Rob (left) and Chris Turner are building greatness at Turner Brothers concrete.
Rob (left) and Chris Turner are building greatness at Turner Brothers concrete.

When the second generation took over operations of Turner Brothers, New England’s largest concrete contractor, the company never missed a beat. Rather, Chris Turner—the son of company founder George Turner, who is now joined by his cousin Rob, son of co-founder Bob Turner—took big steps to diversify into new markets. “We have about 250 employees,” says Chris Turner, “and we just opened a second office in Portland, Maine. It’s sort of an undisturbed emerging market. We hired a guy up there, and in the last three months have generated a lot of work.” But the diversification is not just geographical, as Turner Brothers has moved strongly into industrial flatwork for distribution centers and tilt-up concrete to complement its multifamily residential work.

“We were building all these residential rental units and said to ourselves, ‘All these people are going to need to get stuff.’ We figured warehouse and distribution was going to be making a big push, so we jumped into doing large commercial distribution centers, and are on pace to complete 4.5 to 5 million square feet of distribution-center space this year.”

Growing rapidly while maintaining a solid workforce is one of Turner Brothers’ top priorities. “We have a great workforce,” Chris says. “We set a minimum wage that’s a little higher than anyone else in town. The key for us is the new people coming in—to show them a road map to a career and not just a job, how they can move up and move forward. There are some barriers—language as well as reading plans and drawings, so we get into the 3D renderings where we can show them a picture of how it goes together. We spend a lot of resources on the guys—sure we have parties and t-shirts and stuff like that, but more important is that we communicate and work to keep them engaged and make them know that they are a part of something and not just punching the clock. It’s a team. We don’t have a single foreman, or super, or crew lead now who was brought in at that position—everyone who’s in field management started below where they are now. They came in and developed to that higher level.”

Keeping crews at a high level takes diligence, though, and so Turner Brothers has invested in training. “We just built a new 25,000-square-foot facility,” Chris says, “with 10,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet of shop, and about a quarter of the office space is a dedicated training facility. We run training twice a month. It’s optional, but also tied to advancement. If you want to move to the next level you have to complete a certain amount of training. There’s a big safety component managed by our safety director who then teams up with the foremen and supers on the skills portion. So, for example, it might be how to erect a wall and we’ll show them the ties, brackets, scaffolding, and how to do it safely, where you need to have handrails and mid rails and where your tie-off points are. It’s comprehensive class instruction on how to do the work which is then tied into how to safely do the work.”

Tony Lampasona knows slabs from design to materials to finishing.
Tony Lampasona knows slabs from design to materials to finishing.

One important move in Turner Brothers’ expansion was bringing in Tony Lampasona five years ago to do their flatwork. “We knew if we wanted to be successful we needed to be a total turnkey concrete contractor and self-perform our flatwork. So Tony joined us and the benefit was twofold: he took care of all the flatwork on the residential units we were building and also allowed us to expand into industrial concrete floors.”

Lampasona is happy with the change, too. “They were doing a lot of foundations and subbing their flatwork to me, but they wanted to get more into big industrial slabs and made me an offer. I wasn’t sure I was really employable since I’d had my own company for so long, but Chris encouraged me to give it a try, and they have backed up every promise—they did everything they said they would do and more.”

Expanding into building Ductilcrete floors, a jointless system, is another market that Lampasona is running for Turner Brothers. “Ductilcrete is a good system,” he says, “but it’s not right for every floor. It’s another tool in the toolbox. One thing we’ve been doing is a lot of post-tensioned podium floors. They are very thick, up to 18 inches—deeper than the workers’ boots—they have to tape up the top and since it’s post-tensioned there’s no rebar to stand on. And there are a zillion penetrations. Lots of details. Now we can do lots of different types of jobs at the same time: structural concrete, flatwork, pavements. It’s good to have that diversity when a downturn comes.”

Continuing to increase efficiency and productivity is one way Turner Brothers stays ahead. “It’s all about efficiency,” Chris says. “Efficiency used to be about doing the job for the least amount of money, but now it’s how quickly you can move on to the next project.”

Mike Rucky is senior project manager for structural concrete for Turner Brothers.
Mike Rucky is senior project manager for structural concrete for Turner Brothers.

Mike Rucky, Turner Brothers’ senior project manager for structural concrete, agrees. “Our biggest challenge is that everything is schedule driven, so staying on schedule and budget is difficult. All the durations are compressed and they don’t consider weather delays—and the designs are more complex, more sophisticated. And a lot of the projects are only 80% designed when we get them, almost like a design-build project. We’ll have pre-con meetings before the job is even awarded and we’ll work with the owner and designer on the details. Sometimes we can carry over ideas from previous projects and if we can use them on the current project, we can sometimes find ways that are less time-consuming and less expensive to build.”

To achieve that speed, Turner Brothers is looking to technology, adopting Tekla BIM and purchasing Trimble robotic total stations. “It used to be the foreman who did the layout for his crew,” Chris Turner says. “Now with limited labor and a backlog to chew through we have two or three people designated to do the layouts. The CAD drawings are loaded into the total stations and the layout is done in the office, so they can do the layout in a third of the time and move on to the next job. The robotic total stations connect with Trimble Connect and tie into Tekla. And we use software from ViewPoint—Team and Field View. Every foreman or crew lead has an iPad. We’re 100% digital, no more paper drawings.”

A well-trained workforce, a diverse skill set, and efficiency through technology seems sure to build Turner Brothers into one of the top concrete construction companies in North America.