It’s no surprise that many companies still face challenges, right up to survival itself, almost two years after the start of the pandemic, yet Nawkaw – one of the world’s leading specialists in masonry and concrete stains – is thriving.
Catching up with Russell Gray – founder and CEO of Nawkaw, Inc. – for the first time since 2018 is a reminder of how much the world has changed since COVID-19 first emerged.
The past three years have been some of the busiest in Nawkaw’s history, Gray says, and also the most rewarding, with pre-pandemic business growing about 25 percent each year. “Of course COVID-19 had an impact on us, as it has with the rest of the world, but we were very blessed to have matched our 2019 figures in 2020,” says Gray. “We never laid off a single employee.”
Immediately changing up operations to ensure they were meeting local standards and requirements, the team at Nawkaw left nothing to chance when it came to staff safety. The result: not a single transmission of COVID between employees to date.
Exercising safety protocols for the health and well-being of all, office employees continue working from home while meeting the needs of customers through alternative, socially distanced and virtual means.
Leading the industry
For over 30 years, the Nawkaw name has guaranteed quality. Back in the 1970s, Russell Gray got his start in brick staining in the province of Ontario, Canada, soon discovering he had a knack for “solving color-related problems,” according to the company. Gaining experience throughout the years, Gray created his first business in 1984, which led to the founding of Nawkaw in 1988.
Over 30 years later, Bogart, Georgia-headquartered Nawkaw remains committed to serving its wide base – including residential, institutional and commercial customers – with well-formulated, long-lasting and durable products.
As company owner and Chief Executive Officer, Gray is proud of the company and its deeply entrenched mission, values and vision. These include being an environmental ambassador and causing no harm to nature; innovation, integrity, and fairness; and commitment to making the world better by bringing color and beauty to the places where we live, work and play.
A pioneer in masonry and concrete stains for 33 years, Nawkaw continues to expand its product line, services and locations.
In 1996, the company opened up across North America, including Canada and parts of the American East Coast and started up its Master Franchise in Australia the following year. The years 2008 to 2018 saw Nawkaw expanding throughout the United States, New Zealand and Norway, with the company’s products sold today across 50 different countries.
“This year, we opened our first office on the West Coast,” Gray adds. “We’ve worked on the coast in the past, but we’re excited to be establishing permanent roots there and be more present in that community. We’ve also seen the proliferation of concrete construction across all markets. There are some exciting developments in sustainable concrete regarding materials and similarly green practices that are changing the industry in terms of what concrete can become,” he shares.
“I am excited to see how these developments impact architectural sustainability as a whole, and how Nawkaw can contribute. We’re steadfast in our support for initiatives like the AIA (The American Institute of Architects) 2030 Commitment, for instance, which aims for carbon-neutral architecture portfolios by 2030.”
Nawkaw is responsible for an extensive portfolio of high-quality color and colorless products formulated for durability and longevity. These include NawTone, NawTone-G, NawKote-PC, NawTone+Plus, and other environmentally friendly treatments that protect open-pored materials like brick and concrete yet allow them to breathe and shrug off wet conditions, while reviving and maintaining their original beauty.
Then there’s NawTone-K mineral stain. When the company launched this product market acceptance was immediate. And ever since then it has seen sustained growth in specifications and requests for use of the product on Nawkaw projects. “It’s been exciting, but not surprising given all that NawTone-K can do,” comments Gray.
A mineral stain incorporating silicate as a bonding agent, NawTone-K creates a chemical bond with substrates which is resistant to weather and ultraviolet (UV) rays, mold, mildew, and more.
Durable and odorless, it is ideal for many applications, including new builds, restoration, renovation and preservation. Highly versatile, NawTone-K can also be diluted with the company’s NawThinz-C or NawThinz-M to create attractive and tough color-wash, opaque, and semi-transparent finishes.
“NawTone-K offers building owners, architects, and designers a better class of color solution in large part because NawTone-K is innovative in how it colors substrates,” says Gray of the unique product. “It changes the color of the building on a molecular level, so, in a scientific sense, there is no difference between the color and the substrate. That’s fundamentally different from the film coatings produced by latex paints, for example.
