Episode #10: Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
November 29, 2018
Welcome to The Precast Podcast, episode ten. So today we are at our Wilmington, Massachusetts facility, where it all began, and we are continuing or initiative with having different folks within the company on the podcast. So today we're sitting with Jamey and Mark, and as we get going, could I ask you two guys to formally introduce yourself?
Sure thing. My name is Jamey Robichaud. I am the operations manager here in Wilmington. I've been with the company for 22 years this month as a matter of fact.
Hi, I'm Mark Burns. I've been with the company for 34 years.
Perfect. So what do you officially do, mark, with the company?
Right now I'm production manager, but through the years obviously starting long ago with laborer.
Awesome. So I've 56 total years of experience.
Sounds about right.
Awesome. Okay. Awesome. So you know, being podcast ten, I'm assuming that you guys have listened to podcast one through seven is what we have currently in place now, but our first four podcasts we went through the complete history of the company, and we talked a lot about the company starting in Wilmington, the original house moving, all that history when I-93 came in. And now being in Wilmington, it's kind of neat that we're able to travel the podcast, but also where it all began. So we've talked about how the company has changed a lot over the years, one facility, now with four. And with you guys having a lot of history with the company, one thing we also touch on a lot is a lot of long-term employees, which is something that the company's very proud of, having that family feel, something that may not but very common these days out in the working industry as a whole. So could you guys talk a little bit about 22 years ago, 34 years ago, how did you eventually find Shea Concrete Products? What was that process?
Sure. I can go first. So I was recently graduated from college. Funny story if you will, I actually grew up less than a half a mile from here in Wilmington. When I was a kid we used to actually take our bikes up and down the paths which run right behind the plant here. So we used to come back and forth through here all the time, never knowing what it was or what they did, but it was just some place to go. When I got out of school I was looking for work, and I found an ad in the paper, small ad in a small paper. I came in, met with Greg and Bob, and as it turns out, Bob also grew up in the same neighborhood that I did. Not quite the same timeframe, but he grew up in the same neighborhood that I did, and then I started. You can say that was October of '96, and I started out just doing the estimating here in Wilmington with Greg. Greg was still in Wilmington at the time. So I started back then, and then have slowly worked my way up from there. As we've bought and branched out and divided the need for administration in all four plants, moved my way up the ladder from there.
Awesome. And so in '96, it was Shea Concrete Products, but still a single facility here in Wilmington.
Correct. Just the one plant.
We were the one plant, we were doing mostly the same stuff that we're doing now. We had our coring machine here. We don't core here anymore, but we had just the single spool coring machine, one guy doing coring five days a week. All of the tanks were done here, poured here and staged here, and then we had a driver that would run them back and forth across the street, because we don't have enough land here to store all the tanks that we're making, because even back then we were making the 10x17 tanks here, which took up a lot of space. So we would have to truck all of our tanks from our staging area here in the yard to our storage area across the street. It was quite a different process than what we've got going on now for sure.
Yeah. And you know, 22 years later, that's still something that's at the tip of the spear for you guys as you're planning production and storage and things like that. The yard is very well organized, but that's something that is still constantly discussed and managed, just making sure that inventory is properly placed, and there's a lot of room for various products that we have.
Right. With the amount of space that we're allotted here in Wilmington, we have to be as organized as possible in order to just to fit the products that we want to fit here in Wilmington.
It certainly helps.
Awesome. So Mark, if I'm doing my math properly here, then you started in '82?
Oh, okay. '84. Okay, my math is not quite right.
December 1st, 1984. I remember the day vividly. It was cold. Had been a short order cook, hadn't really decided what I wanted to do. A very good friend of mine at Shea was a good friend of the family, said "Come on down, give us a shot, see what you think." So I had to give it a shot. So it was December 1st 1974, it was a cold, cold day, and I thought I was gonna die, because I was indoors behind the broiler, broiler cooking up a storm, and we ... So it's funny, his wife Judi would say, "I don't know if he's gonna make it, dad." But, perseverance. I had to give it a shot. I usually give 110%, whatever I do, and lo and behold, here we are 34 years later, coming up on 34 years later. Things we a lot different back then. The production facility was the yard. So we stripped everything with trucks, concrete trucks. Cement mixers would come in from across the street, would pour everything in the yard, cover everything over with tarps and put salamanders underneath, whatever you had to do, because you were outside in the morning, you'd take the covers off, strip the product, repeat the process. So we said, "Well this is pretty simple." You're doing the same thing every day. Seemed pretty good. It was repetitious, but it was good.
