I didn't think I would end up a concrete guy. While I was in college I thought I would be a suit guy somewhere in downtown Seattle. During college there was a concrete contractor who lived next door to my mom and dad, and I worked for him during the summer. But when I graduated in 1972 there was a recession in Seattle and no one was hiring.

I was broke and found a job jack-hammering for $6 an hour. That job lasted for six weeks and I was hooked. I hung out my own shingle in 1977. I started out working for home builders in the Yakima area and got into industrial and larger commercial work in the late 1980s.To stay competitive, you not only need to grow and get repeat business, but you also will find that your best repeat customers are growing, so you had better grow with them or they will leave you behind. About 70% of our dollar volume is repeat, negotiated work. That's the kind of relationships to strive for.

How times change! Mike Poppoff 26 years ago with an old concrete mixer and today with a laser screed.
How times change! Mike Poppoff 26 years ago with an old concrete mixer and today with a laser screed.

Always show loyalty to your regular customers: No matter how frivolous their problem may seem, you must attend to it. Whether it's a really small job or a big job, you have to give that customer attention.Keeping your employees is incredibly important to maintain consistency. We have a lot of equipment and a lot of employees. If we lose a key piece of equipment, we can replace it in a couple of months, but if we lose a key employee, we may have lost that person's 10 years of training.We are very involved with ASCC and with the AGC of Washington.

Other concrete contractors and contractors in general have experienced bruises similar to ours and can help figure things out. So if I get hit by a new problem, I can call somebody else who has already gone through it.Continuing education of employees, whether a finisher in the field or a receptionist in the office, is important. We never stop trying. For example, every month or so we include an ASCC position paper with the pay checks. Even if only half of them actually read it, we're still ahead.

We struggle to get good workers in the field. Rarely do we get an experienced finisher. We've had good luck, though, with hiring people who want to work but have no skills. Then we train them. You can't train someone to want to work, but it's easy to train someone how to work.

We have built a lot of Costco stores in the United States, and in 1996 they were building a store in southern Taiwan. They asked us to help them improve the quality of their floors. Now we're working with several Taiwanese and Korean companies.

We ship some equipment over and attend the pre-construction and pre-slab meetings. Then we help train the finishers. Some of the workers are good, but to them a 3-foot walk-behind is a big machine. There are a few riders, but they don't like the machines. No matter what we do there, it's always a bigger challenge than anything we face here. To get them up to the quality we're used to is really difficult.

Mentally, you have to be happy for that one victory out of five—it's better than none.You bet there's huge concern about litigation, and I have wondered if it's worth it, but right now I say yes, partly because I know that the associations like AGC are working on tort reform and trying to change how easy it is for us to get sucked into a lawsuit. It's frustrating, but we must continue to battle to lessen the risk for both subs and generals.

Whether it's liability and litigation, or supply issues, I think that if we keep battling, our industry will survive.I can't understand why any concrete contractor is not a member of ASCC. Joining ASCC corresponded with the growth spurt in my business. It was the single smartest thing I've done since I started my business. The networking opportunities alone are invaluable. At an ASCC meeting I can talk to other concrete contractors and not worry about what I say.