SLIPPING AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Concrete Services, LLC, headquartered in Boynton Beach, Florida, is the leading concrete specialty contractor in the Sunshine State. “No one constructs more concrete on the roads of Florida than Concrete Services, LLC,” says the company.
“We’re the biggest, as far as concrete barrier walls [in Florida]. We also do concrete paving. I don’t know of anyone larger, that specializes in concrete walls,” says Rick Kontos, Concrete Services’ vice-president and co-owner.
Concrete Services also constructs sound walls, retaining walls, curbs and sidewalks. Concrete Services has done extensive work for the Florida Department of Transportation and other government bureaus. The company has been involved in some of Florida’s largest highway projects of the past decade, including: 826/836 interchange in Miami, I-595 Corridor in Davie, I-4 Corridor in Daytona Beach, and I-275 in Tampa.
These are impressive achievements for a company formed in 1999 with a handful of employees, two trucks, and one slip form machine. Today, Concrete Services boasts over 150 personnel and a fleet that includes eighty work trucks, dump trucks, cranes, backhoes, pump trucks, concrete paving equipment, and twelve slip form machines.
Slip forming is a construction procedure in which concrete is poured into a form that is continuously moving and extruding a finished concrete product (as opposed to pouring concrete into a fixed-form or building with pre-cast components). By utilizing slip form machines, Concrete Services can work at a furious pace.
According to Kontos, Concrete Services’ crews can produce “literally ten times faster” than some conventional concrete contractors. The company says that in a single day, it can construct over 1,000 LF of the Traffic Railing portion of a sound wall. A hand form operation with a similar size crew would be pushing to get 90 LF a day.
“That’s what made us such a big presence in this market. We can offer significant time savings for the contractor. If time is really of the essence, then contractors tend to choose us,” says Kontos.
Concrete Services has patented a slip forming method that lets it slip form concrete structures with rebar both inside the structure and extending outside of the concrete for splicing and continuing the structure vertically.
The company was founded in 1999 by Shawn Free, who was in his early twenties at the time. With the assistance of a small, mobile crew, Free built concrete barrier walls in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. In 2001, he was awarded a three-year contract in Palm Beach County, Florida. This lucrative opportunity convinced him to move the center of his operations to South Florida.
Around the same period, Rick Kontos was finishing up a master’s degree in finance at the University of Alabama. After meeting Free through his grandfather, Kontos decided to start working for Concrete Services, which, at the time, was still very small.
“I thought it was a unique business. There was a good opportunity. There were eight employees. [Free] had one barrier wall machine and a couple of trucks … a year later, I bought into the company. There wasn’t much to buy into at the time. We became partners,” recalls Kontos.
It was a wise business move on Kontos’ part, as the company quickly grew. Most of its jobs involved government work. Typically, Concrete Services is hired as a subcontractor by companies with government contracts.
Over the years, the company earned a reputation for solid work and reliable service. “One of the biggest things we did was to build our name as a company that contractors could depend on to finish the job,” says Kontos. The firm’s prevailing attitude is “we’re going to do what it takes to get the job done, ahead of schedule, no excuses,” he adds.
This guiding principle helped the company forge a series of strong relationships with contractors around the state. “A lot of the time, we’re not the best price, but we definitely feel that we’re the best value,” states Kontos.
Of the many contractors the firm has worked with over the past fifteen years, around eighty percent initially hired Concrete Services to fix jobs that previous subcontractors had either bungled or left incomplete, says Kontos. Other keys to the company’s success include dedicated, well-trained, well-motivated crews, along with specialized equipment, and on-site proficient project managers.
A recent major project is the SR 826 and SR 836 Interchange (Palmetto Expressway) in Miami, Florida. This was a design/build/finance project that included operational and safety improvements to the SR 826 and SR 836 and their ramps and interchanges. It also added auxiliary lanes between interchanges and widened the highway by a general use lane in each direction. The contract for this project was over $550 million, between the prime contractor team and the Florida Department of Transportation. Among other details, the project included multiple new bridges, new drainage, lighting and landscaping improvements. The project will be completed this year.
