Episode #1: Welcome To The Precast Podcast
July 31, 2018
Welcome to the Precast Podcast, episode one. As an industry leader, we are constantly pushing ourselves to offer the very best to our industry, our partners, and our employees. Marketing our company's services, and providing the best information possible to the public is a major focus of ours. Our goal is to be an industry partner that provides value added technical expertise and service above and beyond expectation. We have always and will always stay focused and true to our mission and core values that can be summarized as providing high quality products, with the best possible service in a competitive market pricing.
We are excited to launch the first Precast Concrete Industry Podcast. The Precast Podcast.
The goal of this podcast is to further solidify our relationships within the precast concrete industry, and to make new ones with people and entities we have not yet reached with our current marketing and outreach strategies. We will tell our story, we will do our best to educate and share our knowledge that has been gained over almost 70 years in business, and we will continue to push the envelope and be a leader within the precast concrete industry to ensure it continues in the right direction.
Podcasting was first known as audio blogging, and has roots back to the 1980s. What we know podcasting to be today began to gain traction in 2004. This is not a new idea, and with that being said, it is new to the precast concrete industry, with a specific podcast focusing on the precast industry itself. We are excited about this new journey, what we will learn, how it will affect our business, and the benefit it will provide to our industry.
With this, it is time to get into the meat of our first precast. We will provide a high level summary of how we got to where we are today, and the current state of Shea Concrete products.
The following episodes will dive deeper into our company's start in 1949 to our current status. Company employees will be introduced and we look forward to including industry partners like the NPCA, our suppliers, other industry experts, and bringing our podcast live to industry events, our manufacturing facility floors, construction sites and so forth.
It always comes down to being a valuable resource to our customers, treating our employees like family, because they are, and being a leader within the communities that we operate out of. We are excited to see how this initiative unfolds and hope you will be with us along the way.
In September 2011, the NPCA published an article entitled The Shea Way. Many exciting things have occurred within the company since the article was published. And with that, we will use it as the foundation for the remainder of the episode, and include additional information to bring us to present day.
We want to thank the NPCA for being a great partner, and skillfully representing and supporting the industry since 1965. What began as a vision almost 70 years ago has grown to become one of New England's largest and more reputable precast concrete manufacturers. The company has weathered many economic storms in keeping to a disciplined set of core values and principles. We now operate out of four manufacturing facilities, produce a broad product line, and recently constructed a new headquarters facility in Amesbury, Massachusetts, that is in the final stages of completion.
The story starts in Wilmington, Massachusetts, in the backyard of the family's home in 1949. It's story is like family owned precast concrete companies across the country, made possible thanks to hard work, daily sacrifice, and tough decisions that have transformed it from a small, single location operation into a top producer in New England. We like to refer to ourselves as New England's premier precaster. We work hard to make sure we are an industry leader, and also focus on making our industry better, and sharing our knowledge to help all involved within it grow.
Shea Concrete products, then known EF Shea, was founded by Ernie Shea, as a concrete block wholesaler in Wilmington, Massachusetts. He remained in this business until the 1960s, when a customer suggested he start manufacturing precast concrete septic tanks. At the time, precast concrete was still establishing its place in the building products industry. But Ernie saw the potential, so he purchased the company's first form, a 750 gallon septic tank, from Norwalk Precast Molds.
Casting the tanks back then was nothing like what you'll find at precast plants today. The plant was the backyard of the family's home, and production was done outdoors without the assistance of batch plants, automated mixers, gantry cranes, or any of the other machinery in modern plants. Instead, employees hand batched concrete with a quarter yard mixer and shovels. Once the concrete was batched, they would run wheel barrows up wooden planks and dump the concrete into the form. Each tank took one yard, meaning four batches, of concrete.
When Ed Shea, Ernie's son, thinks back on what it was like working for his father early on, his tone is a little nostalgic but also very serious. He says it was awful hard at the beginning, with everything being done by hand and exposed to the environment. It was hard, hard work. But he was young, it was just part of the deal back then. The work was grueling, but entering the precast business would prove to be a wise move for the company.
Ed, with his wife Judy, continue to be leaders within the company, and have transitioned their legacies to the family's third generation, including their four daughters and three sons-in-law. EF Shea had just a handful of employees in the 1960s, including a high school named Bob Flores, who showed up at the Shea's house in 1967 looking for a summer job. Ernie, very matter of factly told Bob he'd hire him, but that he wouldn't last a week. He did last, and by the end of the summer, he asked if he could come back the next summer. Bob recalls Ernie looking at him and saying, "Nobody has ever come back." Bob remembers that to this day, and remains very happy in his decision to come back that next summer.
