Episode #6: The NPCA - Take a New Look at Precast
October 2, 2018
Welcome to the Precast Podcast, episode six. In this episode, we're going to be focusing on the National Precast Association, or the NPCA, and their plant certification program. Greg Stratis, company president, is with us today for this episode.
So, Greg, a lot happening right now within the company, doing work in preparation for the upcoming annual convention, which is exciting, being in Providence, Rhode Island. And the goal of this podcast episode is to talk about the NPCA plant certification program and the NPCA in general, how the company works with them, what the plant certification brings to the company. So, as we get things kicked off, maybe some general conversation about the NPCA itself?
Yeah. So, I've been involved with NPCA, as a board member, committee member and chair for, I don't know, seven or eight years now. So I chair the association last year, so one year term, and then I'm still on the board right now.
But prior to that, we used NPCA for other things, educational stuff, if we need more information on some problems we were having in production, NPCA, we've used them for that, so we've been involved with the association for quite some time. I think it's a great association. They're very helpful for the producer member. They're also very helpful for engineers who have questions on precast in general, looking for specifications and that kind of stuff. They have a great website for resources. There's a lot of product committees that are involved in the association that work very hard in putting together information for producers and engineers to look at for all the different product lines that you can have in precast. A lot of that's available online on their website, Precast.org, but also you can call up their office, they have full time engineer technical support there. I don't know how many, six or so people there that can answer questions right away. So, it's a good association for precast in general, great for the industry.
We've been members for 30 plus years. Our Wilmington plant became certified 25 years, maybe 27 years ago, was the first time they got certified. I'd say 25 years ago they got certified. And we were members for 10 years prior to that, you know? The plant there was our original plant, so 25 years ago, that's all we had for a plant was the one in Wilmington. We got that plant certified because customers were doing some DOT work and they wanted us to supply them the product. They didn't' want to have to go somewhere else to get the products, so we said, "Yeah, why not? We'll get certified." So we got certified and those few customers that did the DOT work were able to buy it from us, so it was good for them, good for us.
It's definitely a program that's great to make sure you stay on your toes. You learn a lot from being certified and you learn how to make quality product. You learn how to self audit, things like that. Make sure you're doing things right. Been definitely, I think, a big plus for us.
We don't really promote it a whole lot. Maybe we should promote it more than we do, but we know it's there. There's specifications that are out there now that require that you're certified, and that could be for non-DOT drugs, so engineers are starting to require that you are certified, so it's good that we are.
And then the Amesbury Plant that we're in right now, we purchased this location 19 years ago and they weren't certified when we purchased them. It took us a few years to get it ready to be certified, but I would say that we've been certified, I don't know, 15 or so years at this plant, maybe 16 years. And this plant has been doing products for DOTs and stuff like that for a long time.
Talking about the program, you know, in front of design engineers or specifiers, the one thing that I always talk about is how it's accredited through ANSI, the American National Standards Institute. That really helps to ...
That really speaks to the design engineering world. I'll also try to draw a parallel to, most engineering offices, if not all, there's always a professional engineer somewhere in that office that can stamp before they go out, so having that stamp really says something.
You are a professional engineer. You've done the work. You've put the time in. You stay up to date as things change. I really try to draw that parallel with, as a precaster, being NPCA certified, it's just another addition to the factor of safety, that's to say, "When you get products from us, they will be as they're suppose to be." We do the work behind the scenes to make sure of it, so that's always well received by the specifying and the design engineering community for that. I also do bring up the precast.org website.
There's a lot of great information on that website. It's free. A lot of great webinars. A lot of great educational tools. The ability for engineers to get credits to keep their licenses up to date right on their website. So they really go above and beyond just to provide quality information to the community.
Yeah. NPCA is always looking at ways to help the industry, so whether it's the engineers or not ... And there's a lot of information on that site that no one knows anything about.
It's easy to maneuver, great site. And then their certification program, they're always making changes to that to make it a better program. Looking at past inspections and what can they do to make that program better. A few years ago, they did the ANSI, like you mentioned, that was to validate their program, so they're constantly looking to improve that program and make it a better program.