After a while you got used to it, working with a great bunch of guys and working with a great family I think is what made you want to be here. So who would've known 34 years later.
Sure. That's great. So from when you started, how many years until the Central Batch Plant came in then?
I believe, I could be wrong, but I'd have to look back, but I know our first production building was built ... Let's see, I came in '84. I think in '86 I believe was our first production building. But we were still using cement mixers and whatnot. So maybe around '87, '88 might've been the first batch plant. I believe it was a one or two yarder off to one side. Had to have been a two yard. And then after another period of time, a new machine got put in the middle of the building, so you'd have three different ports so everybody can ... You can have three buckets going at a time.
That's funny, because the first couple podcasts with Greg, Bob, and Ed, they talked about the old, old days, pouring things a quarter yard at a time. And I believe it's that mixture that's out in front of Amesbury that was kind of the original mixture that was being used, so things have obviously changed a lot throughout the years.
Now so Jamey, when you first started, what were you doing initially with the company as you got your start at Shea Concrete Products?
So when I started, the thing I did most at that time was takeoffs from manholes. We would get plans in, and have to put together the production drawing, similar to what we do now except obviously back in the mid '90s it was all done by hand. Not that it was crazy, but it was a little more time consuming. And then bring them down to the coring guy, coordinate production, coordinate delivery and stuff like that. We wound up changing over to computer design more recently, maybe about six years ago with the software we have now. But back then everything was done by hand, and it was actually much more labor involved, because what wound up happening was back then people didn't necessarily have the ability to scan plans and email. So what they would wind up doing is they would take photo copies of their plans, and they would then either fax or email those individual sheets. Then you would have to almost piece those 8.5x11s together like a puzzle to actually make the plan so you could then do the takeoffs. Or you know, contractors would obviously bring plans in or actually have plans mailed over. Technology back then certainly wasn't where it is now, so it was a very different form of how we had to get the work done. So that was what I basically started to do.
I think one of the best things I did actually, one of Greg's suggestions when I first started, I started in October. October, November, and then into December when the winter hit and the manholes slowed down, I went and I worked in production for that first winter I was here, because it gave me a feel for how things got done. I always say it's easier to draw something on paper, but just because I can draw it doesn't mean that it can be fabricated. So I can understand now when I drew something on paper and the production foreman, whether it was a manhole or tank or special pad or any one of these things, when I brought it down and the foreman says, "I can't make that, it doesn't make sense. What is this, what is that?" So that winter that I spent in production I think really made a big difference because I understood the procedures involved in setting up a form, breaking down a form, breaking rebar cages, and I understood more how things needed to be done on my end in order to put together a correct production drawing so we could make all the specialty product that we made at the time.
Sure. And you know it's funny, going 22 years back to earlier this morning, as I'm driving here, had a conversation with an engineer in New Hampshire, and they're talking about a certain type of precast structure. So one of the things that is always kind of pushed with engineers and specifiers is the idea that we want to be a value adding partner. So we have the internal capabilities to assist with drawings, specification language. Us as the precaster, let us see exactly what your challenges are, what you're trying to do. And if you let us assist more from the start and let us say, "Hey, here's another way to do that," that might be more efficient, easier, more cost-effective. We're always trying to get that message out to the engineers and the specifier community, because sometimes that's not always how they think of us as a partner. Sometimes they just say, "We'll design it, and then you guys worry about making it." If we can kind of get in earlier and make them understand that we have a lot of other capabilities to offer, that's typically very helpful for us.
It certainly makes a lot more sense than waiting for them to design something that can't be produced, then we go back and forth and we see these are the forms that we have, these are the capabilities that we have, and then they say, "Okay, well I'd like to have this and this," and then we wind up doing exactly what you said, providing the value engineering after the fact, when if we were in on the ground level, it makes a big difference. Now what helps us even more now is that it's very easy for us to give engineers access to not only our PDFs on the website but the AutoCAD drawings. Again, back when I first started, if an engineer wanted our catalog, we would mail them a hard copy, and within that hard copy was a sheet protector, and then that sheet protector was six floppy disks, and that was what our catalog came on. So they would have to pick whichever floppy disk, and they were labeled disk one of six, two of six, and you had to go to the table of contents within the catalog. It would tell you which disk the AutoCAD drawing are on.
