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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight – Wes Vollmer, Owner, WesVollmer.com, Decorative Concrete Specialist

Spotlight – Wes Vollmer, Owner, WesVollmer.com, Decorative Concrete Specialist

image Born to be a construction industry entrepreneur, Wes Vollmer learned everything he could about decorative concrete, and now he shares that knowledge with customers and other contractors alike.

SAN ANTONIO – Born and raised in San Antonio, Wes Vollmer comes from a large family tree that branches out into various parts of the local construction industry.

    As his grandmother explained it, every Vollmer with two L’s is related and everybody with one L is not. A lot of the Vollmers are also in business for themselves, such as Vollmer’s cousin, Ferdinand J. Vollmer III, or “Ferdie,” who runs Vollmer Electric. Devoted businessmen, he and his cousin haven’t seen each other since working on the Witte Museum treehouse addition, where Wes Vollmer did a lot of the decorative concrete; floors, exterior stained wall.
    Ever since a friend came to visit him after an accident on a job that caused him a severe neck injury, Wes Vollmer has known where his niche is among the Vollmers in the construction industry, and that’s decorative concrete.

When did you start in the construction business?
    I’ve been in it my entire life. My family goes back – I always say 100 years, but it’s a lot further than that.
    But, to answer your question, I’ve been around construction my whole life. I started in the decorative concrete business in ’92 but went into business [for myself] in ’93. I spent some of ’91 and ’92 learning about it, and that was before the Internet. I learned as much as I possibly could by calling and asking questions. There was one company in San Antonio. He’s still here, and he’s a great guy, but that was the only other company doing stamped concrete and stained concrete.

Tell me about growing up in the construction industry?
    I worked for my friend Eddie’s father, who was a carpentry expert, and I got to go in and help him and do all kinds of stuff. I learned a lot, and that was one of my first jobs. It gave me the experience of being around construction and seeing if I liked it. Every summer, I got to work for a lot of different trades, learning about construction. I always knew that I would run my own business. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. It was just a matter of what [it would be]. And Eddie Milburn, a lifelong friend that I grew up with stopped by my house, because I’d had neck surgery – I had a pretty serious accident, and I had some neck surgeries – and I just happened to ask him what he did for a living. And he said decorative concrete. And it snowballed from there.
    I knew this was my niche, and I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about decorative concrete. Then, when I stumbled upon the acid stain 20-something years ago, I absolutely fell in love – I feel like we are really just big kid’s coloring.

Did you go to college?
    Yes, but I didn’t finish because I wanted to start my own business. I found this niche, and I started looking into it and there weren’t many people doing it. I really started liking what I was doing by playing with different colors and layering.
    I sometimes wish I would have gotten my business management degree, but on the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t. The timing was perfect, because if I would have finished my college degree, in three, four years, there could have been more competitors, and I couldn’t have gotten the jumpstart that I did.

Did you have any mentors, receive any good advice, or get any help starting out?
    I wish I would’ve had mentors, because I try to help every one of my competitors now – everyone. If they call me, my philosophy is to make sure their job turns out right. Who cares if they’re your competitors? Just focus on the job being right.
    And the reason I do that is when Eddie and I started, you couldn’t ask anybody anything. They would literally hang up on you. They didn’t want to share the information. They all felt like if they shared information, it was bad for the industry, because they would be helping their competitor.
    I have a completely different philosophy. It’s to help the industry as a whole, because for the longest time, we were not looked at as an industry. It was said that decorative concrete was a fad. Well, I’ve made a very nice living at “a fad” for 21 years, and I feel like I’m going to be doing this another 30 years.
    So, no, in town, I didn’t really have any mentors. I had some guys that I looked up to. One of them was Eddie. Ed Mock, Mike Logsdon, Randy Rodgers – just guys who are in the industry who were already here, already doing it. So, I kind of watched what they did, because they were very good at it. And getting information out of them – because I am very curious – wasn’t easy. And then you call up to Houston or Dallas and ask a question, and they would literally say, “You need to learn that on your own.” Click.
    And again, that’s why I feel like any one of my competitors calls me, I take the call and I walk them through how to fix it, because it’s better for the industry as a whole.

What is the most challenging part of the business?
    The number one factor is getting people to understand what stained concrete is, what decorative concrete is, especially 20 years ago.
    Probably my favorite job is Paesano’s because of the walls, because it has a sentimental value. I would meet people there, take them to lunch, and sell them, and they’d say, “I love this marble floor. I want this in my house.” And I’m saying, “This is stained and scored concrete.” They would say, “Oh, yes, I understand that, but I want this marble floor in my house.”
    That was a huge obstacle, and it still is to this day, getting people to understand what decorative concrete is. It’s been around for 70-plus years, but read the plans on some big jobs, and it’s not considered a finished floor. That irks me, and I want to help change that.

