In the mid-1980s, Tim Parrish, a college psychology graduate turned bricklayer, started noticing poured concrete walls entering Virginia. He looked into the system, saw promise for a business focused around this type of construction and secured a $100,000 business start-up loan from a local bank before ever pouring his first wall. With a set of aluminum forms and a couple basic trucks, Parrish started Cornerstone Foundations, Harrisonburg, Va., in 1988. "From the beginning, I wanted to focus on difficult jobs; I didn't want to say 'no' to anybody," Parrish says. "Saying 'yes' to jobs we didn't exactly know how to do meant occasionally losing money, but that became part of our education."
Building a diverse business
Cornerstone's initial focus was on residential jobs, but Parrish recognized early on the need to diversify. He started adding services like foundation waterproofing; rebar manufacturing; concrete pumping with a 32-meter Putzmeister pump which they rent out for about 25 percent of the truck's work; and stone placement, with about 75 percent of that truck's use coming from outside projects. In the mid-1990s, Cornerstone was feeling some pressure from the ICF market and started using CertainTeed's ThermaEZE, a concrete wall insulation product that can compete directly with ICFs. Getting involved with insulated basements and concrete housing led Cornerstone to the Thermomass insulation system and more recently CertainTeed's T-Rock system, an EPS foam insulation panel laminated to a paperless gypsum board for a semi-finished basement after the forms are stripped. Cornerstone completes about one concrete home each year, and about 25 percent of its basement foundation jobs are insulated.
In 2006, Cornerstone started offering a retaining wall system it calls Sure Stone. Parrish says when he first started the retaining wall part of the business pouring blocks with World Block forms, he thought it would be a cost-effective way of using up leftover concrete. But the system took off, and Sure Stone is now a major part of the business, bringing in about 10 percent of the company's annual sales.
While building up the company's ability to offer a variety of services in residential concrete, Parrish also recognized the need to have business in the commercial realm, maintaining 30 about percent of the company's sales in commercial jobs throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
Parrish saw another way to build his business by adding a few key positions within the company. He hired a part-time CPA, which Parrish says took the company to a new professional level. "Some people think if they have money in their checking account they are succeeding, but having access to financial statements and balance sheets that compare cash, accounts receivable and accounts payable gives me a clear picture of the financial health of the company," he explains.
In 2007, Parrish hired a sales person, John Wilson. "For a long time, all we relied on for marketing was a few brochures and word-of-mouth, and we were happy with that," Parrish says. Now with a sales person, Cornerstone Foundations is out looking for jobs instead of waiting for jobs to find them.
"John has built relationships with building permit departments so he knows when permits are issued and will contact those builders about their concrete needs. He has also become the company's face in the community, networking as our NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) contact and working with other community groups," Parrish explains.
Wilson also keeps in close contact with the company's "platinum customers," a group of clients Cornerstone identifies as quality general contractors they want to work with. John checks in with the platinum customers on a regular basis, ensuring they have all their concrete needs covered and that their Cornerstone jobs are running smoothly.