Episode #4: An Eye Toward The Future
August 2, 2018
Welcome to the Precast Podcast, Episode Four. During this episode, we are gonna be completing the deep dive into company history. For this episode, we're gonna be starting at 2010-2011, and going to present day. With us, for this episode, as with Episode Two. and Three, we have Ed, Bob, and Greg.
We finished up Episode Three with a conversation about the purchase of what was Utility Precast. The goal, now, is to continue the process moving forward into where we are right now, at the Amesbury facility, sitting in the new state-of-the-art headquarters facility.
With that, let's dive in. The Utility Precast Company has been acquired. Shea Concrete Products has four facilities. Maybe, if we could start with the radius of influence within New England that the company has now, what does that look like, in terms of where product is being delivered on a daily basis? Then, maybe specialty items that may be delivered, even farther from that typical delivery radius?
To that answer, I would say that 20 years ago, our radius was much smaller than it is now.
If we did a 55-mile radius in Wilmington, that was a big day. Now, it seems like you're always going outside the 50-mile radius. We have a lot more trucks than we had back then, and part of the reason for that is because they're going farther. Takes more time, obviously, to do a delivery.
I think our influence has grown. I think we have a bigger area of people that know about Shea Concrete. I do think our customers are traveling farther than they used to, so that might be part of the reason.
Our area of coverage has grown because of the little bit of marketing that we've been doing, our website, things like that; lunch-and-learns that we started back up again. We haven't done those in a few years, but since you came on board, Hugh, that's been one of our prime things is to educate the engineers on what Shea can do for them, or what Precast can do for them, so that's grown us.
I think the engineers that specify our product, I think they're specifying our product in larger areas than they used to. I think everything's just multiplying, and growing, so we're going farther, and farther away. I think that the influence the Shea has on the engineers, and the current customers, and stuff like that has naturally grown us bigger.
We're not necessarily trying to sell product out in western Mass, for instance, even though we go that far. It just kind of happened organically, naturally.
Plus, if you take that 50-mile radius that you mentioned from Wilmington, now, you take Rochester, and draw our 50-mile radius there, in Nottingham, and draw a 50-mile radius there, and you look at the distance that we're covering that way, it's huge.
We're going north of Lake Winnepesaukah, now, from the Nottingham plant. We're getting orders in Conway, North Conway. I look at some of the areas we're going to and it's ... I guess it's not that far from Nottingham, but when you look at it from Wilmington to Amesbury, it's quite a distance; or you look at it from Rochester, you know.
Its funny, when you're going towards the Midwest, for them to do 300 miles in a day [crosstalk 00:03:33] for one trip is nothing, right? For us, our two farthest plants, mileage-wise, are not that far apart, but hours-wise, it can be a lot. It can be a lot.
People have asked, "Well, are you gonna consolidate, or anything like that?" You look at Utility ... The plant down in Rochester, they're on the other side of Boston. That could save a couple hours by having the plant down there.
It logistically makes sense to have that. It's almost back in the day, when we had just Wilmington, and we had all the different yards, everywhere [crosstalk 00:04:12] We're kind of in that same situation. About every yard makes concrete, makes precast.
That can be difficult to do, logistically, and all that. It takes a lot of time, and effort to figure that out. The other day, we delivered barriers. Everybody's got barriers. We delivered it to Troy, New York. It was four hours, one way. For us, that's a 10-hour day. That's a full day to do [crosstalk 00:04:39] to do one load ... It actually ended up being three loads.
The reason we got that job is he heard of Shea. I didn't ask him how, but he heard of Shea, and when he's talked to other precasters around there, they couldn't help them quick enough. They didn't either want to do it, they weren't able to get back to him quick enough. He called us, we got back to him. It's gonna be expensive to deliver it. He says, "I don't care. We need 'em," and we delivered them three loads of barrier, and the customer was happy.
