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With only a handful of employees, CGM Precast not only caters to individuals but can hold its own for major projects.
Story and photos By Ron Hyink
If anyone fits the description of a “big, little company,” it’s CGM Precast Concrete Inc. in Indianapolis. With just 13 employees – and four of them are the owners – CGM can quickly cast small landscaping items for a walk-in homeowner or contractor, and yet keep pace with the demands of a large, state-funded project. Its owners offer their customers personal, professional attention. They can have molds custom-made for you or you can bring in your own. Then they’ll roll up their sleeves and get to work with the rest of the crew. Chuck and Terrie, along with Fred and Susan Machledt are truly your people next door – and yet they are business owners to the core.
As small as it is, CGM has grown tremendously over the past few years, but it has grown intelligently by being economically conscious. The Machledts have added only those product lines that fit their niche, have stepped outside that box only when deemed profitable, outsourced labor where it makes sense, and have been passionate about keeping overhead costs as low as possible.
In addition to its original specialty as a utility pad manufacturer, CGM has included products such as wall caps, sills, copings and landscaping products. But it can hold its own for the larger projects such as MSE wall caps for an Interstate highway, and blocks that form the retaining walls that protect the power house and hold back river currents for a new hydroelectric plant.
Outside the box
“If it’s architectural precast, the smaller items, we provide a true variety,” said Chuck Machledt, owner and president whose initials comprise the company’s name. For items such as concrete steps, tilt-up walls or pipe that they don’t make, they’ll refer the job to other companies that do – and likewise will get referrals from them.
Occasionally a request will float in for an unusual piece that no one else makes, and the Machledts will give it every consideration. As one successful custom project begets another, pretty soon word gets around and more requests come in for customized products.
“That’s how we generated the business we have now – stepping outside the comfort zone and saying, ‘I don’t know why we can’t do this, it seems we know where and how to get quality molds made, and there’s no reason not to give it a good look,’” said Chuck. “And we continue to do that.”
One of CGM’s most publicly recognized projects can be found in downtown Indianapolis along Georgia Street, which underwent major reconstruction in preparation for the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI. Above ground, the project included precast concrete streetlight bases, memorial signs bearing the names of personalities from Indiana such as Benjamin Harrison and Ernie Pyle, and the base for the monument commemorating legendary basketball coach John Wooden. “Everything that’s made with white cement on Georgia Street would have come through here,” said Chuck.
The John Wooden memorial sculpture proved to be one of CGM’s most challenging projects. The casual observer will see a concrete base supporting a bronze sculpture, but another precaster, explained Chuck, will recognize that a lot went into the base’s design. First of all, the base is tilted along the top surface, and so the lettering cast into the base had to run parallel with the tilt. “It’s not just tilted one way, it’s tilted a couple of ways – and there are four pieces that make up the concrete sculpture base, and each one is different,” said Chuck. Also, if it didn’t come out right the first time, the process would have to be started all over again with new bronze lettering and modified molds. “So we wanted to make it right the first time, and fortunately it came out wonderfully,” said Chuck. “It’s one of our shining stars.”
The Georgia Street project spawned other downtown projects for CGM, such as sidewalk curbing, custom parking stops, shower curbs, and wall caps for the Omni, the Marriott, NCAA Headquarters, and other hotels and businesses. These high-profile, one-off custom projects are typically difficult to create, but CGM’s reputation for completing a project on or ahead of time has caught on, said Chuck. “It’s more profitable, because everybody’s not chasing it, and not everybody can do it,” he said. “Those are more our kinds of projects.”
Other high-profile projects have included providing wall copings for the major I-70 upgrade going through Indianapolis, and then there was the decorative screen wall for IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) that required carved foam pieces to be readjusted for each day’s pour. “It was a very complicated thing to do,” said Chuck.
“Our largest project so far has been the Cannelton hydroelectric power plant project on the Ohio River,” said Susan, the company’s CEO. “We’re making the block that goes into walls to protect the hydroelectric plant.”
The blocks will also serve to hold back part of the river allowing some of the river water to push through the big turbines – and so it needs a lot of blocks. “There are about 12,000 pieces and 300 flatbed truckloads,” said Chuck. To minimize the need for extensive yard space at CGM, the blocks are stacked on flatbed trailers as produced – a process that also cuts delivery time. “We bought an extra trailer just so we can keep a trailer loaded and ship as many as two trucks a day. If we had to store it, that would just eliminate space for other things we could be doing at the same time,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum, CGM also caters to the need for small projects. “People will drive past and see the splash block that goes under a downspout, and ask if we would sell just one,” said Susan. “Or a homeowner might want some stepping stones, or a church might need new or replacement parking stops and want to know if they can purchase six. If a homeowner needs a porch cap, we can do that. We can build molds in-house and have the custom cap ready in a day or two, or sometimes people make their own molds and bring them in and we fill them with our concrete. We’ve done that for people who want to build their own countertop or are trying to do an outside kitchen area.”
