In an industry where contractors are feeling pressure to produce precise floors for tighter margins on shorter schedules, most concrete companies have adopted technologies and new equipment as a means to increase production. At Carolina Floors, technology is an integral part of the company’s concrete placing and finishing business, but hand work and craftsmanship is the company’s core.
Only a crew of talented concrete craftsmen could have pulled off the work Carolina Floors performed at the Giordana Velodrome, an Olympic-style bicycle racing facility in Rock Hill, S.C. The concrete track, which will host the 2012 and 2013 USA Cycling International Omnium Track National Championship, boasts a 42 degree bank turn and an engineered convex cup, requiring Carolina Floors crews to hand finish the project with the precision of a superflat floor.
In 1985, Jeff Rogers started Carolina Floors with $5,000 and three employees. He built his company’s reputation and client list by bidding the less profitable, “leftover” concrete work that other companies didn’t want to do, like dumpster pads, walkways and equipment pads. Today the company, headquartered in Rock Hill, S.C., employs 30 concrete masons and performs more than 4,000,000 square feet of concrete floors annually in a three-state region.
Carolina Floors’ growth was steady but never more than the company could handle. “I have seen many companies fail because they had too much work and too many commitments,” Rogers says. “One thing we have tried and have been successful at is we have maintained moderate growth and achieved a wide diversity of projects we are able to do. We count that as our success for being in this business this long.”
A high standard for quality
Central to Rogers’ theory on diversification is having knowledge on staff to successfully complete any concrete project that Carolina Floors takes on. “Over the years we have accumulated folks who have the knowledge to compete in all phases of concrete construction, whether it is superflat floors, Laser Screed floors, tilt-wall construction, concrete paving, power plants, you name it. No matter what the project is, if it is concrete we have acquired the knowledge to be a successful place and finish contractor in that arena,” Rogers says.
While admixtures and equipment technologies have helped improve the industry and allowed contractors to more easily perform certain types of construction, Carolina Floors included, Rogers also sees a downside. “You can never replace craftsmanship with technology or equipment,” he says. “During the boom up to 2009, we had guys apply to work for us and tell us straight off the bat they could run a rider and a Laser Screed but didn’t use hand tools. This leads me to believe there are companies out there that allow employees to only ride a trowel machine, and if they can’t get close to a wall or piece of pipe that area of the floor just remains rough and unsightly. That’s something we would never do.”
A few core beliefs help Rogers differentiate from the competition. For one, there are the “little things,” like cleaning up around the jobsite, having a clean vehicle and employee uniforms. “We’ve learned no matter what technology comes down the pike, those little things will never be replaced,” he says.
Another belief his father passed on to him. “My father told me when I was young that your handwork sells your job,” Roger explains. “The average customer can’t walk your floor and tell if it has high or low spots or a dip or bump, but he can recognize edges that weren’t leveled or a crooked saw joint. It’s those small things that sell your work, year in and year out.”
The other thing Rogers says sells your work and makes a company stand out from the competition — how you take care of mistakes. “In the concrete business, like any other good business, when everything is going as planned we are all the same,” Rogers says. “But how our customers gauge us is how we handle things when a job doesn’t go as planned. Periodically we all make mistakes, and how we handle mistakes separates the good companies from the companies that are no longer in business.”