Episode #3: The Shea Way
August 2, 2018
Welcome to the Precast podcast, episode three. So the goal of episode three, we're going continue on with company history, so we're going to be talking through 1975, where we left off with episode two, up through 2010 with the purchase of what was Utility Precast and how that continued to transform Shea Concrete Products. So with us, we have the same people from episode two. We have Ed, Bob, and Greg, and let's get right into it.
So we're at approximately 1975 continuing on from episode two, and at this time, Ed, you and your wife Judi are running Shea Concrete Products.
There's a lot going on. Why don't we kind of get right into kinda where the company is, products that are being made, and things that are starting to happen to continue to expand the business.
Utility Precast made many different things that we did in all underground utility stuff, concrete built-ins, and all of that, so it was a new venture to us, and we purchased it, and I told the engineer, I said, “I want this, I want to pass papers before the end of the year”. He said, “That's only four weeks away”. I said, “that's okay, you've got plenty of time”, so he worked night and day to get it all done, and he did it. Then he sent me a bill, and the bill was like nothing. He gave me a family discount on it. Think he charged me $1500 to do all of that, but it was really a great purchase, and we're doing very well down there. Greg Bates is running it, and he's doing a great job, and we're doing good down there.
So, where were you though in '75 when it came to products and what you were making and how you expanded then, though?
For Shea Concrete, we expanded, we bought some big farms. I don't know what year the 10 by 17.
Well that was after we put the production building in.
So that would've been, I wanna say that was probably the early '90s ...
That we bought that. Was that there when you came?
The farm wasn't that old, but it was there, yeah.
So, like '75 is Ray Greenwood time. That's how I always think of it. You had Ray Greenwood, you purchased his assets and stuff like that.
We did a lot in the short time there.
You know what I mean? I remember that farm we bought from Cleco. Bob Kelly, the gentleman that owned this place here, New England Precast. He begged me, he said “Don't get a 10 by 17, get 8 and then we can swap farms back and forth”. I said, “No, we want to go bigger, not smaller”, and he worked on me for a long time, but I didn't. We still bought the 10 by 17, which was really the correct thing to do.
Right, I agree with that. It's still a popular farm today.
Exactly. We do a lot with that farm. I remember him calling me up all the time. “Don't get that one”, 'cause he didn't have the equipment to handle it was his problem. Ya know? He was a low-key guy too, but a great guy. We always did a lot of the manholes, but we're doing a lot, a lot of the manholes now.
So, when you purchased Ray Greenwood and you got some of his farms and stuff like that, you were still producing outside.
Shortly afterwards, what did y'all ... put up a building?
Correct, we put a building up. The existing building, the same one that's in Wilmington now. We put two or three additions on it since, because your building's never big enough. No matter how big it is. So we put two or three additions on with a new mixer in there, right in the middle of the building.
Before that you bought that mixer off of Ray Greenwood?
Correct. We mounted that, and then we ... that really wasn't big enough for us.
That was a one year, one guy, one yard mixer.
I believe it was a Praschak mixer, which worked fine.
I can remember one of the additions we did the floor, and we poured it all with that one yard mixer.
I wanna say it was a hundred yards of concrete ...
Yeah, it could have been.
... We had to pour on the floor. Imagine that one yard at a time.
That was a good mixer.
Yeah, wonder where that it.
Change the blades a few times and that ...
It's still sitting in the yard where, in Wilmington, where we store our bulkheads.
[inaudible 00:04:55], yeah.
Yeah it is. It was right there the other day.
The big thing was Jimmy Mansfield. He just took care of all that stuff. You took the mixer into that whole deal, put it out of your mind. He just took care of it.
Never asked you any questions. Just did it.
I wish you still had Jimmy.
I know it. Jimmy is a good friend, too. You know? That worked good and then we put the big mixer in the middle of the floor. What's the one in there now?
It's a Cleco, right?
It's a Wiggert mixer. We purchased it from Cleco at the time.
Yeah, how big is that?
It's a countercurrent planetary mixer. It's ...
Superb. We got our three different outlets on it. One, two, three.
