Bill Del Zotto developed his passion for precast concrete as he held a wrench. Working in his family’s precast operation, his first major responsibility was to fill and strip forms for traditional precast products such as septic tanks, manhole risers, and stairs. The reward for his hard work was to see the result of the crew’s work.

The Del Zotto family's influence crosses three generations. While continuing to produce precast products, the company also became a leading manufacturer across North America of precast formwork for those traditional precast products.

For years, Del Zotto and other precast producers have relied on sales of these products to carve a good living. But as producers have increased their quality and capacity, growth in the market for traditional precast has not kept pace. Precast producers turned to industry manufacturers and suppliers to develop new products that increase safety and productivity while reducing waste to maintain margins. Del Zotto and other manufacturers have responded to this challenge. Today’s precast operations are more efficient than ever.

Finding New Markets

Even so, precast producers have had difficulty developing new markets. So in recent years, Del Zotto Precast has promoted a new product that allows profits through market expansion rather than in-market competitiveness. “The market potential for concrete storm shelters is great,” says Del Zotto.

He isn’t the only person who thinks this. Initiatives such as FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, have been educating the public and code officials on the importance of a safe haven during natural disasters. In 2014, PCA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) held regional demonstrations of durable safe room construction as outlined in the revised 2015 FEMA construction guide, FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm.

One of the first challenges was designing reinforcement detail to support a wind-resistant door. FEMA states doors must withstand the differential pressures from tornados and hurricanes. Then several options had to meet market demand. Producers now offer a wide range of storm shelter sizes and placement options, such as shelters that can be cast for abovegrade, belowgrade, and interior uses. “By adapting the engineering from building septic tanks, producers can purchase one form to cast three styles,” says Del Zotto.

Many producers have benefited by taking on this new product. The capital investment to cast these products is limited to a new set of forms. Producers who cast septic tanks can use their equipment from production through delivery to cast storm shelters. And there is an established customer base. Installers of septic tanks and stairs can easily adapt their operations to storm shelters.

Increasing Popularity

They are not limited to rural residential markets. Del Zotto believes storm shelters will be a standard feature in manufactured homes and campgrounds across the country. Some shelters have also been added at sport complexes, golf courses, and picnic areas.

As part of his commitment to market growth, Del Zotto’s company is sponsoring the Precast Concrete Showcase at the 2017 World of Concrete in January (click here to see a video of the 2016 WOC Precast Showcase). The centerpiece will be the precast safe room form.

Del Zotto hopes this becomes a standard product at wet-cast plants. “It’s not only about how to make money by extending sales into this untapped market and increasing margins, it’s about saving the lives of our neighbors,” he says.