Back to that pillar of excellence, and service, which is something that the company's grown a lot with. Once everything was settled with the Rochester, Massachusetts facility a lot of initial resources were put in to expand that product line, make sure everything that customers needed was there, how has that continuous improvement continued on, to now getting into 2018, having the four facilities? How has that process looked?
We've always- concerned about service. It's always been Ed's goal, his father's goal. I like to think that we still pride ourselves in giving good service, and a good quality product.
Then, other things, like this Amesbury facility ... We've done a lot in this facility to help with the environment. We have a new office that we put in LEED-certified building, or, not yet. We're applying for LEED certification, but that was our goal.
We're not doing any of this because of the fact that we get these tax write-offs, or anything like that. It's just the environment, for the culture. Better for the employees, better for the world kind of thought. We had talked about doing ... At the time it came for designing this, we knew it was gonna cost extra, but we knew it was the right thing to do, so we did it.
This facility runs off of solar, and, again, that's just something that we decided made sense to do. It wasn't for any other reason. It wasn't for ... We don't really market it that much, per se, it's just that we knew it was good for the environment to do that.
The fact that we have long-term employees here, I think, shows that we care about our employees. The fact that we have long-term customers is that we care for our customers. I think that shows that it's important to us that our employees are happy, our customers are happy, and the environment is happy, you know?
Sure. Definitely have a good team here, I think.
You go to deliver something, if you got a happy truck driver, the way he represents you is a big, big thing.
It is, today.
No attitudes. We all have attitudes some days, but, generally speaking, if you get the right attitude, it rubs off on you.
I've got an e-mail the other day, and it was a happy customer. We don't get too many complaints, to be honest with you, but this customer took the effort to call, and say that the whole process was such a pleasant experience for this customer, from the time that he made his first phone call, till the time of the delivery. It was a job that we actually did on ... Was it Martha's Vineyard?
This woman took the time to send the e-mail, and said that when she made the first phone call, she was treated nice, and the driver to the delivery site was just great. She really appreciated it. It's good to hear those things, you know?
Did you take a boat to go to Martha's Vineyard? [crosstalk 00:08:35]
Yeah, took the ferry.
Who woulda thought? 10 years ago, I never would have expected that we'd be ... We go there, I won't even say regular basis, but we go there frequently. We're taking boats ... Trucks are going on boats that go to the islands, and stuff like that. Ten years ago, I never would've expected that.
I know we used to take something to the [sewage 00:08:55] plant, in Boston [crosstalk 00:08:57]
Deer Island. Used to have to go out on the boat, there.
It's just growing, and growing, and growing.
I think we have a good team of dispatchers here.
Yes [crosstalk 00:09:10]
Like Joe [McKillian 00:09:12], Bob Lopez, and Jim Stephens all do a great job. They're a good team together. They've all driven trucks, so they know a lot about logistics, and getting in, and outta job sites. That's helped-
That means a lot.
The three of them together, I think, do a great job. There's not too many companies you can call, and order a septic tank, and have it in an hour, or two hours, or whatever it is. Most of these companies, they're talking delivery a week from now, not in hours. I think we do an excellent job at that.
I don't think there's too many companies that work like we do.
Sure, sure. The idea of being able to keep morale, and just keep service where it has been, from the start to now ... One delivery truck to, now, 20-plus delivery trucks, a handful of employees to, now, 120 employees. It might seem simple to people to say, "Well, you know, we just do the right thing. We treat people well," but how has the leadership been able to sustain that for, now, almost 70 years?
The idea of having employees that've been here for, I think, Bob, you said you're working on year 52. Could we just talk quickly about just maybe like some guiding leadership principles that have been able to really keep that structure in place?
I think Ed, and Judi have always treated people right. Like Ed says, "Treat people like you wanna be treated." Treating people with respect, and getting their input ... I'll give you an example. We had an employee that was going to leave us, for what he thought was gonna be a better job. We asked him why he was leaving, and he said, "Well, I'm gonna have a 401k plan with my new employer." Ed says, "Well, we can do that."