NawTone-K is water-based so it can be washed-up with water, and has no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can be harmful to people and the environment. “This yields huge advantages for building designers who are looking for a long-term color solution,” Gray says. “NawTone-K lets you embrace natural texture of concrete and masonry and won’t chip, peel, or fade. That’s why we can offer an industry-leading 25-year warranty on almost all our projects.”
Among the company’s many other top-quality offerings is NawTone-K Metallic, a recently launched mineral stain that creates looks which are nothing less than captivating.
Like NawTone-K, NawTone-K Metallic is water-based and may be diluted with NawThinz-C or NawThinz-M. A variant of the company’s flagship product, NawTone-K Metallic provides owners and designers the opportunity to embrace a metallic sheen at a fraction of the cost.
“NawTone-K Metallic is perfect for replicating polished copper, other metal, and much more,” says Gray “In the hands of our certified Stain Technicians, it is incredible how true-to-life these finishes are. In many cases they’re indistinguishable from metal paneling.”
Another of the company’s latest products is a photocatalytic finishing system that can go on a range of substrates, from masonry and concrete to glass and more. A colorless application, it makes the building’s surface “superhydrophilic”, basically just meaning “having a strong affinity with water.” This characteristic sharply reduces maintenance costs, since dirt and debris rinse off easily with rainwater.
“This is technology that’s been used with great success in Japan for decades, so we’re excited to be bringing it to the North American market and showcase how finishing systems can reduce emissions and upkeep costs simultaneously.”
Dedicated to innovation, Nawkaw keeps growing its capabilities every year in response to the needs of its customers. The company’s recent introduction of a wide range of metallic colors with superior stability and non-tarnishing/non-fading properties in harsh environments underlines Nawkaw’s dedication.
“Those products allow us to reproduce the looks of materials like corten steel, copper, or any metal paneling at the fraction of the cost,” says Gray of the faux finishes, which enable architects and designers to extend their imaginations and creativity because, as Gray puts it, “concrete often offers greater versatility and scalability to designers than traditional metal paneling.”
Another of Nawkaw’s remarkable achievements is its state-of-the-art color-matching technology.
With the ability to replicate virtually any color, the technology is ideal for infill and addition work where, for example, the original batch of masonry is gone. “You won’t be able to tell what’s original and what’s stained,” says Gray. “We’ve been offering it for years now, and I think it’s one of our most impressive achievements. We aren’t guessing when it comes to color – and our in-house scientists support many of our color-matching projects.”
In the United States, the company is seeing a trend toward artistic and complex finishes on a much larger scale than ever before.
Nawkaw has been seeing “natural look” concrete become an aesthetic choice and a bigger selling point. As a result, Nawkaw’s color-equalization techniques are becoming more popular for correcting curing imperfections and giving clients the natural appearance they’re looking for.
Nawkaw is working on a new line of stains offering specific electromagnetic reflection profiles, which will keep building envelopes cooler and decrease total energy cost. And in the wings, one of the company’s most exciting developments is a new color solution that literally removes carbon from the surrounding air through photochemical reactions.
“Our new research and development initiatives are centered on biomimetic finishes,” says Gray. “We want to help everyone achieve net-zero green architecture moving forward. We’ve also seen the industry gravitate toward darker blacks, so we’ll be expanding our mineral line soon to include a vivid, dark black that will be stable and weather resistant.”
Future in hand
With the future well in hand, Nawkaw looks forward to expanding its vital role in North America’s commercial construction industry, public works, and institutional buildings. Mindful that the pandemic is not yet over, Nawkaw continues to focus on adjusting to new public health information, on completing projects efficiently, and on ensuring the safety of its employees above everything else.
“In the short term, we’re a growing company, so we’re steadfast in finding great talent and keeping our employees safe and happy within the company,” Gray says.
“In the long term, we want to continue to shape the trends and aesthetics of architectural finishes to create bold, beautiful, colorful buildings around us,” he concludes. “We’ve proven that this can be done by eliminating harmful chemicals and VOCs, but we’ve also proven that this can be done by enabling a more sustainable construction sector.” The future looks bright – and colorful.