Concrete Services also worked on the I-595 Expressway in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This assignment involved the widening and reconstruction of 13 miles of I-595 and included the addition of reversible express lanes, tolling facilities, and reconfiguration of the I-595/Turnpike interchange. This project for the Florida Department of Transportation was a public-private-partnership (P3) that was completed in 2015. The contract was for over $1.6 billion.
Another project for the Florida Department of Transportation was the I-275 project in Tampa, Florida. The undertaking “included over four miles of cast-in-place sound wall construction and over eight miles of cast-in-place copings on retaining walls,” according to Concrete Services. The contract between the prime contractor and FDOT was worth $215 million. It was recently completed this year.
The Florida I-4 Corridor project is another enormous operation for Concrete Services. The endeavor required so much concrete that the company erected its own concrete plant in Deland, Florida. It included paving over 535,000 SY of concrete pavement using almost 200,000 CY of concrete material, making it the largest concrete paving project in the state. Lanes were poured by Concrete Services’ equipment in widths of 14’ and 24’ wide. There were approximately 80 lane miles of concrete pavement constructed on this project. It will also be completed this year, 2016.
Almost all of Concrete Services’ work is in Florida. In addition to its headquarters and concrete plant, the company has offices across the state: Tampa, Daytona Beach, Vero Beach, and Miami.
Florida boasts thousands of bridges and the majority of them have retaining walls leading to them, according to Kontos. The firm has added to its list of concrete-related offerings and now constructs concrete copings, the caps that secure the top of the retaining wall to the roadway above. “Concrete copings are found on top of retaining walls. We’re slipforming these as opposed to hand forming, obviously way faster,” explains Kontos. “Every retaining wall has to have a coping that holds the retaining wall and locks it into place at the top. These copings have been forever poured by forms or pre-cast structures, and now what we’re doing is pouring them with machines. We do an average of five hundred feet per day, as opposed to fifty. It’s a crazy change, doing 2,000 feet of coping in four pour days, instead of doing it in forty,” says Kontos.
The company has big ambitions. “We want to expand. We’re a dominant player in the barrier wall concrete market. We want to grow into a prime contractor. We started building bridges this year. We’ve done barrier walls for bridges since the start, but we hadn’t actually built a bridge itself,” says Kontos.
The dream is to make Concrete Services a national company – with a twist. “I don’t really know if I’m interested in having our own work crews in California, pouring concrete, and dealing with all the risks and headaches that entails. I’m much more interested in companies that are already set up in California, to license our services to them,” explains Kontos.
The plan, in other words, is to license Concrete Services’ specialty services such as the patented slip forming methods. Certainly, there’s no shortage of interest in the company’s work. Kontos says contractors from as far away as Texas, Michigan, and Nebraska have come to Florida to check out how Concrete Services does things.
One thing the company is definitely not interested in is uncontrolled growth. It’s a decision made in the face of tempting possibilities. Concrete Services could easily double its revenue if it just slashed its prices, says Kontos. The problem, as he sees it, is that doubling in size overnight would stretch the firm thin.
“We’re looking to grow at a healthy, sustainable rate – being able to maintain margins and keep the same level of service. We’re considering a lot of opportunities, but we want to make sure we’re choosing the right ones,” says Kontos.
At the moment, “we’re 150 employees, which to me is a large size company. But we treat it like a family business,” he continues.
As evidence of the firm’s family-like culture, he points to the exceptional social mobility in Concrete Services’ ranks. “We’ve had numerous cases – the majority of our employees actually – where somebody comes into the company with a shovel and climbs the company ranks. Many start with no experience, but they have become foremen, some have become superintendents, and some even become leaders in the company. We love that. If you can promote within, it’s fantastic,” states Kontos.
Concrete Services wants employees who are hard-working and take pride in their labor, regardless of where they fit in the company hierarchy. “It’s a nice business we’re in when you leave after a week of work, having done something that’s going to stay for years – for decades – concrete walls on roads or on a bridge or paving for a road, or a bridge itself. You can drive by in twenty years, and it’s still going to be there. You can show whoever is in your car – whether it’s your son or your buddy –and say, ‘We did that!’” says Kontos. It is important to be proud of the work that you have done.