It can be a disappointing realization to work at something for years only to find yourself back to where you started. Not so for Kirby Justesen, owner of Formco Foundations out of West Jordan, Utah; especially when you're back and stronger than ever.
Justesen started Formco in 1992 as a footings and foundations business focused on residential concrete work after several years in business as a commercial concrete contractor. Justesen was looking to grow his company bigger but didn't feel he could in the commercial market at the time. "I had grown tired of the commercial end, and it seemed like it was easier to grow in the residential market because it was a bigger market. I could focus on one specific item in concrete and therefore gain efficiencies through having the best and most effective methods to do it," Justesen explains.
After expanding his business over the last 15 years and with the current residential downturn on the horizon, Justesen saw an opportunity to move his company in a direction that focused on commercial work in a way he wasn't able to before. The change has helped Formco weather the market fluctuations and put the company in a strong position for the future.
Justesen started Formco with four employees building walls with a set of Symons forms. Over the years, he wasn't afraid to add equipment and learn new technologies to help grow his company. One of the first investments Justesen made in Formco was joining the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA). With the association, he was able to stay on top of industry trends and found mentors in contractors all over the country who could answer his questions about their experiences in the footings and foundations market. "I think that our eventual expansion beyond footings and foundations came out of the people at the CFA who gave me ideas," Justesen says.
Soon after establishing Formco, Justesen realized the convenience of having an in-house excavation crew. Justesen says he doesn't push the excavation services, but having the skills and equipment to perform the work is helpful. He now offers both cast-in-place and precast block retaining wall systems to compliment the excavation services. The 1990s also saw Justesen add aluminum forms and crane trucks to his equipment lineup.
The Salt Lake City area experienced a housing boom in the late 1990s, a time in which Formco made a lot of gains in securing its expertise in custom residential projects with large, complex layouts. Formco's equipment lineup helped its crews deliver the footings and foundations product the market demanded, thanks in part to Justesen's investment in robotic site layout equipment for plotting foundation points and placing weld plates and seismic connectors. He bought his first system in the late 1990s, a geodimeter. "It just made everything so simple at the right time because houses were starting to get more complicated and sometimes we couldn't lay them out the traditional way and had to call a surveyor," he explains. Since then he has purchased five systems.
Justesen says the $30,000 to $35,000 investment for each system is offset by the speed in which they allow Formco to lay out jobs, labor savings by having one crew member on layout instead of two, and avoiding costly repairs and rework. He adds that general contractors began having more faith in Formco because Justesen's crews had the ability to double-check surveyors' points to help avoid any errors and find points for excavators and other subcontractors if the original surveyor's points had been lost during the construction process.
Justesen says his technology lineup offers benefits beyond layout on the jobsite, namely by using the point sheet from his AutoCAD program to create shop drawings, or simplified versions of the original plan. "We transfer the information onto blank plans, color code it and do all sorts of things to give to the crews as a permanent record. We can also give copies to the owner and general contractor prior to building so they can make changes," he explains.