So it's definitely a lot easier for them now to get handle of what the products that we make ahead of time, so that we can provide that value engineering for them right from the start.
How big is the internal team now that provides support to engineers, specifiers and all sorts of different customers that come in in terms of that value added, that support that we can provide?
Well it's certainly growing. I would say when I first started you had Greg and I doing most of the estimating and engineering, and obviously Bob Flores as a general manager. He did more than his share at the time as well. So pretty much the three of us at that time. Now I'd say we've got three of us in Wilmington, at least another including the wall guys especially, and the building guys, probably five or six in Amesbury, a couple of guys in Nottingham and a couple of guys in Rochester. So we've got a full complement of ten to twelve guys that can provide the information that hopefully gets these engineers on the right track and helps them put together the plans that makes their job easier and just results in a better product.
All right Mark, so you started manufacturing product. Tell us a little bit about your journey through where you started to where you are now at the facility here.
Back when I first started, Ed's uncle John [inaudible 00:14:57], he was an awesome production foreman, manager of the yard. And I listened well, and I've carried it through all the years as far as rebar placement and proper setup of whatever we manufactured. It was all cored and specced, and I paid attention to that, which carries it forward to this day. But back in the day, like I said we'd have stripping trucks and strip the product out, and tar the seam, whether it be a 1,000 gallon septic tank or a 1,500. They're all two piece. We didn't have models back then. So basically it was ... And then the manholes, we had eight inch wall material only, and we upgraded into the five inch wall material, so I transitioned into that, and I became the production guy for the manhole product. So we had a whole array of different sized sumps and rises and cones, whatever it was, whatever we made, I oversaw that because it had a lot of rebar. We used to have to cut your rebar. Everything was placed accordingly, and carrying forward to today's standards of NPCA proper placement, proper spacing. And that was all from early on. Uncle John, like I said, was a great guy, and I listened and still carry through to today.
Sure, sure. Now you have done a lot of work within the company for safety.
Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about your focus there?
Okay. It happened I think right off the bat from here. Cranes, I mean, before cranes, I'd be checking jibs and forklifts and backup alarms. It started off on a smaller scale, and as it progressed, overhead cranes. So once a month, carrying it forward, I'd go to every plant and check all the overhead cranes, all the jibs, all the chains, everything for stretch or wear and safety as far as the forklifts, and front-end loads and all that, for backup alarms. All things that you try to correct a problem before it becomes a catastrophe. So it started out with just a Saturday here and there, to now four plants, a Saturday a month. So pretty busy, making sure that all plants are safe.
It started out small, and it's amazing how it's evolved into a ... The company's grown so much.
We talk a lot about teamwork, family owned and operated business, and the importance of the employees, how fortunate the company is to have very high quality employees, many of which have been here for decades. You guys work closely together here, is that correct? Is that fair to say?
So I really like, I don't know if it's a quote or statement, but teamwork makes the dream work. So how do you guys interact on a daily basis just to have things flow properly? What have you guys kind of learned about each other over the last six months or twelve months, whatever it may be, just to kind of have things work well, efficiently, properly. Good communication? Any high points there?
Definitely all communication. We're constantly calling each other, checking to make sure everything is exact. If I get a takeoff for a special that I'm gonna make, I'll call to make sure ... I like to dot my I's and cross my T's, make sure it's exact, because I want to make it once.
And I want it to be made correctly, so I'll probably be more of a pain, but I'll be calling whoever. The takeoff came from Jamey or Eddie or Chris [inaudible 00:19:17], or whoever in the company, and I'll just ... I don't know, I want to be spot on. Jamey and I would talk all the time. I'd probably be more of a pain, going "Hey, what about this? What about that?" He's probably like, "All right, I had enough of this guy for the day." But I want to make sure everything is spot on.
