Safety and Success in Chicago

Hard Rock Concrete Cutters

Renovation goes far beyond replacing façades and adding a wall or two. New water pipes, sewer mains, electrical and fiber optic cables all require holes, most drilled through new or existing concrete. Such holes require advanced equipment wielded by highly-trained industry professionals. In the Midwest, Hard Rock Concrete Cutters has built over thirty years of success, with an emphasis on safety, customer focus, and stability.

Family-owned Hard Rock Concrete Cutters was founded by Chief Executive Officer Jim Dvoratchek. From a single truck in 1987, the company has now expanded to operate thirty-eight vehicles in the field to serve the Greater Chicago area as well as the majority of Illinois and Indiana. With its highly trained and qualified technicians wielding cutting-edge equipment, it handles any concrete cutting job for any potential client.

“We do all kinds of work,” Director of Sales and Marketing Ted Stanaszek remarks with professional pride. Hard Rock’s areas of expertise include diesel sawing, electrical sawing, wall sawing, wire sawing, and core drilling, from one-inch holes for wiring to fifty-three-inch holes for sewer work.

Stanaszek believes the company’s continued success is a direct result of its three core principles. Firstly, is the importance of safety above all else. “Safety is good for business,” he says, noting the high cost of accidents in time, money and employee well-being.

As in medicine, he says, the best course is preventative. The company invests in top-grade safety equipment and ensures all employees undergo regular safety and equipment training and retraining. “We want to make sure that we’re doing things in the safest, most responsible way, as a good business practice.”

While this may be expensive, in his view it is far more preferable to an unsafe and shoddy but more cost-effective work environment. “We want our technicians and cutters to go home at the end of the day. They’ve all got families. We want them to have long careers with us.”

The company’s second principle is customer focus. Hard Rock is constantly working and moving to not only meet its customers’ needs but also to investigate new technologies to solve issues before they arise. It boasts no fewer than nine project managers who serve as sales executives out in the field at any time. They answer customer questions, ensure projects end on time and within budget, and investigate potential new work opportunities. As Stanaszek notes, “That’s very unusual for this business.”

Thirdly is making Hard Rock an attractive and stable business for employees to work. “In construction especially, everybody’s fighting for labor,” he admits pragmatically. Training a skilled worker from apprentice to journeyman to master takes time and expense. Given such an investment, he argues, it is in the company’s interest to keep that employee happy with steady work.

“You don’t want to lose them, so we want to make sure we are the best place to work.” As part of this measure, dedicated field managers provide a steady supply of work, even during the slower winter months. “Our people feel valued and are happy at work,” he explains, “and we make sure we’re out there going after business to make sure they’re busy all year long.”

This success has led to steady growth and recent high-profile projects, including refurbishing Chicago’s old main post office. Originally built in 1921 but vacated in 1997, the building has over two million square feet of potential real estate. Today, it is being renovated by Hard Rock and others to become a multipurpose space with offices, restaurants, and a hotel.

“We’ve been in there doing sawing and drilling for a number of customers over the last few years,” Stanaszek reports. The company is now moving on from structural to tenant improvements.

A second high-profile example is 820 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. This skyscraper, once the home of Ebony and Jet magazines, is now being renovated from office space into modern apartments. Hard Rock used its concrete cutting expertise to increase the property value to potential developers. “Essentially, we cut off the front of the building to create balconies for every apartment,” he says. “That was an interesting project.”

Other important projects include work at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, City Colleges of Chicago, and various bridges and roadways all around the city including the Kennedy Expressway. Customers range from large general contractors to local plumbers.

“Really, it’s all about expertise and access,” Stanaszek explains. “With the size of our fleet, we can get to jobs next-day.” Service technicians work to keep all equipment in peak condition and, when malfunctions inevitably happen, get it back in the field as soon as possible.

Thanks to this steady work and rapid project completion time, Hard Rock has grown enough to open a second office in Griffith, Indiana, very close to the Indiana-Illinois state line. This office, opened in October 2018, serves a much greater area of service and means that technicians can to respond to service calls much more quickly. “We see a real opportunity in Northwest Indiana,” he explains, “and the Griffith facility allows us to service the south side of Chicago and the southern suburbs much more efficiently.”

The company is a mainstay in Chicago-area construction and renovation and a proud member of the Concrete Sawing and Drilling Association (CSDA), a national organization which helps mandate safety standards across the industry. Jim Dvoratchek has twice served as the association’s president, illustrating its close ties.

“We spend a lot of time with trade associations,” Stanaszek remarks. This is done both to generate business and to develop industry contacts and learn what projects are imminent. By keeping up with the latest news and technological advancements, Hard Rock stays at the top of its industry.

“We want to hear from our customers and our suppliers how they feel about the industry so we can maintain our edge.” The company’s safety records have also netted it numerous awards over the years, but Stanaszek says those are not the company’s primary focus. “Awards are nice,” he says, “but customers coming back over and over again is really what matters.”

Preserving this competitive advantage also requires Hard Rock to be at the forefront of technological advances. The company does not manufacture its own tools, but it does have the know-how to modify tools to fit its specific purposes. “We do a lot of customization on the trucks and the trailers to improve logistics, safety, and efficiency,” he says.

With advanced technologies such as remote-controlled saws at its fingertips, the company performs complicated jobs while still retaining its trademark safety standards. Its trucks are largely self-contained, with tools, generators, and even water to deal with inevitable concrete dust and silica. By having as many components on hand as possible, technicians complete jobs and address potential problems without needing to return to a company office, thereby decreasing project completion times and preventing lost revenue.

As a union shop, Hard Rock enjoys a steady stream of potential new hires. “Mostly, at this point anyway, people come to us,” Stanaszek says. “They’ve heard that we’re a good company. They hear that we’re busy and that we’re growing, so we get résumés all the time.” Extensive background checks and equipment tests ensure the company hires the most skilled applicants, and a union apprenticeship program gives on-the-job training for new hires.

Most new employees begin by assisting a veteran technician on jobs, before graduating to run their own service truck. “We hire talented, experienced technicians and cutters,” Stanaszek sums up, “and then we bring along apprentices and helpers and then train them from the ground up.”

Despite steady growth and recent expansion, the company maintains a cautiously optimistic outlook for the future. “We want to grow, but we want to grow in a manageable, sustained way. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” he says. He also recognizes that, for all of its growth, this is still one player among a crowded industry.

“There’re a lot of small players in this industry, and we don’t want to compete on price. We compete on quality and expertise.” As Hard Rock looks to its next thirty years, he has faith in its principles. “We just stay focused on safety, customers, and being a great place to work, and we’ve been successful doing that.”

As its goal is to be Chicago’s premier concrete cutter, the company, Stanaszek knows, must remain focused on its values to achieve this. “We’re growth-focused, but it’s about quality; it’s about problem-solving, and it’s about taking care of our customers.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 17, 2019, 12:17 AM EST