A slight grin comes over Bob's face when he thinks about wheel barrows of concrete occasionally tipping as they ran up the planks, or pouring 10 yards a day with only the quarter yard mixer. As a distant memory, he finds humor in how hard simply pouring a form was. He recalls being pretty much like the Flintstones. They poured concrete in blizzards, and he remembers covering everything with tarps and having portable heaters that would run all night to make sure quality was not compromised.
Bob has now racked up 50 years with the company, a feat that stands in stark contrast to today's employment landscape. He was there for the birth of Ed and Judy's daughters, had seen them grow into adults, and influential members of the company, and has always been Ed's go to guy. Ed refers to Bob as a key player of the team, and indicates that it's unheard of to have someone work for you 50 years. Ed does not recall ever having a misunderstanding with Bob. In fact, they would sit down for a meeting and both have the same notes before even getting started. Bob continues to be an integral part of the leadership team.
Ernie was a conservative man, and cautious about growing the company. So EF Shea was successful, but remained small. When Ed and Judy took over, they brought a new personality and business approach. Ed just did things differently than his father, and take the company in a different direction he did. Ed is the definition of a people person. And he has used his interpersonal skills and innate business savvy to establish the Shea Concrete Products brand.
When Ed took over daily operation and leadership responsibilities in 1975, the transition to Shea Concrete Products occurred. EF Shea will always remain with the company, but it was at this time when change started to occur. His persistent optimism and unconditional honesty have become synonymous with the company. Ed is characterized as hard working, caring, honest, and very well respected throughout the industry, especially by his family at Shea Concrete Products.
Never one to shy from a challenge, Ed expanded the scope and reach of Shea Concrete Products exponentially through acquisitions that brought new product lines, customer bases, equipment, and locations. Thanks to the relationships he developed with fellow precasters in the region, some competitors came to him when they were selling because they knew he would take care of their customers and employees.
In September 1999, Ed and Judy put up everything they owned for collateral to make their largest acquisition. Two facilities were purchased. From then, New England Precast in Amesbury, Massachusetts and Nottingham, New Hampshire. At the time of the acquisition, all New England Precast employees were provided with their jobs, and so was born the phrase, The Shea Way.
It is important to note that things have not always been smooth sailing for the company, and marketing volatility and recessions have been challenging to navigate. When the recessions hit, Shea Concrete Products braced for the impact and was prepared to weather the storms. It leaned out its staff and even temporarily closed two locations at one time. Despite challenging times, the company has always found ways to grow and succeed in the face of adversity.
It is echoed that knowing costs is an important part of remaining a healthy and productive company. Shea Concrete Products has always stayed true to its economic expectations, and made good decisions to come out of the recent recessions stronger than ever. The past recessions have been good reminders to stay close to the mission and core values the company is based on.
With it now 10 years past the last financial crisis, the company remains confident in the New England market and also focused on a strong balance sheet and reserves as volatility and market uncertainty will be back. It is just a matter of when, and making sure the company is well positioned to handle it.
Time and time again, Ed and Judy's decisions prove to be the right ones for the company, and its employees. Thanks to that, the company has had just one delivery truck has now gone to over 20. The employee base has grown from six to approximately 120, and it now has four plants with the most recent acquisition of utility precast in 2010, located in Rochester, Massachusetts. The Rochester facility continued to diversify the company's product line, and brought it into utility work. With this facility's purchase, the decision was made to purchase an additional 20 forms for utility products to ensure it was a one stop shop for customers. As a result, the plant has continued to grow and has achieved record years over all measured metrics.
While Ernie and Ed have led the charge for the company over the years, the employees have always been its secret weapon. In addition to Bob, the company has many other long term employees, and most important among those is the growing cast of employees Ed more affectionately refers to as family. Since they were old enough, Ed's four daughters, Brenda, Kathleen, Mary, and Nancy have proudly worked for the company alongside their mother, Judy. Today, Brenda is responsible for human resources, as well as the treasurer. Kathleen is the company vice president and responsible for accounts receivable. Mary is responsible for accounts payable, and Nancy assists in the accounting department.
Ed and Judy Shea are very proud to have their daughters work within the business, as well as to have their sons-in-law, and grandchildren, active as well. Ed and Judy's three sons-in-law have all come to play important roles in the company. Greg Stratus, married to Brenda, is now the company president. Greg took over company leadership in November 2016 after working side by side with Ed for years. Mary's husband, Tony Derocco, is the head of maintenance and supports all company manufacturing locations. Dave Derose, Mary's husband, is production manager at the Amesbury location, and also provides production support for the other three facilities.
