Luckily Len had placed some great people within his business to ensure it would run if he wasn't there. That plan was strained with not only Len gone, but the four main leaders in the business out; however, the company kept on running successfully. "Everyone was a little more conservative in bidding and work slowed down some, but by the end of the year the business had recovered," Len explains.
Swederski Concrete Construction was in a period of transition at the time of Joe's accident. A few years earlier Len had recognized an opportunity for his company in moving from 75 percent residential to concrete paving and a commercial-focused work load. "The decision to head in this direction was an easy one," Len explains. "We were not working to our potential in residential. The equipment and training available in our company allowed us to take on unique concrete projects that are found in the commercial and industrial sectors. It was just before Joe's accident that this transition was taking place and our business was stepping up into new markets."
Since Joe's return to the company in October 2006, he has succeeded in securing the commercial bids and paving projects he set out to get. "Now I feel like we're back in a better position than we were before the accident," Joe says.
Paving the town white
One of the commercial areas Len identified as a growth potential was concrete paving on new parking lots and roads and also concrete whitetopping over existing asphalt pavements.
"With growing environmental concerns with toxic runoff and heat islands, combined with the durability and life cycle of concrete pavements, concrete paving became a product of choice for owners and developers," Len says. "Raw materials for asphalt have been increasing as much as 30 percent a year for the last few years. That puts asphalt and concrete in competition for initial cost."
Swederski Concrete has been aggressively promoting concrete parking lots for seven years. Len realized his only competition for this type of work in his market would be asphalt. "I used to have to beg architects to let me in on the bidding process, but then it started to snowball," says Joe. "Now they reach out to us." Joe adds that when he bids concrete work on a commercial job, he also asks if he can send an estimate for a concrete parking lot. He is successful in converting about 50 percent of Swederski Concrete's customers into using concrete as pavement.
Even with the successful history Joe has in selling concrete parking lots, Len says there is still a long way to go to educate the designers and decision makers on the benefits of concrete. "I hear from my customers, 'If concrete parking lots are so great, why don't I see more of them?'," Len says. "This is the struggle the industry has to overcome because asphalt has been the product of choice for 50 years. Many architects and engineers do not understand concrete paving design and life cycle costs."
Len works with an industry alliance of associations all working together to educate the public and designers on the benefits of concrete parking lots and roads. Today, less than 10 percent of parking lots in the United States are concrete, but the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) expects that number to increase to 15 percent by 2010. Len adds, "As the demand for concrete parking lots increases, there will be more contractors needed to construct them."
Swederski Concrete's parking lot business has been growing at a fast pace for years. The key to a successful parking lot paving job is its laser screeds.
"Our sales have increased every year but our labor force hasn't because of the labor saving technology we have with the three laser screeds," Joe says.
Swederski Concrete recently finished a 90,000-sq.-ft. parking lot at a funeral home in McHenry, Ill. Joe was the only concrete guy bidding the job against the asphalt competitors.
Swederski Concrete isn't just going after parking lots - they've been constructing residential streets since 1990. Since then they've converted eight subdivision jobs that were originally specified for asphalt. "A concrete residential street has a lot of appeal for developers. It adds 'curb appeal' and a feel of permanence to a prospective homeowner," Len says. "Municipalities like concrete roads due to the very low maintenance costs. The low installation cost of asphalt has been the pavement of choice for many builders. Today, local concrete streets are initially cost competitive with asphalt of equal structural design."