Pourer to Pumper
Pourer to PumperDeciding when boom pump ownership is right for a foundation business
STURTEVANT, Wis. (May 1, 2005) – When Van and Larry Smith started a masonry contracting business in the mid-70s amidst an unfavorable economy, the two brothers did not realize it would someday include a concrete pumping division as part of their successful business equation.
In fact, it was 30 years ago in April when the two brothers became mason contractors, and Smith Brothers Concrete in Wallkill, NY was born. When setting up shop fresh out of college, Van and Larry had only limited experience, having worked on a mason crew during high school and college. However, they evenly divided up the duties and went to work.
Initially, the company handled sidewalks and smaller jobs, but it gradually evolved into block wall foundations. Then in the mid-80s, the brothers dived into poured concrete walls. It was a bold move, as their location (situated between Albany and New York City) was 90% block, and poured walls had a bad reputation locally. However, that was about to change.
The Smith brothers aggressively demonstrated both the efficiency and professional results of pouring walls; and the concept gained acceptance. A decade later, the men began researching the feasibility of owning a concrete pump, as the closest units were two hours away. They first contacted local ready-mix companies and discovered they only discharged into a pump about once a week. This meant a huge potential existed, as contractors were delaying jobs whenever bad weather occurred.
Next, the brothers questioned neighboring pump companies about rates, costs and utilization. With a good grasp of numbers, they then calculated the viability of boom pump ownership – estimating costs, projecting revenue, analyzing depreciation, etc. Although the numbers were rationalized with their accountant, he still told them they were “crazy” to put their debt-free company into financial obligation.
Against their accountant’s advice, the brothers decided to purchase a boom pump. Van said, “We figured that if we only pumped our own walls and nothing else, we would at least break even.”
So the men next carefully evaluated boom pump brands – scouring product literature and web sites along with speaking with other pumpers and manufacturers’ sales personnel. After it was narrowed down to two brands, they visited each manufacturer’s facilities to meet the staff, better understand the product’s capabilities, and investigate the after-market support.
As a result of their careful research, they bought their first concrete boom pump in 1997. To fit their needs, they selected a Putzmeister 32-Meter with a .16H pump cell. Van said, “We look to buy top of the line, as we strongly believe that if you buy a quality product and maintain it, it lasts longer.”
He added, “The reputable product and knowledgeable sales staff initially drew us to the manufacturer, but the commonality of parts and the importance of a full service staff available when we need them is what keeps us loyal to Putzmeister.”
With a forward-thinking approach yet only one pump, the brothers set up a separate division within their company called Hudson Valley Concrete Pumping, Inc. The plan was to pump walls for their own foundation company, and handle other jobs in-between for added revenue. The manufacturer even helped design fliers to promote the new service to the region, and the launch of a new business began.
Once the boom pump arrived and properly promoted, the demand for pumping concrete in their region was overwhelming. As a result, Hudson Valley added another boom pump only six months later … again against the advice of their accountant who now said they were “nuts”. Then just another year later, Van was attending a manufacturer’s service school and afterwards was specifically taken to see a Putzmeister Telebelt® conveyor in action.
Van said, “My initial thought was that conveyors were dinosaurs, but I quickly changed my mind after seeing a unit first place concrete and then handle backfill from the same setup, same afternoon. I knew our company just had to have one”.
Surprisingly on this purchase, the accountant said they were “smart crazy”. As with the past two units, they recognized the unit as a “truck” so they could depreciate it over five years and build equity faster. Consequently, the company added a Telebelt TB 105 to its fleet, and Van proclaims that “every pump company needs a belt conveyor, not in lieu of a boom pump but in addition to one.”
In a continued leadership role and with the demand for more pumps, Hudson Valley specially ordered a new 36Z-Meter concrete boom pump with the latest pumping technology – Putzmeister’s exclusive OneTouchTM.
Larry said, “When it comes to technology, we always want to be at the forefront. In fact, the unit with OneTouchTM is my favorite to operate. We take full advantage of the single joystick that automatically moves all boom sections and slewing in tandem, while it keeps the end hose level.”
Following Hudson Valley’s lead, other pump companies have surfaced in the vicinity; and the number of pumps and Telebelts in the immediate Wallkill area increased to twelve. Larry says, “Fortunately, the competition is friendly, and we all work together for the benefit of local customers.”
Van noted, “The approach to foundations has now changed to 90% poured walls and only 10% block, which is a complete reversal due to the efficiency of poured walls along with the availability concrete placing equipment. If anyone ever questions the cost of using a pump or conveyor, I tell them ‘our wheelbarrow is in a museum’. No more needs to be said.”
A good deal of the success in changing this construction approach can be attributed to the Smith brothers, who helped create change by bringing professionally poured walls and the first boom pumps to a ripe market.
Van said, “If you’re a foundation contractor placing concrete twice a day, it makes sense to buy your own pump. Then you can better control the job by scheduling to your specific needs, getting crews to the next job faster, and cutting down on overtime. It all adds up to a ‘needed’ convenience.”
Smith Brothers Concrete continues its original foundation business. However, it has ventured into more complex foundations, being honored by the Concrete Foundation Association for handling the most difficult foundation in the country last year.
Plus, the organization has prospered with its concrete placing services. They have been operating their pumps and conveyors on significant projects such as the World Trade Center and the prestigious Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. This has kept their fleet working overtime.
Van said, “Although we gross three times more in our foundation business, our pumping company is worth 10% more in equity. You can’t underestimate the value of building equity in equipment. Provided you’ve bought a reputable brand, it should retain a high resale value and result in future wealth when selling the unit.”
Today, the two brothers can still be found in the field in daily contact with customers. However once in the office, Van handles estimating and scheduling while Larry manages the work crews and equipment servicing.
Larry adds, “Fortunately, we both have college-age sons getting involved in the company. It will be interesting to see how the business further develops when these two young men, who were raised in the technology age, eventually take over. We expect even greater things ahead.”