He put it into place. Him and Judi got together. They put in a 401k plan, and we ended up keeping that employee. He was probably one of the more valuable employees we have today.
I think that's important, getting feedback from your employees, and treating people right; offering them benefits, and not kicking them out the door, if it's raining out ... Having them do something maybe to their truck, or having them work in a plant, or move product around, but not worrying about only giving them eight hours of work a day, which is unusual today.
A lotta companies you work for, if there's no work, they send you home. It's never been like that at Shea Concrete [crosstalk 00:12:00]
We're not giving anybody overtime, and stuff like that.
Right [crosstalk 00:12:04]
Whatever we're doing, it's working. Let's keep doing it.
I think a lot of people can read people pretty well. You know if someone's sincere, if someone really means well, and stuff like that. I know, with Ed, and Bob, everybody is comfortable with them, sincere with them, and they trust them. Hopefully, it's the same for me, but I know my point of view for them, and what you hear on the street is that you could do a handshake deal with them, and people see that. That's a feeling that people get, and I think that helps.
Down-to-earth people ... They're not walking around with gold jewelry around their neck, and driving Mercedes-Benzes, and stuff like that. They're down-to-earth people.
Tell 'em about your office, Greg.
My old office, you mean?
No, this one [crosstalk 00:13:00] The engineers had it all drawn up, and they said, "Mr. Shea, here's your office there." I said, "My office?" He said, "Yeah, you could see all the cars, trucks coming in, and out. You can watch 'em." I said, "Give that to Greg. My office is my pickup truck." Greg got my office. I don't need an office. I'm in my pickup truck ... I'm retired now, half way. I do what I wanna do.
Like we mentioned in the last episode, we've acquired a lot of different businesses, so we've grown quite a bit in that time period. The opportunities to do that are still around. Ed, and I, and Bob have gone to other locations that are willing, or wanting to sell, or thinking about selling, and possibly doing something with them.
We've grown so much ... Not that we don't wanna grow more, it's just that we wanna make sure that those same values that we had when we were small, we can still do. We could very easily grow, but then, you lose some of that caring for the employees, caring for the customers, and that kinda stuff.
That bothers us that if we do, say, purchase another precast, or something like that, that that's gonna start to be lost. We think that's what really has made Shea, and we still believe, Shea can still do well, because of that. It's more, in my eyes, of growing larger is to make sure that we don't lose that capability.
I was just saying to Bob, before we started this episode, is you used to be able to go to all your customers, and shake their hand, face to face, as an owner, or a general manager, and say thank you. Now, you can't do that. You gotta rely on podcasts, and things like that, to say thank you, and thank your customers. I think there's still a value to that personal relationship, that face-to-face that you get.
That's part of the growing pains that we've had, and that's part of the reason why we've had opportunities to grow, and we might not have taken 'em.
With that, if we could start to get into how leadership within the company has changed, now having third generation, having fourth generation, now, working inside of the company, at various positions? Ed, could you talk about your daughters, and how they've become more involved with the company?
They get more involved all the time. We have three of 'em working here, and one in Wilmington. We're doing the office over, down there. They're really involved. They go to the precast meetings, and thanks to Greg, really ... Everyone knows you, now. You're very recognized, now.
They're doing very well, and they're all very smart, like their mother. I think things are going ... The biggest thing is they all get along good. We all just went to Ireland; 20 of us went to Ireland, and everyone got along good. There's no problems.
The big thing is, like I always say, is I got four of my son-in-laws working here. No one wants to do what the other one's doing, so everyone gets along. Nobody wants to do what Greg's doing. We all agree on that. Nobody wants to do what Tony does. They're incapable. No one wants to do what David's doing. If they all wanted to do that, then I know we'd have problems, because I know I can do it better than them. Everything's clicking right now, but you can lose it, too.
