A Family Business Focused on More than the Bottom Line

Thompson Concrete

Thompson Concrete is a family-run business that’s looking at major growth while performing extensive charitable work. Based in Carroll, Ohio with a small branch in Kentucky, this concrete contractor primarily works in the commercial, site excavation and foundations sectors. Thompson Concrete self-performs its services and has grown from a handful of employees to a team of over 250 individuals.
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Commercial work is Thompson’s largest revenue generator at present, and services in this sector include foundations, slabs and site concrete. The company’s excavation work involves demolition, earthwork and underground utilities, while its foundation work centers on poured concrete walls. Other services offered include site-paving and concrete pumping (the company does the latter for its own projects and for other companies). Thompson Concrete owns the majority of its own equipment and uses ready-mix concrete purchased from outside suppliers.

“For commercial, the majority right now [of what we do] is private development work – putting in parking garages and the like. IKEA is one of our customers. We also do warehouses and offices,” says company Founder and President, Scott Thompson. Thompson Concrete typically works through general contractors and construction managers.

The firm opened its Louisville, Kentucky branch in 2017, primarily to work in concrete footings and poured walls for residential developments. Thompson launched the Louisville location to accommodate a home-building client that wanted a reliable concrete contractor on hand for various projects. Kentucky aside, most of Thompson Concrete’s work is done in central Ohio, although the firm has taken on assignments in Cincinnati, Cleveland and as far afield as Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Thompson started the firm that bears his family name back in 1989, in Athens, Ohio. At first, the company only had a very small staff. He recalls “having to wear many hats, from writing out the payroll checks to working on the equipment… I hired two guys to start out with… We had good growth, with the right people. We started with just residential, then we added commercial and excavation.”

The firm is still a family-run business today. The company currently has 275 employees, up from around 250 last year at this time. This includes roughly 14 workers at the Kentucky operation.

In addition to doing quality work, on time, Thompson Concrete’s success can be attributed to a conscious move to broaden its service offerings, states Brad Thompson, Scott’s brother and company COO. “We’re well-diversified for any cyclical shift that might happen in the economy,” says Brad Thompson.

“We can do turnkey projects… We can handle the different aspects of the project in-house. Construction managers and owners like that, because they deal with one company,” adds the company president.

Thompson Concrete has also been quick to embrace technology. The firm now uses an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (aka a drone) to fly over worksites to make sure concrete construction is being performed properly and projects are going to plan. “The drone has been with us about a year. We started using intelligent earth moving equipment about three years ago,” says Thompson.

The real key to the company’s success, however, lies in its workforce, say the two. Asked how the firm has thrived over the decades, Thompson says, “It’s our people. We have a great culture that instills servant leadership.”

Servant leadership can be loosely defined as a model that emphasizes a community-minded ethos and individual empowerment over a more hierarchical, top-down leadership structure. When it comes to new hires, “We look for work ethic. They don’t have to have a skill as long as they have a good work ethic and integrity. We do look for skilled workers also,” says Thompson.

Some of the company’s employees come from The Refuge Ministries, a Christian rehabilitation center “that helps men that are addicted to drugs or alcohol get back on their feet,” explains Brad Thompson. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the Refuge Ministries offers a free rehab program involving spirituality, counseling and a reintroduction to the workforce, which is where Thompson Concrete comes in. Thompson currently has around 15 full-time employees who went through the Refuge Ministries program.

Besides its connection with Refuge Ministries, the firm donates to “quite a few local churches” and pays to fly employees to travel to Haiti to carry out work projects, says Thompson. Together with Haitian workers, these volunteer teams help build feeding centers, housing and medical facilities and “just finished a 54-foot concrete cross. It was poured by hand,” continues Thompson.

The reinforced concrete cross is to be erected in northwestern Haiti along the coastline so cruise ships passing by can see it lit up at night. Another Thompson Concrete Leader does work in Russia, where he’s been assisting with a rehabilitation center for alcoholics and drug addicts.

Thompson Concrete’s charitable initiatives exemplify one of the company’s core values: reaching out to help others. The company’s altruistic focus “is part of our culture. It’s part of us. It’s more than just going out and trying to grow the company, trying to just make money,” explains Thompson.

Keeping its workers safe is another core value Thompson Concrete adheres to. Given the nature of its work and the fact it uses concrete, the risk of accidents or injury is always a major concern. “We have a safety manual, and we also have tool-box meetings each week. We have a company we hire that goes out to our jobs and oversees our safety program for us. They’re called 360 and they’re tied in with our Workers’ Compensation program. They have a person they designate to our company that oversees a lot of our safety programs. We also do in-house training. We require at least OSHA 10 training for everyone. A lot of our supervisors have OSHA 30 and we have two gentlemen with OSHA 500,” says Brad Thompson.

The company tries to stay ahead of the safety and training curve. For example, Thompson implemented training segments based on new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules about silica dust on worksites roughly a year ago.

Thompson Concrete also belongs to several trade and business organizations, including the Building Industry Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the American Concrete Institute, the National Association of Home Builders, and others. Participating in such groups is good for networking, socializing and staying abreast of new industry rules or trends, says Brad Thompson. The company is also a member of the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA), which has “a great safety program” that certifies qualified operators, he says.

When it comes to suppliers, “first of all, we look for service and price. Service is important – building that trust, having relationships with certain vendors. Price is always important but so are relationships – being able to handle any little crisis that comes up,” states Brad Thompson.

Certainly, Thompson Concrete has participated in a series of noteworthy construction projects. One of the jobs Thompson was involved in recently saw the company working at a large project that involved a parking garage and office building along with an apartment building, providing turnkey complete site excavation and concrete as part of this substantial development in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Thompson also provided its expertise on a project involving an IKEA building in the Polaris, Ohio area, near Columbus. “We did all the interior, foundations, slabs and site concrete. We self-performed the whole package at the IKEA building,” says Thompson.

In addition to its website, Thompson Concrete relies on word of mouth and some clever branding for its promotional efforts. About the latter: the firm has roughly 100 trucks, all of which have wraps bearing the company logo for high visibility promotional purposes. “We make sure we invest in branding our logo on our trucks and equipment. Sometimes we’ll also do a billboard ad or radio ads,” states Thompson.

According to Brad Thompson, “hiring skilled labor” is the company’s biggest challenge at present, an unfortunate trend being seen industry- and nationwide. The firm is addressing the skilled labor shortage through an active mentorship program, an emphasis on training and a strong commitment to its existing workforce. “We feel like we’ve got a great family here, with fantastic leaders,” states Brad Thompson. Workers in turn have given the company their loyalty, with many employees being long-time staff members.

The company hopes to continue growing in size and diversifying its services while keeping firmly focused on concrete.

In five years’ time, “I see the Kentucky branch expanding, possibly into commercial and concrete pumping. Then in central Ohio, we will continue to expand our services. There’s still a lot of room for growth for us in central Ohio,” says Thompson.

“The big thing we’d like to get out there,” he concludes, “is that we’re more than just a concrete and excavation company. There’s a lot that our people are doing. [They’re out there] touching lives.”

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 26, 2019, 12:55 AM EDT