What works out well is that Mark has been here certainly long enough between not only the time he had in Wilmington and then moved to Amesbury and then came back to Wilmington, so that I know that there's no need for me to watch over what he's doing. I knew right from the get-go that when Mark came back to Wilmington earlier this year that he was exactly what I was looking for for a production foreman down back, because he's been there, seen it all, done it all, but is still as eager in my opinion as he probably was the first day he was here to get in there, get his hands dirty, and create the product in the product line and the quality that we've always strived to do. So a lot of times what I'll do is when I bring a drawing down, we go over it. I could easily just hand him a drawing, say "Mark, I need this Monday. Let me know if you have any questions," and then go. But we always talk our way through pretty much every product we're gonna make so that he knows what I'm looking for, and he always wants to make sure that I understand how he's planning on making it so that we know we're always on the same page.
And the same goes for the guys who are doing the actual work of building the form, putting everything together. If it's not something that Mark's doing himself, then we make sure that everyone in each department here is familiar with not only how we do our day-to-day work but how we want the special products done, whether it's rebar placement, location of openings, or any number of things. So Mark and I work pretty well together. Again, he was here when I first started, and a lot of the manhole material that I would make I would bring to him as well. Mark and I have been working together for 22 years now, so we know pretty well how ... I know what he wants from me, and he knows the quality of the product that I'm looking to have him put together for us.
Sure. And Mark, from a day-to-day basis, when ... Are you at about one year now from when you were working at Amesbury full-time to now coming back to Wilmington full-time?
I spent the last ten years in Amesbury, but I came here about middle of April.
So about six months now.
Okay, so about six months in, okay. Awesome. So I just crossed over approximately my one year, and I remember I came down and spent some time with you Jamey, and in Amesbury obviously since I've been here there's been a major transformation in terms of office space. Folks obviously can't see where we're sitting or whatnot, but it's a new conference room for rehab. What kind of benefits is this new building providing to everyone that's here in Wilmington?
I think for starters right off the get-go it brings you a more comfortable working environment. There's definitely people ... The contractors come and go in the door every day, and everyone comments on how amazing it is, oh my God, this place looks fantastic, what have you done, when did you do it? And I said when I started in the '90s, the office was old and outdated, and we've done whatever needed to be done, but for the most part, everything that we just removed was still there when I started. So from what we had to what we have now is an astronomical leap. But just from the fresh air ventilation that you're constantly getting, and the LED lights compared to the fluorescent lights, the environment that you have for the nine to ten hours a day then we're here, it's amazing.
I've definitely noticed the timeframe from, in my opinion, from 1:00 'til 4:00 in the afternoon is more enjoyable than it was before, because that's when you start getting run down between the closed air environment and the fluorescent lights flickering and stuff like that. So it's definitely made a big difference, and I think everyone else will agree, and it seems to have really improved our work ethic here.
That's great. The MPCA annual audit recently came through. You guys obviously do a very good job with that and every day things are done properly in case they show up tomorrow morning. You guys are very much on top of your game. Also the 53rd annual MPCA annual convention was in Providence, and this was one of the facilities where the plant tours were. So as everyone had left, and we were all talking here in the facility, you guys gave me a tour of the new area that's been put together down in the plant, and what that has done for the folks that are on the ground every day making the product. So do you want to kind of bring us through that Mark, the steps that were taken to provide that new environment?
Well one of the things when I first got here back in April, the picnic table was in the middle of the production building, and I talked to Jamey about it, talked to Greg about it, and we all agreed that it needed to be relocated, for a whole new environment. So one thing led to another, and lo and behold, we didn't have a proper locker room, so we found a space in the building that was not being utilized properly, so now we have a brand new locker room, a brand new break room. To me, it made them want to ... I noticed a different. The guys were so responsive. They were so happy. They saw that the company's trying to make things better, which they always have been from day one. But just having that new break room and that new locker room, the guys have been so much ... The guys are very appreciative of it. Where the locker room was before is now gonna become a different area, and the picnic table's long gone. One of the guys wanted to take it, and we said, "Absolutely. We'll help you load it up in your truck." We didn't want to cut it up. We didn't burn it. So we got all new chairs and tables, thanks to Jamey, thanks to Greg.
That kind of goes with, we talk a lot about the idea of constant improvement. The company is always trying to make, whether it's small adjustments or big adjustments, but every day the ability to do things a little bit better, a little bit more efficient. Everyone is very open to speaking up and being heard, and the company leadership is always open to making things better as it's seen on any level. So that's awesome. Okay, so as we start to wrap things up here, anything in particular that you guys may have of a favorite story? I guess one question mark that I want to ask you is, what product that you guys manufacture it's most challenging product to make and why? How about that for a question?