You can lose it real quick. One wrong decision. "See what they did the other day? They don't care about us anymore." Just like that, you lose it, right? We try hard to keep it all in place. We're very happy with the whole family working here. We all have Thanksgiving dinner together. It's really a close family.
It's unusual to have everybody working in the same company, and have that relationship.
Yeah, and everyone gets along.
You, and Judi have been good role models to ...
Well, we try, you know? So, that's ...
Yeah, no, that's great. That's great.
There's four daughters for Ed Shea that work here. Brenda, Kathleen, Mary, and Nancy. Nancy goes by Newbie. A lotta people know her by Newbie. Then, three of the girls' husbands work here. There's me, and then, there's Tony, our mechanic, and then, Dave that works, and runs the production plant in Amesbury.
Then, there's grandchildren that work here. Right now, there's a fourth generation that work here, and there's four grandchildren that work here? Can't remember. Four-ish, maybe five, if you count a couple of part-time people.
Outta 10 grandchildren, four or so [crosstalk 00:18:42]
We got one coming next year, that's ...
Yeah. Still, some are young. Some are 12 years old, around that age. Fourth generation, here, and-
It's pretty good.
It is pretty good. You don't see [crosstalk 00:18:59]
Usually, after the second generation, the company falls [crosstalk 00:19:04]
Yeah, for sure.
-that more than once.
You find the precasters are all family-owned, the majority of 'em, and it's kinda like this. Everyone gets along good. We go to these meetings, and everyone knows each other. It's really excellent [crosstalk 00:19:23]
I can remember your father taking Brenda to work, and taking Brenda, when she was ... She was still in high school, maybe, or junior high, even, and taking her on conventions, and [crosstalk 00:19:34]
Exactly, yeah. Brenda's been here a long time. I said this three, or four times before, though, it's Greg that makes us more recognized at these meetings, because he's on the boards, and all of that-
Yeah, past president-
People recognize him.
Greg's a people person.
I can remember when we bought this location in Amesbury. I was working in Wilmington, and Ed said to me, "I want you to go up, and manage that plant." I was sweating it. I was so nervous. "I can't believe he's telling me that he wants me to go up there, and run the plant."
That seemed like it was so long ago.
I know it.
But since then-
18 years, right?
Yeah, but, since then, I was president of the local association, for a few years, and then chairman of the National Association for a year. Then, a couple years ago, Ed stepped back a little bit more-
A lot more.
A little bit more, and he was president, then he ... I became president of Shea Concrete. A lot in just the last 12 years, or so, has happened.
Yeah. All for the good.
All for the good.
Me, and Bob are part-time now [crosstalk 00:20:59]
Bob's got 52 years, and Ed's got ... How many years you got? 75 years, Ed?
Playin' the field, playin' the field. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:21:14] It was all good. Like I say, we worked so hard, when we were younger, doing this, but you loved it.
We could write a book.
We could write a book, yeah. It's fun to see some of the old people that worked here, and they start talking about the things they used to do [crosstalk 00:21:31] Hey, it's been great; been great for me.
Yep. Can I put you on the spot, Greg? If there was one thing that you could say that has been the most beneficial that you learned from Ed, from a standpoint of being, I'll say, mentored, to becoming the company president, what would that one thing be?
I think that's pretty easy. It's, I think, just Ed being a down-to-earth people person, I think, is the key to running the business. I'm amazed at how many people respect Ed. Not that they shouldn't, but it's just you hear the respect he gets everywhere; people Ed's never met respect Ed. You know what I mean?
To me, that's an easy thing. I think just being a down-to-earth people person, and earning the respect from everybody, I think, is very important to run a business [crosstalk 00:22:33]
Making me feel good, here [crosstalk 00:22:34]
Now, Greg, as things have transitioned ... The company is doing a lot of things online: strong website, different things through social media, podcasts, now. Can you talk a little bit about that, staying out in front of technologies, opportunities, things that are available to the company?