Right. We still call Cleco for advice once in a while, and that. What's the guy's name? Steve?
He still clocks us out, right?
Before the one year mixer was installed in Wilmington, was it ready mix that was being used for the concrete?
Exactly. Even after we first put the building in, before the mixer was put in, we would back the cement truck into the building and pour the floor with the cement truck.
We did that for quite a while.
Who are you getting ready mix from then?
MacLellan, and some from Benevento, I don't know if Benevento was doing it then. Mainly MacLellan.
Yeah, mainly MacLellan. We were buying originally from Wakefield ...
Yeah, that's correct.
Wakefield Ready Mix. I remember, they had a sixteen yard mixer.
Sixteen yard mixer.
No way, sixteen yards?
Sixteen yards. It was gigantic. They had two or three of them.
It was huge. Obviously today you couldn't run that on the road it was too heavy.
Yeah, it was huge.
It was a sixteen yard mixer in a fourteen yard agitator, is what they called it. So, if you had the ready mix planned, you could dump sixteen-what yards in it, but if you put dry concrete you could only put fourteen.
Then mix it up and put more in it. The things were gigantic.
That was before all the weight restrictions on trucks really went into effect.
It wasn't a problem.
So when that building went up, there was no mixing in that small quarter-yard mixer anymore?
No, we stepped up. We made some good quality concrete with that little mixer, though.
Well, we thought it was quality. I know nothing fell apart, you know?
You know ... Mixing, batching, pouring, working under cover, how did that change the business?
So much better quality.
Like day and night.
The quality was so much better because you didn't have to worry about the weather. Before we had the building, you'd pour in the rain and the rain would wash all of the oil off the forms. The next day you'd have a hell of a time stripping the molds. It was ridiculous. In the winter times the forms ... the bottom of the form would fill up with snow, and if you didn't get that snow out of there it would cause voids in the bottom of the tank. Those are the big things. Just dealing with weather. Then you'd get shrinkage cracks from the sun.
Sun beating on the tanks ... big cracks. I forgot a lot ... a lot of this stuff I forgot about.
Obviously the batch plant is all automated, it has skills associated with it?
The quality was so much, so much better.
Even just pouring ready mix under cover was better, you know? The forms were leveler. We would have to level forms every day outside, and the ground wasn't level so you'd have forms tipping. So, when you poured the concrete, everything would slope to one end of the tank.
It was a horror show.
It was tough.
But we did it.
You would say that, in those early stages, you were, I would think, like most precasters were. You were like most precasters, right? As far as what they were doing, how they were pouring?
I think we were more Archaic than a lot of them.
Ray Greenwood had a plant
[inaudible 00:09:11] had a plant.
Most companies had buildings to pour in. We didn't.
Even Ray, he just had a roof, no sides. It still kept the weather off of everything.
I still think we worked harder than any of them.
I know we did. We did the volume too.
Right, exactly. I can remember pouring sixty yards of concrete outside. That's a lot of concrete outside. This was in the fall one year when the push was on because you'd be running out of eight inch wall material. We'd have, we called them 'smudge pots', that we'd put inside the manholes, cover them up, and all it was was a pot with kerosene in it, that we could light on fire so that we strip some of the forms twice a day.
It was so dirty. Well you took a pot, burning. You've got a cover over it just to keep the heat in. You're black. You were black when you left there.
All the insides of the molds were covered in soot.
And we were all soot too at the end of the day.
And then John Mareshi, Ed's uncle was working, and he was a structural engineer?
Yes. Very smart.
With a PE. He loved driving the forklift.
That was his big thing. Remember the tree? Dogtown with the forklift. He was trying to get the boots out. A little short, heavy set guy. He'd be bouncing off the seat.
I think he took ten years off the life of that forklift.
Like I said earlier though, John was so smart, but he'd listen to you. If you had an idea or something that you thought would work better, he would listen to you. Most engineers don't do that. They only focus on that they're right, no one else knows anything. John was very good that way.
One thing with John was, we didn't know a lot about H20 loading, and John being a structural engineer helped us with rod lay out and reinforcing, and placement of reinforcing. He could figure all of that out and as a PE he could stamp it. Like Ed has said, we could really use John today.