Sure. And I think, maybe not on an annual basis, but they're always reaching out to the membership and the community to get feedback as well, which I think is great to keep folks engaged.
I definitely made a lot of good friendships with the association. It's a great place to network with other producers. We all bond pretty good and it's definitely a good time to learn. And even, not just the educational classes, but the networking that you do with all the members. You learn a lot just from that.
No, that's great. That's great. Now, you know, with their 53rd Annual Convention coming to New England, so in nearly October, it's going to be in Providence, Rhode Island. Lot of excitement about plant tours.
A lot of people in this area are excited because it's been 25, again I like throwing that number out there because I've been here 25 years and I kind of gauge everything for how long I've been working at Shea, but it was a little over 25 years ago because I was married but not working here yet, and they came to New England for their convention and they haven't been back since. So, now they're going to Rhode Island, so everybody's excited about it. I think it's going to get a good turn out because there's a lot of precasters in New England, compared to other parts of the country, so I assume the turn out's going to be great.
But we're excited too, because three of our plants are going to be on the tour. So, there's two days of touring, or a day and half, so they're going to do a half a day is going to cover our plant in Rochester and then it's also going to cover Scituate, Acme-Shorey and J&R Precast. So those four plants are going to be during the half day, then on the full day tour, which is the following day, it's going to be Wilmington, our Wilmington plant, our Amesbury plant, over to Michie Corp in Henniker, New Hampshire, so we're going north there, then Lamar Concrete, then heading back to Rhode Island, so that's going to be a full day, because that's five hours of driving or more just to cover those plants. So, it should be good.
There's a lot of plants in New England. I'm also on the local association. The local association has 34 producer members, just for New England, and there's still probably another dozen or so that aren't members, so there's a lot of precasters in New England.
And then don't forget that Hugh is going to be presenting one of the topics.
That's right. I guess I'll be ... I don't know if I'll be at the Rochester tour on Thursday, because yeah, we'll have a presentation on Thursday afternoon that we're excited about.
But we get back before those start, so you can still do the tour and get back in time.
I may have to do my preparation work. Yeah, no. That's exciting.
Thursday, so the Rochester facility, episode four, we covered the purchase acquisition of Utility Precast.
And that's the most recent facility to become part of the Shea Concrete product manufacturing plant team. In the process right now of getting that facility ready for the tour.
They're excited down there. They're doing all the maintenance work, dressing up the place, painting. They're all excited. They can't wait till the tour goes through there. So they've been working hard getting ready for it.
From a standpoint of the NPCA certification, I guess, the one thing that I think is really great about it is the annual audit, if not two audits a year, because I believe it's 10% of the membership gets the lucky second audit per year.
The unannounced, yeah. I guess that's the big part, really the idea of holding people accountable and keeping them on their toes.
Because that audit, I guess people may have an idea of when it's going to be based on the previous audit.
You would think that, but if that's the case, we should have been audited a month ago and we haven't been yet, so I'm not sure when our audit's going to be this year. So we're waiting patiently for it.
That's great. And that's again one thing I like to talk to the engineering and the specifying community about is that it's not something you can really just be prepared for one week out of the whole year. They keep you on your toes, which again, just further reinforces the fact that when products show up on your job site, they're going to be made to spec.
So our other two plants, Rochester and Nottingham, they're not certified yet. Our goal is to get them certified this year. They're ready to be certified. We applied. The application's been sent in to do the certification, so we're just waiting on the inspection to come through to be able to certify us.
For the Rochester facility, we're hopeful that that can be done by early October. Yeah, I can't imagine why in the next few weeks that couldn't be done. I guess, too, in talking to everyone from the different facilities, obviously, as a company, great collaboration, everyone works well as a team sharing ideas, but there does seem to be a little bit of good competitive nature.
Between facilities, so ...
We love to brag, whoever gets the highest number, so it could be a tenth higher and we're all excited about it. 96.5, 96.6, "Yeah, we got 96.6!" It's definitely a little bragging rights when it comes to that.
But all of us have worked to that, I mean, it wasn't ... When Shea Concrete in Amesbury first got their certification, we were at the minimum, 75 or whatever it was or 80, so we've learned from our mistakes and learned from every audit and you should improve every time. Every time you have an audit, you should get better the following year, so that's ... And we try to make sure we do all the improvements and the efficiencies for the next inspection.
