Focusing on Residential Concrete - A Residential Stronghold

Bartley Corp. focuses on a niche in custom home foundations and a new focus on green building in the residential market.

Jim Bartley says products and equipment are all about production. The company's goal is to keep the pump truck working on two pours a day.
Jim Bartley says products and equipment are all about production. The company's goal is to keep the pump truck working on two pours a day.

In an economy where new home building is down dramatically from where it was two years ago, it sounds like a risky proposition for a concrete company to remain focused on its residential roots. But with a niche in custom home foundations and a new focus on green building, Bartley Corp. has kept its residential base strong.

Bartley Corp. is a family-owned concrete contractor located in Silver Spring, Md. The company performs work throughout the Washington D.C. metro area and serves areas as far as West Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania. About 30 percent of the company's sales stem from light commercial jobs like self-storage facilities and mid-rise office buildings, but the company continues to rely on its residential roots despite a nationwide decline in the market. "The heart and soul of our company is residential foundations with everything else branching off that," says Jim Bartley, vice president of residential for Bartley Corp.

Despite the hard times that have fallen on the residential market, Bartley Corp. has been able to maintain its residential/commercial sales percentages. But that isn't to say Bartley Corp. hasn't seen changes in the last year. The company's fiscal year ended in September with a 15 percent decrease in sales from the previous year, and the company expects at least another 15 percent decline for fiscal year 2009. But Bartley Corp., experienced in weathering construction cycles, had a rainy day fund and took to making some changes. Their foremen no longer have their own trucks and instead ride to jobs in the supply trucks with the rest of the crews. Bartley Corp. has also taken steps to reduce overhead and encourages everyone in the company to focus on cost cutting on a daily basis. "We emphasize to the crews in the field about making good decisions about materials. We also pay closer attention to job readiness, making sure that the builder really is ready for us to start working," Bartley explains.

Bartley Corp. has also seen changes in regards to finding jobs. "Our work was our marketing. We relied heavily on referrals and repeat business," says Greg Stone, vice president of marketing and development. "We're pulling out of an economy where we didn't have to promote, but now we need to promote."

To overcome some of the growing pains associated with marketing and finding work, Stone says, "We've had to go outside our normal customer base. We use Dodge reports for lead referrals and have started to dig out info on commercial jobs."

The company also hired Andy Bartley to focus on marketing materials, promotional brochures, developing the website and expanding the customer database. He was also responsible for organizing the material needed for Bartley Corp. to become a CFA Certified Contractor through the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA), a designation that sets the company apart from its competition. "In a slow market you don't always want to add people, but he is the right kind of person to add," Bartley explains. "He can focus on those things so everyone else can focus on their areas of expertise."

Residential roots

Bartley Corp. began as a cast-in-place residential concrete foundation company in the 1970s when aluminum forming was in its infancy. Buck Bartley, Jim's father and founder of the company, says his main competition in the early days was block contractors. He worked to market directly to builders about the benefits of cast-in-place concrete. "Most builders switched pretty quickly because we were far superior over block. We could pour foundations year round, could do footings and other concrete work on the job, and it's just a better product - more water-tight and good for custom work," Buck explains. He adds that custom builders were slower to jump on concrete than track builders, but after one custom builder decided to build his own home with a concrete foundation he spread the word about the benefits.

Today, custom foundations are Bartley's Corp.'s forte. "We pride ourselves on doing difficult work no one else wants to do," Jim Bartley says. "It might be a complicated addition or a single-family home with unique details. We differentiate ourselves from our competitors with this work. A lot of our customers do odd-ball jobs with 10- or 12-foot walls, retaining walls built into their designs, and other unique features like that."

Nearly 20 years ago, Bartley Corp. expanded into light commercial work because it had the talent on staff to help them diversify into this sector. Much of Bartley Corp.'s expansion over the years, however, has been related to its residential services, namely excavation, demolition, waterproofing and helical piers. Over the last few years, the company has broken into green building by offering insulated walls, pervious concrete and concrete homes.