Back then, he was a huge help to us. You know? Especially with the H20.
I think I still have drawings in the cabinet over there of in-drawn calcs, and all of that from him.
When I first started working there a few years later we put the addition on the building and he designed the addition. I can't believe how much rod we put into that thing, and how thick the concrete was.
Well, that's like the footings for the building, right? When he put those footings in, he had to go down, because there was a lot of peak there, wasn't there, Ed? If I remember exactly. So he had to get below the peak, but the footings he put in, if you saw the rebar in those footings ... Like I said, that building could take a direct hit from a scud missile, I think.
Exactly, and the size of the beams in their, gigantic. You know?
So that building going up, you've got a mixer now, you have over head bridge cranes. Right? Big difference from what you had before.
What about product? Did you start making other kinds of product then?
Like I said, I think Ed bought shortly after that building was put in, he bought the 10 by 17 mold from Cleco, which was huge for us.
I think delivering it, didn't you have to by devault for that?
The trailer mounted crane that we originally started delivering those with, which was limited because it was tough.
You couldn't get in with a trailer. We bought that in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, me and Julie went down to pick it up. Went down with the Kenworth truck, picked it up, and brought it back. We stopped in Baltimore on the way back and picked up a roll of wire, so we were full coming back.
Then shortly after that you bought your first UMC I think, right?
Which was a smaller version.
Fifteen ton. We sold a lot to the pipe company, Scituate. We're still going on QM6.
So, you know with the central batch plant in place, producing under cover, how many cubic yards a day were being poured at that time?
I'd say roughly sixty. Sixty yards a day, and that ramped up obviously, once we did some expansions to the building. Like Ed said, I think we've done at least three, I think it's even more than that, expansions to that building. I don't know what the total length is. Is it like 300 feet long, Greg?
Yeah, something like that.
It's really long. They don't realize it.
Originally I think it was like 40 by 60 or something ... 60 by 60. Then we put 20 more feet on one side and went all the way down with it. We kept putting addition onto addition and we put more cranes in there. Once we started doing that, we ramped up to over 100 yards a day.
Was your dad still around then?
Yeah, but he wasn't in favor of any of this. Once I put the mixer in, my father would never go in the plant. You remember that?
Once I put the mixer in, that was it for him. Never went in the plant again. He was so dead set against it. It's the best thing we ever did. If could ever see what we've got now, he just wouldn't believe it. I don't believe it. I don't believe it, why should he? We started doing a lot of manholes, that up the outage a lot.
Originally we were a little suspect about getting into manholes because it was such a competitive product, low priced. I mean, you had Concrete Systems, Scituate, and a few other companies that were making manholes and selling them so cheap.
Twenty year old prices.
We were kinda hesitant to get into that.
What I was always afraid of was them leaking. What are you going to do? We just rolled along and everything worked out fine. We just put our price up there and people want service today. They call us 'Well, I need it right away', and we can usually slide it right in and get them whatever they want.
That's been our big since you've been running the company. Well, your father too, but it's just what they need and make sure we can do it.
Kill them with service. Just like years ago, when your car wasn't running good you took her to a shop, they tuned it up, they charged you say $100, you'd say "Oh my God, that's so much money!", but if it ran good, you forgot it pretty quick. If you went in and got a job done for 50 bucks, and the car didn't run good and you had to bring it back three times, where are you going to go the next time. You know? That's how we felt. We always give them good quality service and it was there when we said it would be there. No matter where it was. Now we're going further, and further, and further. The service isn't as easy to do as we used to. We used to do Wilmington, Billerica, a little in Chelmsford, but Billerica and Chelmsford were our big towns, and Wilmington of course.
Lynnfield, yeah. We hit it when the boom was on. We couldn't make stuff quick enough.
The boom came on, and then in the 80s you had a little bit of market crash. How'd that affect Shea Concrete?
We kept going.
I don't remember too many years when we didn't increase sales. Maybe we had a year that was flat, but for the most part I think there was a pretty steady rise in sales every year.
Then a few years ago we had that flat spot, and we closed Wilmington.
