If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Kimberley Robles to learn about her experience in the construction industry, you have without a doubt, felt her strong presence immediately. She carries herself with an air of humble confidence, as a woman who has earned her stripes, and can truly ‘walk the walk’. Her experience in the construction industry spans over two decades and numerous skillsets. As a young teen with a thirst for knowledge, she fondly recalls there “not being a trade [she] hadn’t tried”. This meant everything from carpentry to painting before she discovered concrete masonry. “For a long time I tried lots of different trades, but they led me to what I do now,” Kimberly recalls.
Throughout the 1990’s Kimberley became a union-trained journeyman cement mason and then spent a decade mastering her skills. Although she spent many years working as a general contractor, she always knew that she needed to pick a skill and hone in on it. After many years of working for others, it was clear that Kimberley had the skills and talent to go out on her own. However, it was a lack of respect from an employer that cemented her desire for self-employment. “I was running around working weekends, working nights and when they completely blew me off after I had asked for a raise, I knew I had to quit”.
It was quite an undertaking as it’s not an easy feat to set up your own concrete polishing, coating and restoration business. With one machine alone costing up to $20,000, Kimberley reached out to her network, a group of many relationships that had been nurtured over the years, and was able to purchase her equipment from a previous client for a fraction of the cost of buying new. In 2018, she founded her own business, Robles Concrete Design in San Francisco and she hasn’t looked back since.
Concrete polishing is a trade that Kimberley says is beginning to become really popular. It’s still super male-dominated which she says doesn’t bother her at all because she’s been at the trade for so long. With her wealth of experience, confidence, and straight-talking nature, she simply laughs and says “I think the men are scared of me! You have to be tough, and you definitely can’t let them push you around” The reward of working for herself far outweighs the challenges. “It's really rewarding stuff,” she exclaims, “The results that I get in the end make it all worth it”.
For those women who are sitting on the fence, unsure of what trade to get involved with, Kimberley says just go for it. “You don’t have to ever stay in that exact trade. Look up union apprenticeships in your state and just find out what’s going. The trades are lacking in people, period, but especially in women. It’s a way that you don’t need to be college-educated but you can still make great money”. She says throughout her career there have been times where men have pushed her around and have told her she wasn’t good enough, because of her gender. To that she simply says “never be discouraged”.
Kimberley highly values her community and her attitude is “I make friends with everybody”. From being active on social media groups to attending World of Concrete, Kimberley knows the importance of developing genuine relationships. Further to these relationships, what motivates her to get out of bed every morning is the desire to be the best at what she does. As a black woman in America, she has been acutely aware since she was a child that she needs to work harder than everyone else. It was her grandmother who instilled a hard work ethic and a thirst for knowledge from a young age with the advice “if you don’t know something, you better go and learn it.”
That hard work paid off when she was approached by Citibank;they wanted her to star in one of their commercials to highlight minority and women owned businesses. This provided her with nation-wide recognition and a huge amount of exposure for her business. Her future aspirations include continuing to grow her business and becoming a mentor for other women who choose a path of a non-traditional career. “With my growth, I want to have others grow with me”.
All photos courtesy of Kimberly Robles