hat is the key to success in the readymix concrete market? Just ask Ron Hargrove, president of BHC Concrete in Florala, AL. He'll tell you it's a combination of quality, service and price.
Hargrove, who is also founder and president of B&H Contracting, a site development company, began thinking about opening their first concrete plant when they started having trouble getting enough concrete for B&H's projects in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle.
“At times,” he says, “contractors – including us – just couldn't get concrete.” Reasons included a booming condo construction market, he continues, which used much of the region's readymix capacity.
But then B&H decided to deal with the readymix shortage by producing its own.
“Once we put the plant in,” he says, “we were able to produce enough for ourselves and for others in the market as well.” He adds, “We haven't looked back.”
BHC's first plant, located at the company's headquarters facility in Florala, AL, is a Vince Hagan 1,100-barrel split silo operation with a 60-ton aggregate bin and a 30-inch stacker belt. The plant, which went into operation about three years ago, is fully computerized and is DOT and NRMCA certified. It serves a market that extends about 50 miles from the plant and includes concrete users in the Florala area and south into northwest Florida all the way to the beach.
Encouraged by the success of that first plant, BHC soon added a second plant – one in Hartford, AL, to serve the Dothan, AL, area. At that location, a somewhat larger Belgrade plant is at the heart of things. It too is fully certified and computerized; in fact, both plants can be fully monitored and even operated from the computer terminals at the company's Florala headquarters.
In addition to those first two operations, the company is expanding further with the acquisition of three other Alabama plants – in Greenville, Troy and Luverne – and also has five Florida plant locations currently in the permitting stage.
Hargrove pays careful attention to selecting the loaders which he uses at the company's plants. At the Florala operation, for example, the company operates a Doosan Mega 300 with a 3-yard bucket; at the Hartford facility, the loader is a Doosan Mega 400 with a 4-yard bucket.
“We try to run fairly new loaders,” notes BHC co-owner and Vice President J.W. DuBose, adding that having a reliable loader is critical. “If you can't get the aggregate and other materials into the plant,” he says, “then everything stops.”
BHC Concrete's parent company, B&H Contracting, was already familiar with Doosan equipment, with nine Doosan excavators in the company fleet.
“So it was only natural that we added a Doosan loader,” DuBose says.
The loaders have stayed busy, too; in fact, BHC has put 5,000 hours on each of the loaders in just three years.
Hargrove notes the relatively large size of the BHC truck fleet as animportant factor in the company's success. The Florala and Hartford plants are served by a fleet of more than 40 Oshkosh and Mack trucks, and recent plant acquisitions in Alabama are adding about 20 Advance front-discharge trucks – trucks that are particularly effective in residential construction.
Hargrove notes that having plenty of trucks means having plenty of delivery capacity, and he adds that he has found older trucks – typically those about 10 years old – to be the best choice economically to expand BHC.
“Focusing on older trucks saves significantly on the cost of the fleet,” he says, “and we can pass that savings on to our customers. Our theory is that once a truck is 12 months old, the 'new' is gone. But costs involved in maintaining brakes, tires and drums are the same on trucks whether they're old or new. And that makes older trucks much less expensive to purchase.”
Hargrove acknowledges that many companies do prefer to buy new trucks, keep them for eight to 10 years, and then sell them.
“But we have reversed that,” he says. “Instead of spending money on 'new,' we spend money on maintenance.”
Another factor in BHC's success, Hargrove says, is the company's shop facility.
“This shop is top-notch and critical to our operation,” he says. “It runs 24 hours a day, with a staff of 12 during the day and an additional five working at night.” The daytime focus is on handling any needed maintenance and repair, he says, while the night crew stays busy servicing the trucks while they are not on the road.
“We definitely prefer to handle maintenance in-house. You can't afford the time or money it takes to outsource repairs,” he says, adding that he eventually expects to run the entire shop operation – maintenance and service alike – 24 hours a day, with a 12-man crew working at all times.
Despite the challenging market conditions seen in some industry segments, BHC Concrete has done well.
“Typically, if you look at data from across the nation, concrete sales are down about 50 percent,” DuBose says. “But our sales are up.”
Why is that? “Quality, service and price,” he says.
BHC has an operations manager, Jason Harwood, who oversees the production operation, managing personnel, materials, mix design, logistics, and quality control. BHC hauls its own cement and flyash, using 11 tankers to handle the transport, and also hauls in much of the aggregate that is required.
“We don't like to depend on others for hauling,” DuBose says. “Hauling our own materials, and keeping a stock of materials on site, enables us to be sure we have plenty of material on hand to handle even large pours without interruption.” Generally, he adds, BHC makes sure that about 80 percent of its tanker capacity is full at all times and keeps about two weeks worth of material on hand.
Monitoring the quality of that production is the job of full-time Quality Control Manager Curtis Rooks.
“Curtis serves all of our plants and is present on large pours,” DuBose adds.
Hargrove adds that these factors combine to maximize quality while keeping costs down and keeping prices competitive. The result is that BHC's concrete operation is flexible and adapts quickly to the individual customer's needs, factors which have helped the concrete operation to do well in a market where some are struggling.
“It all equates to giving our customers better service,” Hargrove says.
Hargrove concludes by noting that the combination of BHC Concrete and B&H Contracting gives the company a great deal of flexibility and the ability to work in diverse segments of the southern Alabama and northwest Florida market.
“With the two companies,” he says, “we can engineer the project, develop the infrastructure, construct the houses or buildings, and provide the concrete in doing so. Our goal is to be a customer's contractor through the entire project from start to finish.”