When we did that we tried to keep everybody that wanted to move to a different plant and everything.
Correct, and that worked out okay.
You were talking about trying to do the manholes and stuff like that, I know we had customers that were doing a lot of DOT kind of work, so we ended up getting certified, right? So, the MPCA certification, I think was at least 25 years ago we did that. I don't think we've missed a year since then. We've been certified every year. I think that's been a big help to us.
I do too.
I think it's certainly improved our quality and I don't have any regrets as far as getting involved with the MPCA and the certification program. I think it's been great, I think you'll agree with that.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
When the state comes in to inspect things, once they see how you do things, it's never a problem. We have a great name, and they come in and they're just great. I don't know that there's ever been a problem. Has there? Not that I know of. They may point a couple of things that you should change, and we do it, and they're happy.
You know, and going through that process of becoming MPCA plant certified, what did that do for the company in terms of opening up new opportunities, new markets, new products that could be manufactured?
I'm not sure it opened up that many more opportunities to be honest with you, do you think Ed?
I think it's like a stamp of approval that you're certified.
We certainly use that in marketing our products and saying that we are state certified, and MPCA certified, and I think that maybe pulls some weight; but I'm not sure how much other than some DOT work that we did ...
When we got certified, it wasn't to get more work. It was really to keep our customers happy. They wanted to buy from us, we weren't certified, so we got certified. That's why we did it. Obviously the benefit was better quality and stuff like that, but we weren't in it necessarily to try to generate more business. We haven't really pushed it, per se, we'll put the certification in our letterhead and that kind of stuff, but we don't market it hard or anything. We just did that to make sure our customers were happy with what we were giving them, and be able to provide to them certain jobs. The plus side was ...
Like I say, it's a stamp of approval. It's like a feather for your cap, so to speak.
And the employees love the idea that we're certified. When we get our audits and stuff like that, and we do well, it's like a feather in their cap.
You drive by the Amesbury facility now, and you see all the bulkheads and stairs, when did that bulkhead product line start to be manufactured?
Like I said, I think it was the late 70s that we started, that it got the franchise firm entry. It just took off. That was really in the middle of a condo ... when everybody was buying condos and building condos. We were delivering crazy amounts of bulkheads a day. It was ... I know Bob Lopez, I think put 10 bulkheads in in one day. He'd have somebody help him. I think you even went out and helped him one day, Greg.
Yeah, for some I helped before I was done with school. I used to take the, I can't think of what truck it was a little flatbed Ford with just doors on it.
So what year would that have been?
Mid 80s. So right before the crash probably, when condos were real big.
That was the early 80s. So, we would go out and Lopez would install all of the bases and then I'd go through and start installing the doors. He would yell at me because I wasn't even good at caulking it and stuff like that. He'd say, “I'll do the caulking, you just put the doors together.”
The big thing too with us when we started the franchise, the big manufacturer, the big installer was Merrimack concrete, and they kinda went downhill real quick. They were gigantic.
They were based all off what?
Yeah, Merrimack concrete was big into that.
I didn't know that.
When you thought of bulkheads you thought of the Merrimack perm entries.
Where were they? Merrimack Mass.?
Merrimack, New Hampshire. The guy's name was Allen Whitney. I got to be very friendly with him too.
I didn't realize that.
He ended up ... He used to go to the gym everyday, really in good shape. He ended up having a stroke.
He was never the same.
Never the same after that. I used to go see him once or twice a year and take him out for dinner. He was a real, real good guy. You know? But that was a big thing that helped us.
I can remember being on job sites with Bobby Lopez and there'd be apartments and condos, you know they're grouped together, you'd have one street and it might have like four or five different groups of condos on them. All the same developer. We'd pull into one group of condos, say it was 10 condos and we'd be doing the bulkheads, the next group all we'd be doing is precast, and they'd be doing the bulkheads. There's just so much going on ...
You couldn't keep up with it.
You'd have two precasters at one job site putting in bulkheads.
Where was that condo project at, in Chelmsford?
Chelmsford. Tommy Gonzalez.
We put in a ton of bulkheads there. It was right near the river, right?
