Editor's Note: We received lots of calls and e-mails in response to my February Editorial Comment. The following are typical of what contractors had to say.—WDP
I hear from GCs that “any moron can do concrete work and besides there's 10 guys banging on my door.” So concrete contractors work cheaply to keep from losing accounts—your 5% figure on margins is generous. Most GCs I talk to think the concrete guy makes the most money on the job. I tell them how anyone who wanted to start a concrete company would probably have an initial outlay of $200,000 among trucks, forms, planks, finishing machines, and so on. I've talked myself hoarse trying to convince other concrete contractors that what we do for a living today isn't some Stone Age art anyone can do. It's my profession, it's part of who I am, and I'm damn good at it. My passion doesn't come so cheaply. For years we tried to compete with everyone. We just couldn't compete when the GC felt cost was paramount over quality. What I eventually did was go where the market demanded better quality over cost. Here in the Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y., million dollar homes are the norm. With angles, arcs, and circular walls, these homes scream quality. So we focused our business on projects most concrete contractors wouldn't want to do, narrowing our competition. I've been in the business for 35 years, it's a family business and has been since my father came back from Europe after the war. I learned a lot over the years from some great concrete men. What I don't know, I figure out.
That's part of what we've had to do to stay alive. But last April, one of my brothers left for Texas; he'd had enough. I think I'm going to follow, and once I go, the business is done. I'm surprised we've been able to stay on this long—but, hey, who knows, maybe quality does mean something.
— Michael Aiello A&A Enterprises, formerly Quality Concrete Long island, N.Y.