Mike Poppoff started his concrete career while still a college student at the University of Washington. He operated a crane for a concrete contractor that built concrete structures for sawmills throughout the Northwest. After a move back to his roots in the eastern part of the state, Mike needed a job. “I had never finished concrete before, but I saw it done a lot,” he jokes. “I had a house payment, so I started a company.” Poppoff, Inc. was born.
Mike was his own one-man crew at Poppoff, Inc., working small residential concrete projects for homebuilders. “The most I could handle by myself during the summer was 4 yards of concrete because of the temperatures. I would have a 6 o’clock pour of 4 yards, a 10 o’clock pour of 4 yards and a 2 o’clock pour of 4 yards. I was the guy who wheeled it, finished, everything. It was a fire drill every day!”
In 1979, Mike got his first employee and started getting into some small commercial and industrial projects. Poppoff, Inc. continued to grow, and by 1983 Mike had seven employees.
On track with a ‘revolution’
Mike says the 1980s were frustrating for the company, partly due to the economy but mostly because as he tried to break into larger commercial projects he was met by many customers who thought of the company as a residential contractor. The following decade, however, saw two big things happen at Poppoff, Inc. “We were going through a phase back in the 1990s where our customers were growing. And we knew if we didn’t grow with them they would drop us and find someone else,” Mike says. So he put the company on a path for growth.
Making the decision to expand the business meant the company needed more work. That pressure to find more work led Mike to implement the second big change at his company — he had to get out of the field. “My job was to generate more work for the crew that we had. It got to the stage where I wasn’t doing my job feeding them work. The company needed to grow, and it wasn’t going to grow with me in the field,” he says.
At the same time Poppoff, Inc. was going through changes, the concrete flooring industry was seeing changes of its own. “The slab industry went through a revolution in the 1990s. You could see it coming not only in the screeding equipment but also with the finishing equipment. And the introduction of F numbers changed a lot of things we did,” Mike explains.
Poppoff, Inc. was an early adopter of the industry’s equipment advancements. The company moved from walk-behind trowel machines to the then-new ride-on models with pans. In the early 1900s, Poppoff Inc.’s crews were screeding with roller screeds and truss screeds, but Mike recalls seeing an ad for a Somero Laser Screed in an industry trade publication and thinking, “That’s what we need.” The company bought its first Laser Screed in 1994. “We went all in to buy our first Laser Screed. We scraped up every penny we had,” he says. “The nearest machine was in Denver at the time we bought ours. We knew we had to go down that road if we wanted to grow and build relationships with our customers.”
Those equipment acquisitions opened up new markets for Poppoff, Inc. and gave them an advantage when bidding box stores and large slabs. “What these tools allowed us to do was install slabs quicker with fewer people. People didn’t lose their jobs, we just ended up doing more work with the same crew,” he explains.
Mike’s ability to recognize equipment trends early on allowed Poppoff, Inc. to use that equipment and its expertise to move the company forward. The company grew five-fold over the course of the 1990s.
The following decade was another period of growth for Poppoff, Inc., with Mike calling 2003 to 2009 the “boom years.” During this time he says screeding and finishing equipment got more mechanized, allowing Poppoff, Inc. crews to become even more technical, challenging crews to use their brains more than their brawn to increase quality. The company doubled during those years, with what Mike calls a lucrative and controlled growth.