Paving a new perception of concrete

DeWayne Bartels
Ryan Jansen, left, and Tom Pemble, show off a concrete countertop they created for a new North Peoria home.

In February, Ryan Jansen and Tom Pemble found themselves unemployed.

The pair had worked together in a large corporation. Jansen was an industrial designer. Pemble was a corporate recruiter. Pemble had hired Jansen for that company.

Instead of viewing their unemployed status as a roadblock, they saw it as an avenue to an opportunity in Peoria’s emerging green marketplace — an avenue paved in concrete.

Today on Industrial Road, not far from where $300,000 homes are going up in the Stonehenge Subdivision, the pair have a workshop where they create countertops, sinks and other home amenities out of concrete. In the process, they said, they are adding another dimension to Peoria’s green marketplace.

Concrete, utilizing recycled materials, to add interest might seem like a business on the fringe of the green economy at first blush, Pemble said.

“It is on the edge, on the edge of exploding,” he said, with a smile.

The two businessmen said they believe in this sandy medium.

“We have put every dime we have into this,” Pemble said.

He added the pair was tired of the corporate world and making others rich. But, he said, it is not all about money.

“It’s also about working on something we’re passionate about,” Pemble said.

Jansen said it is not that hard to be passionate about concrete when you think about it as an art medium. “I see concrete in ways the average person does not,” Jansen said.

Pemble added, “He sees concrete without limitations.”

Perception of concrete, the pair said, is one of the biggest battles they have to overcome with potential customers.

“People have this pre-conceived notion that a concrete countertop will look like a sidewalk. We can make it look like anything,” Jansen said. “We can create so many looks. Everything we do is 100 percent custom made right here. The biggest obstacle is the customer’s mind.”

Jansen said the pair have to make people understand that what they do is an art form, and concrete is their medium. Jansen said from concept to finished product on jobs such as a countertop takes up to three weeks.

“This business is about vision,” Pemble said, adding that once they overcome any initial hesitance, customers begin to see opportunities.

Pemble said they are working on a countertop for a retired Caterpillar, Inc. executive which will incorporate recycled tractor parts.

“That’s exactly the kind of thing we can do and you cannot do with other materials,” Pemble said. 

The pair has spent the last several months talking to builders, contractors, business-owners and home residents about their product, and have been making inroads.

The appeal of concrete, they said, is the flexibility it offers in terms of color and emotional appeal it can offer.

Emotional appeal from stone? Exactly, said Jansen.

“We can recycle almost anything with concrete. For instance, stained glass from a beloved broken stained glass window can be incorporated, or even a set of broken wedding glasses.

“We can make concrete into an emotionally appealing thing,” Pemble said.

Mary Ardapple, owner of Apple’s Bakery, agrees. Ardapple owns a small table the pair made for her with her bakery logo imprinted into it.

“I really believe in this product. When people hear concrete, they don’t think warmth and comfort,” Ardapple said. “But, concrete can provide both in an unconventional form” 

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