Right near the river, yeah.
That was a big job.
He was a good payer, too.
Oh yeah. There was no problems there. It was all sand, it was an easy installation, easy back fill.
It was right in your back yard. It was a long way for us at the time. But now you see it. It's in your back yard.
At that time, how many delivery trucks were there for the company?
Three or four maybe. Then we had a trailer. Remember delivering bulkheads on the trailer? Bringing them over there with the trailer truck.
I can remember, I think we had three delivery trucks for bulkheads and stairs alone. I think it was Phil Cop, Bob Lopez, and maybe one other ... was it Earl? Those trucks were going all day. Then we had a couple of septic tank trucks. I think we had T9, which was a diesel ten wheel, the one that Ed built. Then you bought Charlie's truck, the General. The GMC, that was also a ten wheel diesel. I think we might have had one or two others.
Little six wheelers. Half a dozen, seven.
How many total employees at that time for the company?
That included drivers, office staff, and production workers.
In that area.
How about the process in Massachusetts, the idea of Title 5, what that did for the septic specific part of the business?
It just took off. It exploded. That was a big boom for us.
Which I said earlier, I don't think this was on, when you bought a new house, back then you didn't have Title 5. So, someone bought the house then right away they had a new system in, and they couldn't afford it. Right up to your ears in debt. Title 5 was great for Shea Concrete, but it was great for the homeowner, too. It really was. They changed a lot of things around, and it was really great for everybody concerned.
What were the largest sized tanks being made at that time?
2000s I would say.
Before Title 5 went into effect, or after Title 5 went into effect?
I guess maybe both. It could be before and after.
Before Title 5, I think it was mostly 1250s I think we were selling. That was a popular size. After Title 5 went into effect, it was all 1500s. That's when we really had to ramp up, by new forms.
Then we got into the monolithic tanks right around that time because some towns were requiring, like, we had to switch area essex, that Massachusetts, that area was requiring either vacuum testing, water testing, or monolithic tanks they would accept. So, we got into monolithic tanks. That was a big thing because we were the first in the area to have that. No other manufacturer had monolithic tanks. That helped us a lot too.
Part of the reason for that change was there was a couple of manufacturers they were having problems with, so they said that they wanted them vacuum tested, water tested, or go the monolithic route.
This is all for the better too. For the country and everything.
At that time are now into early-mid 90s?
Like I said, Title 5 was 95. So, yeah, mid 90s I would say.
We did a lot to get that going with Title 5, well, I should say to help out the DEP with it. They had a lot of questions on what precasters could do, what our capability was, what the changes we would need to make were, all of that kind of stuff. I know that Jay spent a lot of time talking to them.
A lot of effort went into that on our part.
Another thing we've had an issue with that I don't think we've talked about, but was the truck regulations when they wanted us to ... we had the A-frame trucks at the time, and they didn't like the boom sticking out beyond the back of the truck. Ed had to design some means of making that boom swing so that it wasn't hanging off the back of the truck, right?
And Jim Miceli, who was the State Rep, and myself, and Lenny Warden went into the State House to fight it so that we could still have the boom off the back of the truck. We eventually won that, and so Ed did actually make a truck with the swinging boom on it, and we never used it.
Spent a ton of money on it though.
That was one of the pitfalls we had back then, but we got through it.
We got through it, yeah.
How did the process work moving further into the 90s, toward the purchase of where we are now, Amesbury, Massachusetts, and Nottingham, New Hampshire?
I think we talked about it, we hired Jeff DuBois, a civil engineer, and he helped us get our catalog on disc so we could get it out to the engineers and the specifiers. That was another big thing for Shea Concrete.
That's where we started our website, too. We had a website that Jeff suggested we do, and stuff like that.
He was a big, big help.
He was help. Then we hired Greg and ... who was the other engineer at the time that we had working for us?
You mean Gary?
Gary. Gary Wood. So that's when we really started to get into plans and doing takeoffs, getting into more five inch wall and manholes.
Jamie was there at that time. Jamie's been with us quite some time.