From a standpoint of, I guess in New England, facilities that are members of NPCA, that percentage of plants that are certified, that's got to be in the 80s, if not higher.
The percentage of members that are certified, is that what you're ...
Yeah, I mean. It's very easy to go on Precast.org and check that, but most facilities that are members, because each facility is it's own member, right? Is that how ...
Yeah, so we're, Shea Concrete's a member and we have four branches, so each branch is identified separately on NPCA. It's a different rate because you're a branch, you know? The total certified plants, I believe, if my memory serves me right, is just under 400, like 380, maybe, certified plants and I want to say producers are twice that.
Oh, okay. As total members.
But I'm not positive. I'd have to look at it more closely.
So, there's a lot of members that join the association that don't join it to be certified. But there's definitely those who join the association just because they need to be certified.
And the ones that join the association that are not certified, a lot of them participate a lot in the association helping out with different things and the goal is that hopefully they would at some time get certified, but a lot of those people are there for the education, the network and the precast show and stuff like that.
One thing that you hit on earlier, as well, during plant tours or networking, collaboration, the industry as a whole does a great job of providing information freely and not necessarily, if you're very good at this one aspect, making this one product, this one niche, the ability for that information to be shared freely and throughout other people have access to that versus keeping it secretive or what not.
Right. It's a pretty open group of people, I think.
As far as sharing information goes. If I'm having a problem with something or can't make a certain problem, it's very easy for me to call up another precaster and ask them how they solve the problem, even ones that would be considered our competition. You know?
I think it's good. It's good for the industry. You want to do things the best you can, you want to do it right, you want to be competitive. I think it's good all around for the industry.
You touched on it earlier, but from a standpoint of entering into an active member of the NPCA personally, either committee taskforce, you worked your way all the way up to chairman of the board.
Maybe talk a little bit about that process from a personal experience, experience for growth, leadership, you know how that's helped you with your career.
Like most people, I think they get involved NPCA on the committee level and chair and the board level, things like that, they're usually recruited. A lot of people help out, but when you start chairing committees and stuff like that, usually they recruit you for that position. So I just happened to know a few people that were on the board one year and they said "You really should get on a committee." So, I got on a committee. I did Stone Water Committee, which I was very passionate about and still am. And then, I was on that committee for a couple of years and the opening to chair that committee came up, so I chaired that committee. I was recruited, again, by some people saying, "You should join the board for the association." So I said, "All right. I'll join the board." And at this time, you start know more people. People who you felt you didn't connect with, you started connecting with them because you're getting more involved in the association. So, I said, "Yeah. I'm interested in doing the board."
I like helping the industry and I like helping other precaster. Shea Concrete is always had an open door policy. Ed Shea has always been very good at talking to other precasters and helping them out and vice versa. And I follow that lead. That's why I got involved with the board. I said yeah. The idea of being on the board is to help others. You're not really suppose to be there to advance yourself. You're suppose to be there to help the industry.
And some people have trouble not seeing that vision, but that's why you're there. I'm all for that. Help anybody in the association helps you out.
So, I had served on the board for a few years. Served on the executive committee for a few years and the opportunity to look at being an officer was there and I applied for being an officer. Once you become an officer, usually, you step through the ranks until you become chair of the board, so I become secretary then moved my way up to chair from there. I'm glad I did. It definitely takes a lot of time out of your schedule. Sometimes it's hard to pay attention to what's going on back at the business, when you start getting into the officer positions, but no, I think it's manageable. It just takes a little bit more effort.
So, now I'm past chair. I've removed myself probably more than I want to. I miss being involved with the board. I mean I'm still on the board, but I'm not as involved as you were as an officer and I do kind of miss that a little bit, but there's a lot going on back here at Shea Concrete that I've been slacking on, for a better word, so now I'm hoping to get back into the rhythm here at Shea.
I'm on the board till October, when the convention is here. Then I'm off the board. I'm not on the board anymore, so that ... It's been a great experience. Definitely learned a lot. Definitely met a lot of people. And I think it helps you, definitely, even though the reason to do it is to help the industry. The way I feel about it, so ...
