We do mostly residential work and some light commercial--if it resembles residential. We don't get into heavy commercial stuff.
This is the beginning of our 41st year in business. Dad started the business in 1965, and my brother Duane and I took it over officially in 1986, but I started working for the company way back when I was a little feller. We bought out our dad, and it went pretty smoothly. We now have the third generation in the business.
When dad started, he hauled the forms with a tractor and wagon. He didn't travel very far from home. Now we have a boom truck.
We do mostly walls but also some flatwork and decorative work. Our form system is all Durand; we don't have a mixed set. When we first started we had wood forms but then switched to aluminum quite a few years back. At first we were hesitant and skeptical about the aluminum. We weren't sure what we could do with it, but now we don't know how we could work without it.
Housing has gotten bigger and more complicated over the years, which means that the foundations have gotten a lot more complex. The “Basement from Hell” award we won from the Concrete Foundations Association was for a foundation on pilings. It was a little unusual because the architect and engineer called for some pretty massive footings and pads, and there were lots of angled corners—a lot of odd forming conditions.
We don't use total stations; we haven't taken that electronic step. We're kind of old school although we do redraw our foundations in CAD, which helps.
Business is naturally slower in the winter months, but we still have some activity. We're not swamped, but we have work. We have only 15 employees, and we generally have something for them to do all winter. We ask if any want to take a seasonal layoff in the winter, and some take advantage of that. Otherwise, they do stuff in the shop. We try to take care of them; we pay a good share of the employees' health insurance—although the price keeps going up, and it starts to pinch. We also have a retirement plan.
Our decorative work has been steadily growing: mostly stamping and overlays. We have one fellow who takes care of that part of the business.
The concrete has gotten better over the years. For example, around here in the winter the ready-mix companies can maintain their mix temperature a lot better than they used to, which is very beneficial.
One of the main things a contractor needs to do to be successful is to be cautious but willing to learn new things. Always look ahead for new things on the market. Even a small contractor can benefit from new ways of doing things.
We don't do excavation or pumping; we just stick with concrete work.
We hope that the interest rates stay down so that the housing market keeps growing. Other than that I don't see much changing around here in 2006.
Anytime someone asks me what they need to know if they're going to get into the concrete business, first I ask them why do they want to do it? But when you're first starting out you definitely need to be hands-on. You can't just sit in the office and hire someone to do everything out in the field. You need to be out there, at least at the beginning, to get things going.
We haven't had a problem getting materials, although steel prices took a jump last year. Our supplier warned us, and we bought extra and stocked quite a bit in the yard. We didn't take any kind of losses; we just had to raise our prices.
We did a survey through our ready-mix supplier of foundation contractors in our area. He developed a list of those within a 30-mile radius. There were 28—some small—but they had the forms to do it. We really compete with only a handful of them. Some don't look at quality, they look only at price. Prices aren't where they should be, partly due to all this competition.