Jeff definitely was apart of that, but we definitely seeing engineers too, a little bit. Not necessarily doing munch and learns, but getting out and talking to them.
Jeff was good at that.
Yes he was.
The munch and learns are great. It's about time for another one isn't it? Don't have time.
September is our next one.
It'll be here before you know it.
I know. It's almost right around the corner.
Then in 99, like we had mentioned earlier in a previous episode, Ed always kept in touch with other precasters in the area. Then in 99 Bob Kelly wanted to retire, so he talked to you about purchasing him, right?
No, Eddie was in Florida at the time.
Right, you were in Florida? I called him and I said “Ed, I just heard Kelly's New England Precast”, and I think you came right after. You flew right home.
We made a deal, we ended up buying, which was the best thing we ever did. The thing is, I had to put everything I owned on the line with the bank. Everything. Just to get this. I'm down back pulling a big, special septic tank with a guy he had the radio on. We were outside working in the pit and then one of the planes hit the tower in New York, and then another one. Then I said “We're going to be at war, and all of this here, everything I own is here. Who's going to want to buy a septic tank?". I figured we were really in trouble then, but things just kept going and I don't think things really changed. I was nervous. I just want to tell you. Everything you had, right on the line. We have done a lot of improvements here to say the least. We're still improving. Look at our office. You people can't see that, but you ought to see it. All precast. We made it all ourself.
Now, the story I've been told, when the purchase of this facility in Nottingham was done, and kind of sticking with company values and how the company is run, all employees of then New England Concrete, and all staff, were offered the ability to stay on ...
... and become Shea Concrete Product employees, and hence the term the Shea-way was born. Could you talk a little more about that? Sticking to those principals how that has just allowed the company to stay strong, the importance of your employees, morale, things like that.
We're very particular about the way we do things. When we come in here, they just have a different value of doing things. We had a hard time changing a lot of things over. It was really a hassle. A lot of things weren't done the way we do them, and we did that. In Nottingham, we didn't open Nottingham right away. That just sat for how long? Four years?
Yeah, they weren't really using Nottingham when we purchased it, so we just let it stay that way. We had our hands full here in Amesbury.
To say the least. We just wanted to let that sit, which was really the correct thing to do. You look back now and we know it was the right thing to do. We're running Nottingham now, and we're doing very well up there. Jerry May, who runs it, he's doing a superb job.
To go back on what you said, when we bought New England Precast, we offered employment to all the employees that were here, but they also kept their seniority too. That seniority, whatever corresponded with Shea Concrete for benefits, they got that with their seniority. They didn't start all over from one year or whatever.
They were all pretty happy. We pay a lot more than the other guy did, I believe.
There were a lot of quality employees that came, but there were also some deadwood too.
There was some deadwood, yeah.
Now with the purchase of those two facilities, what did that bring to the company in terms of new product markets? Things of that nature.
I don't know that we got any new products out of it. We just had a much larger facility. We had land. The land is a big thing.
That is a big thing. We bought that. The purchase was normally ... it was competition.
Correct. You're eliminating your competition.
The land is really what you're looking at.
And the building.
And the building. In Wilmington, we just never ever had enough land, but here we're ... even here we're filled out. You get out back we're chuck full.
If you remember in Wilmington, we had storage yards. I don't know how many. Four or five storage yards, all in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. Obviously that's ...
They never had what you wanted when you went there.
You lose your efficiency having to move product around like that and everything.
Then we rented land from Benevento. We had one truck do nothing but move tanks all day.
When we saw this piece of property here, we said “Oh my God, this is great”.
You couldn't say no. All parts of this. The big thing is, if someone else got in here, it could be the biggest heartache you ever had if you get someone real aggressive in here.
Yeah, because Bob Kelly was really good competition.
Yes he was.
We didn't battle too much, I don't think.
You're right. If the wrong guy had got in here it would have been tough.
The product lines were very similar. What they had versus what we had. It wasn't until a few years later that we started adding more products, different product lines. We just wanted to get this place up and running again.
Yeah, and that was a hassle.
It was. I mean Ed and I were out in the yard pouring everyday.
All the time, but we loved it. Well, I did anyways.