"I really believe in concrete houses," Bartley says. "I see the green movement in general and in this economy as a whole as a good opportunity to get people to think about concrete houses. There's a small niche of home buyers who are looking at concrete houses. Not a lot of people know they can have a concrete house. But this green movement is throughout the economy and it gives us an opportunity to show people what we offer in the green area."

Bartley Corp. currently works with a track builder and a few custom home builders who are emphasizing energy efficiency and green certification in their homes. Bartley Corp. has two concrete homes and one concrete addition under its belt, with a couple more in the pipeline. Concrete homes are something they offered in the good economy, but Bartley sees even more opportunity opening up in the current economy because people are interested in saving money on energy.

Bartley Corp. uses two insulation systems in conjunction with its aluminum forms: Thermomass from Composite Technologies Corp. and ThermaEZE by CertainTeed. Bartley notes the company has won jobs with these systems that were originally specified for ICF construction.

The company has two employees who are certified pervious installers through the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA). Bartley expects pervious concrete to take off in his area of the country where new homes are being rebuilt on small lots with limited green spaces for stormwater drainage.

The recent emphasis on green building has opened up a new set of clients for Bartley Corp. to pursue. They have contributed to LEED Homes and have seen a growing interest in energy efficiency. And as they grow their expertise on the residential side, that knowledge and experience will help them garner sustainable construction jobs on the commercial side.

"We're trying to be visible whatever way we can be visible. That's all we can do - make ourselves known as someone who can do this work," Bartley explains. But it's the company's ability to offer anything concrete for its customers that makes it a successful and viable concrete business. "We need 'cookie cutter' houses as well in order to feed the number of people we have in the field," Bartley says. "We haven't lost that original foundation focus, we're just trying to augment our business."

At A Glance

Company: Bartley Corporation, Silver Spring, Md.,"
Employees: 120
Founded: 1971
Services offered:
Residential and commercial cast-in-place concrete, excavation/demolition, waterproofing, green building, concrete housing and helical piers.
Key products and equipment:
Trowels from Allen Engineering and Bartell Morrison; New Holland skid steers; Kubota mini excavator; Daewoe track hoe; Caterpillar loaders; CertainTeed ThermaEZE; Composite Technologies Corp. Thermomass; LiteForm Technologies Lite-Deck; Plastbau Technology Insul-Deck; forming systems from Precise, Tuff n Light, Doka, Durand, Wall Ties & Forms and B.E.P. Big Panels; Epro Waterproofing Systems; CertainTeed Platon; Putzmeister 38-meter pump; Trimble total stations and LM80; Allen Engineering roller screed for pervious; International trucks; Atlas cranes; Honda generators; Ford and Toyota pick-up trucks; Gravel Conveyors, Inc. Gravel Canons.
Bartley Corp. is a CFA Certifed Foundation Contractor

Organizing the jobsite

A major organizational initiative Bartley Corp. implemented about 10 years ago has helped the company decrease jobsite costs, increase resale and create customer loyalty; it has also helped keep the company profitable in today's economy. After determining some of the key factors slowing down construction and increasing frustrations on the jobsite, Bartley Corp. came up with a plan to assign a project manager (PM) to each jobsite, both commercial and residential.

The PM acts as a liaison between the crew and the customer. Instead of a builder dealing separately with the footings crew, walls crew, waterproofing crew, excavation crew and so on, there is one point person - the PM - who manages all the information on the project, from the plans to the types of products used to the crew scheduling. If there are any construction changes, the customer and the PM have to agree and the crew needs to follow those instructions.

"Project managers provide customer service in the field and helped us to double our sales over the last 10 years," says Jim Bartley, vice president of residential at Bartley Corp. "One of the biggest problems in concrete construction is builders changing their minds and telling our field guys to do something differently than laid out in the plans. Not only does that waste time, but if the builder is wrong he'll blame our crews for the mistakes. We've almost eliminated that vicious cycle." -RW