. If you do that, success will come.”
Stamped concrete is commonly used for patios, sidewalks, driveways, pool decks and interior flooring. Stamps are placed on the concrete, after color release has been applied. The stamps are pushed in and then removed to leave a pattern.
“They go together like jigsaw puzzle pieces,” Chris explains. “The impression is beaten into the surface while it’s still wet. The next day we wash it, clean up and add a coat of sealer. It takes about three partial days to finish a project like a stamped patio, but it all depends upon the weather.”
Stamped concrete is popular because it costs about half the price of the surface it imitates, such as stone, slate or brick. “You can’t compare stamping to anything else,” Chris says. “It’s not like doing a broom-finished sidewalk. It costs more than regular gray broom-basic concrete, but less than pavers. There are so many variables to consider, such as labor, material and the number of man-hours it takes at the job site.”
Despite a sluggish economy, Stampworks has seen sales increase 23 percent annually. Chris attributes the surge to several factors: having a booth at local home shows, getting referrals from satisfied customers, and – perhaps most important – maintaining a solid reputation. The business attracts clients from a 60-mile radius, from places like Elgin, Barrington, Freeport, Stillman Valley and southern Wisconsin.
“I’ve been doing this long enough now that people know the Stampworks name,” Chris says. “Our business is growing because people want me to do the work. We’re creative, our pricing is dead-on and our staff is professional. We bring a lot to the table. When customers get excited, they tell their friends. That’s pretty rewarding.”
Last summer, Scot and Amy Mastroianni of Winnebago, Ill., hired Stampworks to enhance their backyard entertainment area. Chris expanded the outdoor patio by adding rustic-looking stamped concrete to the existing patio and inground pool area. He also built a U-shaped bar and concrete fire pit that connects to the pool. As a personal touch, Chris imprinted his clients’ initial, the letter “M,” twice within the concrete – once near the pool and then next to Scot’s massive 8-burner grill.
“We really liked his ideas,” says Scot. “We told him what we wanted and he took it from there. He’s so creative and very easygoing. He offered plenty of suggestions. It turned out much better than we could have anticipated. When people come over and see our backyard, all they can say is, ‘Wow.’ We’re looking forward to entertaining our friends this summer.”
Still, there are lean times for this seasonal business, especially between Thanksgiving and early spring. The work is largely dependent upon weather. “In the Midwest, frost poses a serious challenge,” says Chris. “The weather wreaks havoc when it comes to patio, sidewalk and driveway overlays.”
To maintain a buzz about their business, and because they like to have fun, the Gallaghers often entertain clients, subcontractors and friends with pizza and refreshments, on Friday afternoons at their downtown location. Chris is building a tiki hut on the rooftop for summer get-togethers, and recently purchased a limousine to transport clients to and from the showroom.
“A customer is more than a customer,” says Michelle. “It’s not just a business transaction with us. We want to have a relationship with our customers. We want them to keep coming back and expanding upon their projects.”
Adds Chris: “When people walk into the front door, I want them to say, ‘Wow.’ I want to make them feel comfortable and show them some really cool stuff. That’s what a successful business is all about.”
Recently, Chris designed a concrete conference room table with the Stampworks logo embedded into its center. He applied an ultra thin, polymer-based decorative topping, called microtopping, over two sheets of glued plywood. Now he’s hoping the table will catch on with local businesses.
“I’m not a regular concrete guy who just does flatwork,” he says. “We get in deep with every aspect of decorative concrete. People like our passion. And passion is what we’re all about.” ❚