Greg, the first son-in-law to join the company was working for defense contractor, Raytheon, when Ed offered him the opportunity. At first, he wasn't sure, but the turning point came when he was offered a new position at Raytheon. Ed remembers telling Greg that if you're going to work for me, you're going to have to bend wire and rebar and learn it from the bottom up. And that mentality continues to serve the company well.
Today, Shea Concrete Products is a very different company than the one Ernie started in his backyard. Ed indicates that everything is more complicated today, referring to the broader dimensions of roles a precast plant plays, including sales, inventory tracking, plant certification and quality assurance programs, safety programs, marketing, and overall industry engagement.
One thing remains the same, change is inevitable. Shea Concrete Products has chosen to embrace that change and grow with it. Ed spent a considerable amount of time teaching Greg the ropes of running a precast facility, and the inner workings of the company. Just as Ed wasn't afraid to take the company to new places, Greg is now ensuring it remains ahead of the curve for the future. Greg points out that success today requires a diverse product offering, aggressive marketing and sales efforts, and increased focus on automation, both with internal processes and on the manufacturing floor, and keeping up with technology.
Greg believes that an operation with only one, two, or three product lines may struggle in the current changing economy and competitive environment. Shea Concrete Products product line is vast. The main reason for this is to service customers in the best way possible. Many customers love the idea that they can call up or show up to the company's facilities and get what they need immediately, or later that day on a special delivery. Offering customers high quality products with exceptional customer service has always, and will always serve the company well.
Like many precast concrete companies, Shea Concrete Products had always succeeded through word of mouth and reputation. But it now has a sales force actively seeking projects to bid, and a marketing strategy that keeps up with a fast paced industry. Greg has also made sure Shea Concrete Products has a strong online presence, and that its plants participate within the NPCA plant certification program. He has served as president of the Northeast Precast Concrete Association, has served as chairman of the National Precast Concrete Association, and has been an active board member of the NPCA since 2011.
Greg recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company, and continues to lead the company through example and commitment to the right mix of old fashioned family values, unmatched customer service, and first rate products. Greg is a believer that with so many competitive materials out there, you have to get specified on design plans. He feels it is something the precast industry does not do well with, because it's not in precaster's nature to market and get in front of design engineers and specifiers.
Utilizing the power of the internet is also very important, as the majority of the company's back office and production floor is automated, with processes in place to drive efficiency and profitability. Shea Concrete Products specifiers, partners, and customers now expect the company to be automated and well represented on the internet and social media. With customer service as one of our main pillars, the company makes it a priority to be well represented and provide value through the website and other internet based offerings.
As Ed Shea and Bob Flores near retirement, a calculated shift of passing the torch continues to take place. Ed and Bob remain very active in the business, and both love their work and company. To ensure the business continues to evolve, keep up with emerging technologies and customer needs, investment back into the company is always being made, and personnel is coming on board to remain an industry leader in New England.
Ed, knowing he has put the company into trustworthy and hardworking hands, has not been shy about taking well deserved leaves to enjoy time away with his wife, Judy. After all, he and Judy grew the company the right way, without cutting corners, and with the utmost honesty and integrity. Ed has no complaints or regrets in how the company has grown, and where it is headed. He is proud of what has been accomplished, and knows the company will continue to be an example for others to follow moving forward.
The current leadership team is not afraid to continue making investments back into the company. Greg believes you have to be willing to invest in something you believe in, while making sure to keep money in reserve so the company is never over leveraged. Investment back into the company can be seen in keeping equipment up to date, and in the new headquarters facility, which brings benefits to the company's employees, as well as customers and industry partners.
The company remains focused on sustainability, and now powers its Amesbury facility 100% with solar power generated electricity from two solar arrays located on the production facility's roof.
Shea Concrete Products' goal is to be nimble enough to adapt to whatever the market is demanding, diverse enough to meet any need, yet small enough to always make customer service a top priority. The company is always looking for different options for products and add on services, like proving vacuum testing, which has been proven and well received, and needed by the industry.
Greg remains focused on listening to and always taking care of customers. He believes that if you get too carried away, you can lose that. Having a balanced approach and staying committed to customers is a must.
So back to the Shea Way. Hard work, honesty, and ambition are the trademarks of Shea Concrete Products' success story. At Shea Concrete Products, you will find a proud, fourth generation precast concrete company with four striving locations, a diverse product line offering for its customers, and a bright future ahead.
As we wrap up episode number one of the Precast Podcast, we want to thank all of our employees, partners, and customers. We look forward to a bright future together in making this podcast a useful tool for the concrete industry. Please keep an eye out for episode number two.