Insight on Mortars, Mixtures and Staining
Three leaders discuss their companies, the economy and planning for the future
When you want the inside scoop, it’s always best to go straight to the source. Masonry magazine talked with three leaders in the mortars, mixtures and staining industries, Jeff Leonard, VP, Bulk Materials for The QUIKRETE Companies; Russell Gray, President of Nawkaw Corp.; and Rich Solomon, President of Solomon Colors, to learn how their companies are surviving a tough economy and planning for the future. Following is what they had to say.
Masonry: How has your company responded to the green movement?
Jeff Leonard, QUIKRETE: We have recognized the impact that LEED has in construction, and we recognize our roll in contributing to this effort. We are capable of making blends that incorporate any number of acceptable ingredients designed for the purpose of product enhancement and as outlined in C1384 as it relates to mortar. One additive that is requested with increasing frequency, for the purpose of having a higher recyclable content within the mixes, is fly ash. When blended with Portland Type I and appropriately tested, it will create C595 cement. The replacement of Portland with fly ash contributes to the recycled content.
Russell Gray, Nawkaw: I would say we have been a green-movement company since the beginning, and for the last 23 years. We developed water-based products, while decreasing VOC levels, to help protect our applicators, customers and the environment. We’ve always offered a 25-year warranty, but have been looking at product composition and test data that extends that amount of time to contribute to the sustainability of masonry projects. We are also exploring the current version of LEED, to see where we can implement changes in our manufacturing process to help qualify future projects for additional LEED credits.
Rich Solomon, Solomon Colors: All our products have iron oxide pigments in them, which is made from pre-consumer recycled steel. This contributes to LEED points in buildings. As a company, we have changed some manufacturing processes to reuse material, which would normally have been discarded.
Masonry: What new methods or technologies have you recently incorporated into your manufacturing?
Jeff Leonard, QUIKRETE: Weigh Batch systems have become much more sophisticated over the years. The need to add exact amounts of small dose additives is going more in the way of automation. The addition of pigment to mixes, for example, used to be a hand-add to a batch when received as a blended, pre-weighed color from the pigment manufacture. Now, the various base pigment colors can be weighed out in exact amounts at the plant to obtain a desired color.
Russell Gray, Nawkaw: We’re moving toward a more environmentally friendly Zero VOC stain product line. We are also looking at new product manufacturing that can utilize our current facilities, without increasing our consumption of natural resources, raw materials and energy.
Masonry: Has the economic climate changed at all in 2009 for your industry, and how is the economy affecting your company?
Jeff Leonard, QUIKRETE: We have “tightened our belt” as all manufactures have, and we work smarter. Having staffing levels match business needs, in addition to seeking and recognizing new opportunities is the name of the game.
Russell Gray, Nawkaw: Yes, we have seen a definite change with less brick being sold and more renovation work happening. We also are seeing more concrete being used where brick had previously been specified. Overall, the economy has been fairly good for us. We have seen a slow down, like most other companies, but that has allowed us to focus our efforts in new markets and new territories. We are forecasting a good year in 2009 and are in the process of expanding.
Rich Solomon, Solomon Colors: Sales of brick units have decreased which has had a direct impact on mortar color sales. With overall construction being off a negative impact on sales is being felt in our entire industry.
Masonry: What changes do you see in the future?
Jeff Leonard, QUIKRETE: Service will continue to be the “driver” in our business. During this period of jobs being fewer and construction companies of all types having to bid “tighter,” it is imperative that we do our part in continuing to get crews their desired material in a timely manner.
Russell Gray, Nawkaw: We are in a few different markets, allowing us to be somewhat recession proof. The color work, which is our traditional work, is needed for new construction as well as for renovation. When one of these markets increases, the other slows, so we ride a less-dramatic cycle of ups and downs. Our customers will always expect innovation, service and stability from us. Weathering the storm of this serious recession, while maintaining the same high level of customer service, is what we will do.
Rich Solomon, Solomon Colors: The analyses we get from various sources predict that the economy will bottom out at the end of 2009 and remain flat for 2010. We are positioning ourselves for a recovery in 2011.
Masonry: What is the most important message you’d like to convey to mason contractors?
Jeff Leonard, QUIKRETE: Manufactures, building material suppliers and contractors are in the same boat. There is support out there, and all of us will continue to work together to move the industry forward. All of us must continue to take advantage of the MCAA’s continuing education programs that build on our existing knowledge, and continue to stay active in and back legislative activities that support masonry construction.
Russell Gray, Nawkaw: Don’t put your business in one market. Stay closely in touch with all the markets that consume masonry products: renovation, restoration and historical. Be innovative, and help transform the masonry industry with trusted and innovative products and services. Customer satisfaction and environmentally conscious products are very important to our industry, especially in this down economy.
Rich Solomon, Solomon Colors: We see this downturn as a way of making your business more efficient and profitable. We are positioning ourselves to be a stronger company, so as the business climate improves, we will be benefit from increased business. We think many of the mason contractors are taking this position also.
About the Author
Jennifer Morrell was the editor of Masonry magazine. She has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry as a writer and editor, covering such topics as real estate and construction, insurance, health care, relationships and sports. A graduate of The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in magazines and is an award-winning newspaper columnist.