Yeah. I've always enjoyed technology, so I think that's the future, or it is the future, now, or it is the present, I guess. I like the idea of trying to stay with the next generation. In my eyes, a few years ago, that was the website. I wanted to stay ahead of that, so I made sure that we did the website. Then, social media became popular ...
I'm always looking at the younger generation, what they're looking at. We were just talking about podcasts, earlier, and the younger generation was using podcasts a lot. I don't use it that often, but I think that's the next thing is the podcast. I think it's important to try to keep in mind what the past ...
It's important to still focus in on the old tradition, on some degree, but I think it's important that, if you want the business to continue in the future, that we need to know what the next generation has interest in, and we should try to make sure that we're providing service to that next generation.
That's where the podcasts come in, and social media; the lunch-and-learns, the seminars that we have, the plant tours that we offer ... Videos, online stuff. It's just all to keep the name out there, but also, we're trying to do things that interest the next generation. What's the next generation called, now? Generation X, or something? I forget what they're callin' 'em now [crosstalk 00:24:39] They had the baby boomers, Generation Y [crosstalk 00:24:45]
Does that answer your question?
Yeah, that's good. That's good. From a standpoint ... We quickly talked about in Wilmington, right now, that headquarters facility, right now, is being redone.
We'll talk a little bit about some potential future plans here; things that are happening in Nottingham to make that facility a little more flexible. Again, just kinda that idea of constant ... Doing reinvestment back into the business, to make sure that you're providing customers with the best of what we can.
One thing that Ed's always done, and I'm a firm believer in, is reinvesting back into the company. We try to make sure that we stay ahead of all of our equipment; make sure it's in the best running shape. We try not to put band-aids on things. We try to make them correct the first time. We take the money, and reinvest it in our people, and our products, who are not necessarily in the family, which is a good thing [crosstalk 00:25:52]
I think we all do well, financially, but we don't rob the company. A lotta people rob their company so much, they can't even pay their bills. I didn't mean to interrupt you [crosstalk 00:26:04]
I just think that that reinvestment into the company is important, like you were just saying. Some of the projects that we have going on is that office in Wilmington. It's really outdated, or was outdated, and they needed a facelift. It's getting a good facelift, right now. I think it might be making some of the family members sad, because we're doing stuff to that office that Ernie's father had done. Without thinking, I might've said, "Go ahead, and do certain things ..." that maybe were-
We still do a lot of the business in Wilmington.
Wilmington's a good hub. It's centrally located along 93 and 95, right there. We need to invest in that property to make it a place for the customers, for the employees. We're doing ... A lot of ideas that we got from the Amesbury office, we're incorporating into that office.
Then, expansions in production. We're gonna expand in production capabilities, in Nottingham, soon, and in Amesbury. That's just so that we can be more efficient at what we're doing. It might not necessarily expand the production line, necessarily, but increase our efficiency. Right now, the economy is good. It's hard to find help, so we gotta become more efficient in what we're doing. If anybody's looking for a job, they can come work at Shea.
We're reinvesting. We're trying to improve on efficiency. We're trying to make things so that it's a good product ...
As we wrap Episode Four, again, just wanna thank Ed, Bob, and Greg for great time spent here. We've now gone through, and talked about the company, from its start in 1949, up to present day.
Where we're sitting, now, if folks do follow us on social media, we're active on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We've got a lotta good photos of the current conference room that we're in; beautiful concrete table built on custom rebar stands. We actually do have a nice post on our Instagram page that summarizes this room.
If people are interested ... We're really looking forward to this initiative. Episode Five, we're gonna start to get into more specifics, now that we've discussed the company history in detail, and look forward to taking this podcast on the road. Come up in October. We have a great event with the NPCA. They're coming to Providence, Rhode Island, and different things like that.
Again, wanna thank our listeners for tuning into our first four episodes, and we're excited where this podcast will lead us. With that, thank everyone, again, and please keep an eye out for Episode Five.