What do you do outside of work?
    I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I’m a workaholic, and that’s an understatement. I literally love what I do.
    But hobbies? I really don’t have any. I love my yellow Lab, Landry. I’m crazy about him and spend a lot of time with him. He’s wonderful, the best dog I’ve ever had. I take him to work with me whenever possible.
    I also really love horses. We have two horses. We have one for my wife, one for my daughter. They both do equestrian jumping. That’s really their hobby, but I get to be a spectator in it and cheer them on.
Tell me about your family.
    My daughter’s name is Devyn. My wife is Leslie. So, we get teased all the time – Leslie and Wesley. I met my wife 26 years ago at Coleman, where I was working. I have a son, Justin. Devyn is the baby. She’s 18, still at home, going to college. Justin is 28. I don’t know where he got the talent from, but he’s an incredible artist, and I’m hoping that he’s going to go into that field. And then of course, our dog Landry.

What does your wife do?
    My wife works for an attorney here in town, but he owns a lot more than just his law practice. He owns several different businesses, and she helps manage the business while he travels.

How do you spend your weekends?
    Early Saturday mornings, I check on the crew, make sure they have what they need and they’re all okay. Then, late morning, I go watch my wife ride. She competes competitively in equestrian jumping, so she puts in three or four days a week of really hard riding. And Landry and I go out and watch her.
    On Sunday mornings, I like to get my wife, my daughter, and my dog, and we just take off – Fredericksburg, Bandera, Kerrville, whatever. They like to shop. I stay outside with Landry. Then, we eat lunch, and we come back home, cook dinner, family time, etc.

You told me that you’re starting something called Concrete Angels. Can you talk a little about that?
    Now, that is what I consider one of my hobbies, one of my passions. Every successful person you talk to always says you have to give back, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m involved with some networking across the nation. I have sat on some councils and some boards, and I still do. A friend of mine and I were talking about how to give back, how to help people, and what group we wanted to help. Being very specific, we want to help all the wounded veterans. And Jim Miller and I came up with what we think is the perfect name, which would be Concrete Angels.
    We’re still working on it. We go around and help wounded veterans, and we have a gentleman by the name of Harry Shaw in Bandera, TX. Harry was wounded in Vietnam, and I think it’s perfect that he’s our first recipient of the Concrete Angels for Texas, because he’s been wounded from all the way back then, and he literally needs these sidewalks to roll around at his house. We are in the process of organizing that. And that is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever worked on.

What made you choose to give back in this way?
    I guess, always feeling that gap of not being able to be in the military. I have spinal cord problems and was told I couldn’t be in the military. I wanted to be in Special Forces really badly. At 17, 18 years old, that was my dream, and they said no. So, I’ve always felt an emptiness and wanted to help. And then of course, who doesn’t want to help a veteran? So, we just said, hey, this is a perfect example of what we could do to give back.
    Concrete is something that’s going to be here after we’re gone, if not forever. If it’s done right and maintained right, it lasts indefinitely. So, it just gives me a great feeling. I’m really proud of Concrete Angels. It’s still in its infancy and beginning stages, but we want to grow it to be something huge. We want people to know it. And we’re willing to put in the time and know it’s going to take six, seven, or eight years before it’s something that’s recognized, and that’s okay.

What are the councils and boards you’ve served on?
    American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC). I just gave up my seat in December, and I really didn’t want to, but I feel like if I’m not able to participate at that level, because I’m spending so much time with Concrete Angels and so much time running a business, that I should give up that seat to somebody else who can put in more time. I think I was involved for seven or eight years with the board of directors for the Decorative Concrete Council (DCC) board for the ASCC. It’s an incredible organization. It has people from all over the United States, and we all focus on the issues of decorative concrete and try to, what do we say, enhance the capabilities of those who build with concrete. That’s something near and dear to me.
    And then, recently, I just joined the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA), and I sit on the board of the Industry Promotion & Marketing (IP&M) committee. It’s new to me, but I’m getting very involved in that. It’s something I look forward to, because the other board was a national board, and you had to fly all the time. This one, I feel like I’m able to spend a little bit more time on it, because it’s local. And that’s why I didn’t want to do both. I don’t think it’s fair. I think when you volunteer for a board, you need to give it your all or don’t do it.
    I’m going to focus on this, because I also want to increase the awareness about the benefits of building with concrete. You hear about all these storms, fires, and everything. It just kills me that more isn’t being built out of concrete.
    I’d love to see the benefits of building with concrete on a broader scale. I really want to see people building concrete houses. It’s not that much more to use concrete, and it lasts forever. –mp

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Sue Johnson sjohnson@constructionnews.net