She's a proud woman of construction. She's an avid TikToker and Instagram poster. She started one of the only woman-owned contracting business in California's Bay Area. She's Kimberley Robles, owner of Robles Concrete Design, and she didn't delicately clear her own path -- she leveled it by machete.
From a young age, Robles didn’t mind being the only female in the business. She was never too intimidated to try the trades that interested her, ask tough questions, attend the trainings or take risks to get where she wanted to be.
Robles started her career in 1985 as a carpenter and then got into concrete in the early 1990s. She worked as a cement mason for the city of San Francisco and other union companies, having spent an apprenticeship on the Oakland (Calif.) Federal Building in 1994. From there, she bounced around between different specializations while finding her niche. She worked in project management and estimating. Then, as a territory manager for a rental company, she became interested in concrete polishing.
“(My boss said), ‘If you treat this company like it’s your own, we’ll pay you accordingly.’ And they weren’t even giving me $21 an hour. I’m used to making $40 an hour. I could have just stayed in the trades. But I decided I’m going to learn everything I can about polishing and expand my knowledge.”
“I did so many trainings with Superabrasive products. I went to World of Concrete. I already knew how to do color, but I just expanded my knowledge there and learned a lot from contractor mistakes.”
In 2018, she started off on her own, founding Robles Concrete Design, which specializes in polished concrete, colors and stains, and grind-and-seal work.
As a woman-owned business in the Bay Area, Robles says her work has been sought out not in spite of, but because of her demographic distinction.
“They want to support woman-owned businesses here,” she says. “It’s a little bit more diverse. I’m starting to do well. But I don’t know if I would have the same reaction in a small town.”
Part of Robles’ growth since her company’s start in 2018 may be due to her personal communication style with clients, who, by the way, are increasingly women.
“When it really comes down to it, in residential and commercial, the women are the ones who make the choices in the house,” she says. “It’s at least 50/50 now, right?”
Female or male, Robles treats her clients the same and focuses on educating and setting expectations.
“I just talk to people regularly, just like I’m talking to you now,” she says. “I make sure they understand the concrete polishing process, why it costs money, why there are so many steps involved. I also tell them it’s not no-maintenance, it’s low-maintenance, and what they need to do to take care of their floors.”
More and more of her business is residential lately – a shift she credits to the specific living trends of an expensive market like the Bay Area.
“When the pandemic first started, I was less residential, and now it’s maybe 60/40 on the residential side,” she says. “But residential here is a little different. There’s a lot of basements, a lot of loft living. I just had a lady call me who ripped out her hardwoods and wants to finish the concrete underneath it.”
One of Robles’ favorite things about concrete polishing – and also part of her education to residential and commercial clients alike – is that no two jobs are exactly the same.
“It’s a really scientific approach. It’s not just putting on these diamonds and the floor is going to come out a certain way. No. Every floor is different, and you have to have a different approach for every floor. I didn’t know how they poured this one floor I did recently. I couldn’t even get it to cut without doing wet-cut. It was leaving so many scratches. I went in with Grind ‘N Fill, and then I did some wet-cutting and had to switch between diamonds. I really like that trial and error.”
When it comes to marketing her business, Robles believes brand awareness is key. That’s why she started committing a chunk of her time to social media like Instagram and TikTok. It takes extra time, but she sees the rewards.
“I do get people contacting me for work from social media,” she says. “If you don’t have brand awareness, you just operate from word of mouth and that’s great if you want to just stay at the same level.”
Robles wanted to grow, and she began to recognize that could be possible in small ways through marketing and media. Those efforts paid off in a big way – a commercial for Citi Bank.
“Once I did the commercial and a profile with Concrete Décor, you can command more money because your reputation has grown. I’m not going to do garage floors for a few dollars a square foot.”
Sharing her successes
Robles has enjoyed her recent success but doesn’t want to keep it all to herself. There’s lots of room available for young people, particularly women, to come into the construction industry and make their own paths and their own fortunes.
“We need to elevate women in construction and make them aware that this is a viable career option,” Robles says. “There’s a lot of people who can’t afford college and they can make a lot of money without a degree. We need more recruiters, especially in underdeveloped or urban areas, to raise awareness of the career options. That at age 21, you could make $50,000-plus.”
Robles’ advice to young people considering a career in construction is to just jump right in.
“Do your research, and if you’re interested, don’t be afraid and get in as soon as you can,” she says. “Figure out what trade you want to get into. If you want to do concrete polishing, I would say find a company and go work for them. We’re always lacking technicians. Do the work and see what it’s all about. Go through an apprenticeship. Look up union apprenticeships in your area.”
Jumping around from trade to trade can feel like a big risk, she adds, but it can ultimately get you on your own path to success.
“Don’t be afraid to switch it up. I tried carpentry, painting, all kinds of things. I ended up in this, but it was crazy and it was a journey. You’re on your own journey.”