Pouring inside, some pouring outside. It was just updating forms, updating equipment. I can remember the batch plant that they had before, they batched into ready mix trucks. The guy would be up in the batch plant using a slide scale for the weight system, like an old fashion scale. Nothing electronic. Then he would be moving that back and forth. There'd be holes in the bins and rocks would be falling down on top of him while he's trying to batch. He'd have a mixer truck underneath the batch plant, he'd load up the cement, the rock, and all that kind of stuff into it.
He'd run the water into it, and he'd listen to the mixer. That's when he knew the water amount was correct, by the sound of the mixer drum mixing. Then he knew he was at the right amount of water. Then I asked him how long did he mix the mixer trucker and he said for one cigarette. He would smoke a cigarette, and this guy would be at the upper level doing all of this and then he'd light up a cigarette and run down the stairs down to the truck. He would hop in the truck and run the truck over. As soon as he was done with his cigarette he knew it was time to discharge it.
He would run. This kid would never stop. He'd run the whole time.
But he was great.
He was great. There's a lot of the equipment and stuff that was here that needed a lot of help.
Ed was never afraid to invest in new equipment.
That's one thing I can say about Shea Concrete exactly.
You gotta spend money to make money.
We want to make a good product, everybody safe here.
Safety's a big thing.
You've gotta spend the money to do that.
I dread the day that someone gets hurt, ya know? Everything we do is heavy. We keep up with things as best as we can, but everything's heavy. We get the best of equipment. Without a doubt.
Moving forward, how was the process of going through the 07-08 recession, when that hit? How did that look for the company?
We just pulled our [inaudible 00:39:55] in and just kept going. You know? We laid a bunch of people off.
Yeah, closed Wilmington. Things really kept going.
We did open up Nottingham and did a little bit of product up there like the cane oil block and stuff like that. We didn't do a whole lot up there so we closed that plant as well. We only had three plants, Nottingham, Amesbury, and Wilmington at that time. Being that closing two of them, which left Amesbury up and running, brought in whoever wanted to come into Amesbury and anybody else who didn't want to make the transition was laid off.
That was difficult laying people off.
I want to say it went from a hundred and ten or so people down to seventy or so people at that point.
It was a necessary thing though.
It isn't something we wanted. We had to do it. It's a business deal.
At that time was there a lot of consolidation in the New England space, other precasters that didn't make it through?
Not that I can recall. All of our competition pretty much remained. We have nobody really that close. We had Scituate, Concrete Systems, who else ...
The only one that might have closed is Jake's. I'm trying to remember when they closed. Old Castle had bought them out.
Might have been right around that time.
It wasn't Jake's then, it was Old Castle.
They didn't last long.
They were consolidating people anyway. I can't remember a lot of precasters around here that were closing.
A lot of them, they kind of run the precast company like Mickey Mouse. You know what I mean? They made stuff and then in the winter they just closed it down. They weren't as intent as we were.
The guy in Sterling?
Yeah. He made a volleyball court or something out of his place in the winter. We were just manufacturing all of the time.
It was batting cages.
Batting cages. Is that what it was? Yeah.
He doesn't do that anymore though.
No, he don't.
What was the date that the mixing and batching facility out back here was installed?
Shortly after the rocks fallen on this gig and we realized we need to make this a better place. The funny part was, they had a whole batch system sitting out back in the woods. You remember that? We ended up taking that mixer and everything and bringing it in and putting new bins in and all automation and put that in. A few years after we purchased the place, just to get going. So 2007, and then we added on that 30,000 square foot building as an addition and that's when we put the ACT system in.
So, that was 07-08?
Yeah, so we're batching out of a two yard mixer very similar to the one that was in Wilmington, the one yard one, but this is a two yard one. We did that for a few years until 2007. We had just installed that building, put this beautiful batch plant in, and then the market crashed.
That was my introduction to the company, because at the time I was with ACT. I remember we were here shooting a lot of video for what became their P3 program. That was interesting timing.
You worked for ACT?
