Birdwell advises contractors to focus on certain types of properties. Owners of retail establishments can be especially receptive to concrete, he notes. Yet, his company has experienced considerable success flipping parking lots in virtually any setting, including industrial facilities, recently a Wal-Mart distribution center where crews put down 370,000 square feet of concrete, and an 870,000 square foot convention center parking lot. He has also done some whitetopping, where crews added 3 to 4 inches of concrete on top of existing asphalt.
Among misconceptions that concrete contractors need to overcome is that concrete will crack and fail, especially in difficult climate conditions. As Birdwell emphasizes, concrete failure is almost always the result of a poor design, a lack of understanding soil conditions or bad technique.
Over 27 years in business, Len Swederski, owner of North Carolina-based Swederski Concrete & Paving and Illinois-based Swederski Concrete Construction, has designed and installed literally hundreds of concrete parking lots and consulted on many more, all around the world. He says he has never come across an application where concrete doesn’t work. “At our Illinois location, we’ve installed parking lots in some of the most severe weather conditions in the country. When designed and installed properly, following ACI 330 Standards, there is no downside to a concrete parking lot, period,” he says.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles to overcome, Swederski admits. The biggest one is what he simply terms as “bad habits.” Engineers and designers are used to using asphalt, and soils experts are generally unfamiliar with concrete application. What they don’t understand is that several things have changed over the years, not the least of which is the rising cost and demand for oil and oil byproducts and growing awareness about the benefits of using concrete for parking lots.
“Design criteria have also changed. For example, wire mesh and other reinforcing material that was once thought to strengthen concrete actually weakens it by not allowing it to expand and contract,” Swederski explains.
Agreeing with Birdwell, Swederski says the best opportunities for “flipping” arise when talking with the owner. Even if an owner shows resistance to the longevity and low maintenance argument because he or she plans to resell the property in the near term, one can always talk about the higher resale value of having a concrete parking lot.
“Research new businesses that are coming to town and meet with the owner if you can,” Swederski advises. He also hosts “lunch and learn” sessions for engineering firms to educate them about the value of concrete parking lots.
Wayne Moening, Northeast/Northwest promotion director for the Ohio Concrete Association, notes that “lunch and learn” sessions are also part of the group’s effort to further educate engineers and architects. Newsletters, face-to-face meetings and seminars also help convey the positive attributes of concrete. “We know from experience that if a bid for a concrete parking lot comes in 10 percent or lower above asphalt, nine out of 10 times, concrete will win out,” he relates.
“One of our ongoing goals is to encourage engineers and architects to include concrete as an ‘alternate’ in the specifications, or, better yet, the base bid,” he says. In both scenarios, Moening adds, a concrete parking lot is in the mix, and if it’s the base and not the alternative and the base comes under budget, concrete will win.”
It is all about education and building relationships with engineers, architects and owners. For the education part, he always includes basic concrete talking points without being overly negative about asphalt. “After all,” Moening says, “when talking with engineers and architects especially, one doesn’t want to be overly critical about how they’ve been doing business over the years. Case studies, with testimonials from owners, are very helpful, as well.” The relationship part, he adds, takes time.
“The reality is if you work in a market that doesn’t have a concrete mentality, flipping won’t happen overnight,” Swederski emphasizes. “It requires changing the mindset of business owners and engineers.” This contractor also does whitetopping, noting that his company recently completed a couple of “overlay” projects for area churches in North Carolina, and has actually finished several such projects in Illinois.