Regardless of our proficiency in placing concrete, we’re skunked without quality ready-mix. To discover how our suppliers give us what we need, I recently met with a contractor in northeast Tennessee that also owns five concrete plants: Summers-Taylor Inc. General Manager John Loven, Dispatch Supervisor Tracy Brooks, Sales Manager Britt Neas, and Plant Manager Chris Carter unveiled what happens behind the scenes so the rest of us can be productive.
Their deep roots in the industry struck a chord with me. Summers-Taylor bought Tracy’s family’s ready-mix plant more than five years ago. John, whose family owned a plant that became part of Rinker, and Britt have been with Summers Taylor about 10 years. Chris started at Summers-Taylor in 1998 on a concrete crew and drove a ready-mix truck before becoming a plant manager.
Together, they make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Tracy oversees three dispatchers to ensure orders go smoothly. Britt emphasized sales reps don’t just ride around in the truck all day. His cradle-to-grave role includes initializing accounts, pricing orders and collecting payment, and serving as first contact when contractors experience problems. John makes sure enough people are in the right place at the right time with the right equipment. He pressures employees to do the job right, but also tries to instill a sense of ownership (a phrase he used throughout the afternoon). Chris, who oversees production, personnel, trucks, and quality control, added, “You’ll never know about a lot of problems we have. We pull each other in and we fix it together.”
Involvement in Mix Design
Each of the four “touches” this element of the contractor’s order, but in different ways.
As dispatch manager, Tracy is least involved. John estimates he’s about 30% involved in mix design: “The quality control team gets involved the most, then sales, then me, then the plant. As plant manager, Chris is the most concerned and understands more, having been on the other end of the chute. He wants to put out a good product he can stand by.” When trucks come back to the plant, Chris places leftover concrete in landscaping molds to see how it responds so he can fix mixes over time “so our finishers don’t have problems working our concrete.”
In his sales role, Britt’s has to be “a good reader of specs. Mixes used to be pretty standard, but these days, with what architects want, sometimes we end up splitting hairs. I stay busy making sure we type the mix into the system right so we send the correct mix.”
What Makes Them Tick
I heard stories of 18-hour days, long weeks, and late nights. Chris’ big challenge, for example, is “trying to get 13 different drivers from seven different states to do it our way.” But their work has its payoffs.
Not surprisingly as the team’s sales lead, Britt thrives on connecting with people, forming relationships, and having dependable buddies in the business. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s rewarding.” So is “any day I’m not getting crazy calls from upset customers” (he fields 30 calls to 40 calls a day).
John, whose greatest challenge is “finding dedicated people who can adapt to the Summers-Taylor way,” enjoys watching employees grow. To which Chris added, “And nobody is hurt, and everyone goes home safe at night.”
Tracy, who thinks of dispatching as a game of chess, said, “I’ve been in it all my life. My dad had his own company, it’s really all I know, and I like the challenge of it.”
And Now: How To Be A Better Customer
Of course, they all want to keep customers happy. The big question I wanted to get to was what they wish contractors would improve upon so Summers-Taylor can successfully meet customer expectations.“Planning,” said Tracy. Referencing countless callback loads they’ve shipped out lately, he wishes contractors would “measure right.”
“I’d like to change their mentality,” said Britt. “We aren’t ‘lesser.’ We’re not just throwing rock, sand, and cement in a mixer; we’re professionals. Do more planning and preparation in advance. I’d rather someone call me repeatedly beforehand to make sure everything’s right than have problems on the day of the pour.”
John lowered his head and quietly said, “I just wish contractors would take the time to educate themselves on correct ways to place concrete.” Chris offered, “Be prepared. Call in your order in plenty of time. Communicate more and don’t assume we know what you’re doing. And, please, look at the weather!”