Yeah. I was their applications engineer. Every now and then I'd get calls from Dave, trying to figure out how to get the flying bucket going again when there's three yards in it and it's been setting up for a couple of minutes. Those were exciting phone calls. So, starting to close in on the end of our episode now. We're getting towards 2010, how did the conversation with Utility Precast come about?
I knew someone in the industry and they had talked to me and said ... well, we were looking into getting into more electrical type product lines, National Grid, Nstar, all that type of stuff. Someone came up to me and said that Fred Bates was interested in selling and retiring. So, I called up Ed and he said “Let's drive down”.
We made that deal.
So, we drove down and made that deal. Like Ed said at the beginning of this episode, within thirty days it was all done.
It's impossible to do.
The attorney was able to put all the paper work together right away and I think we closed on Christmas Eve or something like that.
The funny part was, this person that told us about it that it might be up for sale, is a vendor. He called up Utility Precast shortly after telling me about it and they answered the phone 'Shea Concrete Products'. To this day, he still laughs about it and says “I can't believe how quick that happened”. So Fred Bates's son, Greg Bates, is working for the company and he runs that place now.
He does a great job.
So we've spent some, a lot of upgrades with that too. We've boughten a lot of forums related to the underground utilities. We've upgraded some of the equipment there and stuff like that. They're on a small piece of land as well.
But that was a product line that we had been wanting to get into anyway.
Exactly, so it worked out perfectly.
We discussed that for years, wanting to get into utility structures. That really worked out well. We would get calls constantly for utility products.
Someone else wanted to buy it as well as us, and Fred Bates said “No, no, I want to sell it to Shea. I don't want you there, but I want Shea to have it because they'll run it right”. Kinda makes you feel good when people think that way about you.
Above and beyond all the utility products that they had, there was also the Niche product line of the easy set precast buildings.
Those are small buildings, say 12 by 20. They can be all assembled and all fitted out with electrical and plumbing before they get delivered. That way there, we can go in, unload it, drop it and place it, and drive away.
They've got four buildings right now ready to go.
All nice looking buildings.
They look good.
After say, for or so years of owning Amesbury, we've probably added hundreds of product lines if you really think about it since then.
You don't even think about it, you just do it.
With the ...
Oh yeah, a barrier was a barrier years ago.
Even though something as simple as a sonotube, right. Precast sonotube, or precast footings. Little things like that we've added. Boxed culvert we didn't do until 2000ish, or 2002 or something. Larger manhole, 8 foot ID, 10 foot ID ... we had 8 foot ID but 10 foot ID we didn't have. Oil curbs. All this stuff that we have added over the past ten years, maybe fifteen years. Say fifteen years.
There's no end to it.
It's crazy. So, every year I would always say “what new could we do?”, that kind of stuff. Now it's at the point that we do so much, it's let's do what we do, but better. It's hard to keep track of all that variety. I think we've diversified enough to be able to handle all kinds of situations. It's just a matter of doing it better.
If residential slows down, then commercial picks up, or vice versa. Right? The last couple of years it seems like residential has been a little softer than the commercial side.
We're manufacturing things that I don't even know what they are because I'm kind of retired now. I don't know what they are.
I used to know dimensions, prices, all that kind of stuff and now ... forget about it.
We had a meeting a while ago and these guys are talking about bollards and all that, I get outside and I say “Barbara, what the heck is a bollard?” They had to tell me what it was. I didn't even know.
We're doing our catalog over right now, matter of fact. It's so big now that we had to break it up into two different catalogs. It's 350-400 pages total if you add up both catalogs. Each page is a product line more or less.
Imagine if my father could see that.
It's nuts. It's crazy.
It all start with a 750.
Wow. Great. Okay. So, wrapping up episode three. We are 2010. Shea Concrete Products now is a four-facility company. Stretching all the way down to Rochester, Massachusetts, Wilmington, Massachusetts, Amesbury, Massachusetts, and up into Nottingham, New Hampshire. Again, want to thank you guys for another great episode. Thank you to our listeners. This is going to wrap up episode three. Please keep an eye out for episode four, which will complete the history of the company to date. We're looking forward to getting that out soon. Again, thank everyone for your time and for listening to episode three. Bye now.