That's great. I guess our experience so far, I guess with our seminar series, we've had a lot of great assistance from the NPCA with Phil Cutler, traveling to help present and explain what NPCA does, what they're all about and the plant certification program. Most recently, we had Claude come out and delivered a great presentation on manufacturing a quality precast product. So, looking forward to having Claude with us on September 18th as well, for our fourth seminar and we'll definitely continue to rely on them as we continue that initiative as well. That's great.
Can I put you on the spot? Any future plans for staying involved? Or any, maybe, new things you may want to do or new ways you may want to go in terms of being involved?
Yeah. I'm definitely going to stay involved with the association. I do have, my next task as past chair, is to become chair of the nominating committee.
So, next year, I'll be doing that. The goal there is to recruit some people into board positions. So, you look at the board positions and then you also nominate for the officers. So I'll be chairing that for one year and then I know that there's always space or they're looking for producers to be involved with committee, so there's a chance I might go back to another committee. There's also a foundation that has its separate board and members and stuff like that, that I may be interested in going and look at the foundation. And the foundation, basically, a lot of their efforts are organizing fundraising, stuff like that, for scholarships. So, if there's an engineer or someone that's looking to go into school in the field, relatively speaking, or the industry, they offer scholarships for them. So there's a whole separate board, committee for that, so I might look at that as well.
So, yeah. I still want to be involved. There's a few things I'm interested in still.
Great. Great. I guess one thing, too, I guess it's fresh from when we were in Denver this past winter. The program they have going through to be a master precaster.
Nathan, from the Nottingham facility, he went through that program and finished up this past winter with that. How has that program benefited the company in terms of having that knowledge at the different facilities that we have?
We have five or six master precasters. Matter of fact, when our first two master precasters went through, it was my nephew, AJ, and my nephew, Ed. Eddie Lopez and AJ DiRocco. They were going through the classes and all that, so I decided that I would kind of do it with them. I didn't graduate when they did, it wasn't until a year or so later that I ended up getting my master precaster, but I was the first master precaster to be chairman of the board.
So, it was kind of my goal. I said before I become chair, I want to become master precaster. So, we have like five or so people that are master precasters. I think it's a good thing. Just the knowledge that they learn when they're going through it. They learn about production practices, safety practices, leadership roles and how to be a leader to some degree. So, they've learned quite a bit of that stuff going through that, so I think that's helped their company, no question.
There's a bunch of levels to this. There's three or four levels to work your way to a master precaster. And we do have people that have gone through some of the levels that haven't quite gotten the master precaster yet. So we still have people that are on their way to that and I encourage anybody in the company, doesn't matter who they are, to take those classes, go through those levels and, ultimately, if they become master precaster, that's fantastic.
I think just education of the work force is a smart thing in general. I think it's helped us quite a bit. It's got people more involved with the company, because they're now have more education when it comes to precast and how to be a leader.
The other thing the association's doing, too, that we didn't mention is they're doing a leadership school now. It's like the next level beyond master precaster. Master precaster is geared more, I would say, toward production practices, where leadership is more an overall company leader. So the leadership school may help someone become a plant manager and that kind of stuff, so they're offering that now. And they do 12 people a year, go through that program and they're on their second year of doing that.
Great. Is that the Leadership Academy?
So, that's fairly new with the NPCA.
So I would like to have some people go through that. Nate, Nate's interested in doing that, so I need to make sure we sign him up for that. And there's an application process for that. But yeah, I think education is the right thing to do for your employees.
The last episode, we talked about how there's always constant improvement. You've talked recently about constant leadership. The thing I was thinking about as you were talking about leadership, right, obviously, as company president, you have a very up and out view. That's just what I assume.
Many different responsibilities of what you're responsible for. And you talked, also, the last episode about, you know, right now the industry's good, solid, things are busy but always staying focused on being ready for when that next downturn may occur.
But having four facilities, the idea of almost having decentralized command, you've got people at each facility that are responsible for that whole facility.
We talked about having really good communication so no one gets caught off guard. Is there anything in particular that has helped you maintain the ability to be an effective leader? To properly communicate lessons learned, things like that?