So the products that we make here in Wilmington are more the standard products. We make our light poles every day, which are a challenge in and of themselves. We have a lot of contractors calling looking for light poles, and most of our products we have on the shelf. Septic tanks, manhole sections, stairs, bulkheads, the frost posts, drywall. It's the stuff that we sell every single day. So a lot of the contractors assume that if there's a precast product on their plan, it's something that we have on the shelf. So they'll call up and say, "I'm looking for eight light pole bases." I'm like, "Okay great, what sizes are you looking for?" And they go, "What do you have?"
Unfortunately every light pole base is special and different in and of itself, whether it's the diameter of the light pole base or the height, the size of the bolts, the spacing of the bolts, how much of the light pole is sticking out of the ground, how much is below the ground. There's a lot involved in the design work, so we're constantly making them, and it's probably the product I guess we have that's most time consuming within the production that we make every day, outside of whether it's a special pad or special vault or something like that that we make. So it's one of those situations where we make three to four light poles per day, and they could be for one or two different jobs. So we try to make sure that the production drawings have all the information for everyone that's involved.
And then we try to tell the guys that are in production, I know it's an old cliché, but I always say if you measure it twice, cut once. And we make sure that everything is right the first time, because if the template's wrong or you're putting the bolts in the wrong place or the condor in the wrong location, then the product now does not work for the contractor who ordered it, and most likely probably won't work for another contractor for quite some time if we're lucky. So I would say of the products that we do here, the light pole base is probably the trickiest and most labor intensive of what we make.
And one other thing that we didn't mention, we talk about the office and how fantastic everything is, but within the last two to three years, we've also put some pretty good upgrades within our production building in addition to the new break room and locker room. We had the all new heaters being done. And Mark can attest to it, in the winter time, it's a tough environment working there, and we want to make the work environment as comfortable for our production guys as possible. They're in and out, whether it's going out to cut rod, bring rod back in, or bring the product, so the doors are constantly opening and closing, so within the production facility we had the roof and all the walls spray foamed for insulation, and we have all new heaters in the ceilings now as opposed to the old system that we had which was out of date and extremely inefficient. So the environment in the winter time now in the production building is leap years better than it used to be. It's tough to do your job when your job is physical and you're wearing a heavy coat. I can only imagine what it must've been like when you started here and everything was done outdoors. It's a different world. But we try to make sure that our employees have everything they need to succeed, and that they have a comfortable environment.
Production building, we finished that up last year just before we started to work on the office building itself.
And maybe kind of last thing, I believe this facility is the busiest facility throughout all four for Shea Concrete for, I guess I'll call it the drive-in business.
Okay, yeah. Even as I got here earlier today, there was definitely one truck loading, and I think another private truck loading as well, one around back with a large truck and trailer. But great location, very close to 93, so that's exciting for the company as well. And I'm sure exciting for you guys, but also produces other challenges as well to make sure that the yard's open as folks come in.
Right. It is definitely a steady flow that comes through here. Summer and obviously the fall are the busiest times of year, but like I say, the location we have here, not only are we convenient to 93, we're less than a mile from the highway, but you're less than ten minutes once you get on that highway from 495 and 128. So you've got everyone that comes up from the south shore and a lot of people that are coming up from 495. It's slightly more convenient than continuing up 495 to Amesbury. But we have I would say, and I don't have the numbers to statistically back it up, but I would say that we probably do more yard business per day than the other three plants do combined. But we've got two very good forklift operators. We move them quick. We get them in, we get them out. And any time that we have a situation where someone needs a hand loading, there's always someone whether it's Mark or one of the other guys in production that will gladly, whether it's to help someone strap down or to help someone move material, they're always willing bounce out and help and get the job done as quickly as possible.
Because like you say, you could have a situation where you have three or four yard customers in at one time, and then two of our drivers pull in to load up at the same time and the yard gets pretty congested pretty quick.
Gets busy quick, yeah, for sure.
It's nice to see though, it really is.
Yeah. Awesome. All right guys, well wrapping up Precast Podcast number ten. Jamey, Mark, want to thank you both very much for coming up, and want to thank our listeners and our subscribers, and we will look forward to continuing this initiative, and again, going through the process of introducing more Shea Concrete Products employees. So you guys have a great rest of the day, and we will look forward to talking to you soon.