I mean other than having great employees?
I guess, from my viewpoint, I think having the great employees, you know obviously, there's a component of just that employee wanting to work hard, being loyal, high morale, all that stuff, but there's also a different side of it, where the employee gets a lot from the company versus the employee giving a lot to the company.
I mean, so, obviously, you have to have good people in place in order to be a good leader. We need that, you know? You got to surround, as my mother in law said to me once before, you got to surround yourself with good people to be a good leader. Obviously, we make sure that the people we have in leadership are qualified people, have the right attitude and they're committed to being a leader. Most of them have been with us for a long time, so they've had the dedication and stuff like that. If they haven't been with us for a long time, they've at least been in the precast industry for a long time.
So, I definitely rely on those people to be the eyes and the ears and to make sure that what direction we want go in, meaning me or the family, that they go in that direction. Obviously, we make our rounds, me, Bob Flores, Ed Shea. We'll go between the different locations and check in with them, make sure everybody's on the same page. Communication, like you said earlier, you got to make sure you communicate with everybody. I think there's definitely room for improvement on that. I think we can do a little bit more communication. You had mentioned the other day about putting together a mission statement, things like that, I think that's a way of communicating what your goals are. So, I think there's definitely room for putting some of that stuff into place to make sure we're all going in the same direction.
I think that I find it very easy to communicate with the leaders that we have the different locations. They're not ... They have good ideas and they're not pushing back or anything like that. We're lucky to have that. I think we try to give them an environment that people enjoy working at. I think we respect them and they respect us in return and I think that pays big dividends. We need to ... You got to treat everybody that works for you the way you want to be treated. Sometimes, I might micromanage or one of my leaders might micromanage, one of the managers, and that can be tough sometimes, because you want things done a certain way, but I think overall we do a great job at it.
I think one of the biggest pluses to what Shea has is longevity of our employees. Some of the people that have only been here for five years, I'm hoping are here in another 10 and they can move up to be leaders. Because at some point, some of these leaders are going to retire. Our goal is to keep these people that have been here for a handful of years, still involved, educate them, have them make some decisions and eventually become leaders. I'm 53. I'll be doing this for another 15 more years and I want to see someone else in my spot. I'll stay around, but when I'm in my mid 60s, I'm hoping that there's another person in here running Shea Concrete. I don't know who that is yet.
It's pretty clear as folks show the initiative to want to do more things, new things, whatever it may be, they have the opportunity to do that which is nice. Very open workplace and communication. So, no, that's exciting. That's great.
It's funny, you know, every time I go into Bob Flores' office, you see his 50 year plaque.
Again, that's not something that's commonly seen these days, which speaks a lot for the company.
We had a recent post. I think it was Facebook. It was an anniversary post and I want to say it was specific for someone who does a lot of work for the stairs and bulkheads. A gentleman that had worked for Shea had relocated down to Florida, one of his comments had to do with how he misses the culture, misses the company, misses just the teamwork and collaboration and just how he felt, how he was treated here. I believe he's in Florida now and he just talks about how it's just not the same. He goes to work. He does his job, but it's not something he's really passionate about. You hear that a lot.
A lot of the post have to do with -
And we miss him, too.
Yeah. And again, that's someone who was here before I was here, but yeah, you constantly see that, you constantly hear that. As the 70th anniversary comes about, I know that will be very exciting and a lot of stories -
That should be an exciting year next year. I don't know what we're going to do exactly, but people are going to know about it.
70 years is a big year. Ernie Shea, I wonder what he would say if he was here, you know? The one who started it all.
Back to the NPCA, I'm sure there will be some representation here at that event.
When that occurs.
As we finish episode six, again, we're going to start to get a good [inaudible 00:32:56] put out in terms of how these episodes go out to the industry, so again, thank you to our subscribers. Looking forward to getting more subscribers. Again, the idea here is to share who we are as a company, be transparent in terms of who we are, how we got here, growth, challenges that we have and how we continue to work hard to continue to move forward as a leader. So, thank all listeners. Again, this is episode six. Please keep an eye out for episode seven. Bye now.