Chuck started CGM Precast in Tarpon Springs, Fla., out of his desire to right a sinking ship left by his former employer. Chuck was the salesman bringing in jobs for glass fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) mounting pads used by phone companies and various architectural products, but his employer kept pushing sales even though the company could not keep up with production. “And then I’d have to go out and talk to my customers about why that company couldn’t perform,” said Chuck. The employer went bankrupt, and in 1989 Chuck purchased many of the assets.
Chuck grew the company to a certain point, and even acquired some high-profile bids such as wall panels for the Tampa Airport. But then came the time when he knew he had to bring in some qualified people to help him run the business. “It seemed like I never had just that right person you could depend on and trust,” he said. “I was explaining to my brother my concern to get the right combination of management and staff needed to ensure success.” Chuck asked Fred (his brother) to join him in the precast business, but rather than Fred moving to Florida, Chuck moved the entire operation to Indianapolis. Chuck was already shipping product out of state, and there were difficulties with leasing business property in Florida at the time, so the move to Indianapolis in 1998 turned out to be a wise decision.
“I was fortunate that Fred was willing to stop what he was doing and take a chance on helping grow this,” said Chuck. “It’s worked out well with him being very organized.” It also afforded the time Chuck needed to pursue additional bids for architectural precast products in the construction of new Wal-Mart and other big-box stores.
The property they purchased in Indianapolis was larger than was needed at that time. “We rented some of the space to other companies,” said Susan. “But then as we would grow, we would reclaim more and more of our building. This approach helped, and we didn’t have to move to expand.”
One of the sections now houses a batch plant and two sets of aggregate bins, all completely enclosed within the building. “Our batch plant was purchased from Mixer Systems. The sales representative was instrumental in suggesting how their equipment could offer maximum output within the space I had,” said Fred. “Two sets of bins allowed for one set with aggregates to be warming and drying while the other set of bins is in active use.”
As production increased and the extra work space disappeared, they added additional production space to their building. As they continued to grow, they decided to put in a new, larger production area adjacent to the original building that could accommodate larger projects. But putting up the new building presented some challenges. “Our planning has been dictated by our existing building and limited by our lot size,” said Fred.
Installing another batch plant in the new building would prove difficult, as new water lines would have to be extended to the far side of the original building. And there were other considerations. “We were not certain that we could justify the loss of interior space or the large investment of a second batch plant,” said Fred.
The answer was to use ready-mix. “We have a half-yard mixer, so to do something that requires 10 or 20 yards of mix daily, it makes more sense for us to just buy the mix,” said Susan. “So we can still have both production areas going at once. The ready-mix provider is able to duplicate our approved mix designs.”
A great deal of thought went into the design of the new building. “My approach to upgrading and enlarging our production facility has been to make changes that will consistently serve to minimize our future costs.” The bay doors, for example, were made with the ready-mix trucks in mind. “The ready-mix trucks can drive right in, dispense the mix and drive right out,” said Susan.
But there is much more. The new building has proven to be a role model for energy efficiency. “We invested in building insulation for the walls and ceiling, and lots of high south-facing windows for natural light,” explained Fred. “We installed a 1,500-gallon tank to harvest rain water from the exterior gutters. This water is used mainly for cleaning equipment and molds, but it saved us from adding a water well or piping city water from the far west side of our property.” He also installed high-efficiency lighting and radiant heating in quadrants that can be switched on in the areas as needed. “This allows us to heat and light only the areas in our building that are in use.”
The new production building was also pre-engineered for craneways, although there was no immediate need for them. “Now we use these cranes frequently and have not had to add any interior support posts for the crane beams,” said Fred.
The new building saves a great deal on utility costs, but the Machledts use other methods as well to lower overhead costs. For example, welding of new molds and sandblasting are such a small part of their overall production that it makes sense to outsource those operations to specialists. That avoids the expense of investing in additional equipment, taking up valuable space to store it, and training employees how to use it – not to mention all the inherent safety hazards and the costs to control them.
Fiberglass and steel molds for the smaller projects are typically outsourced as well. “We found some wonderful fabricators here locally who can be very responsible and affordable, and then those molds tend to last much longer than if we made them ourselves,” said Susan. CGM will make molds for a small project or single use, or customers will sometimes bring in their own, but like the other outsourced tasks, mold-making requires expensive and quality equipment. It would be another unnecessary expense with minimal returns.
To satisfy state project requirements, hauling numerous heavy concrete test cylinders every week to be tested for strength became laborious and expensive, so it made sense to purchase their own break-test equipment. “We needed to do that anyway, being an NPCA certified plant,” said Susan. “So we are able to do testing now, and customers seem to appreciate that we can tell them the strength of that particular product they are purchasing from us.”
Not only is CGM Precast an NPCA Certified Plant, it has attained the Top 25 of all plants for certification inspections. “We score pretty high every year,” said Chuck. “While customers are waiting in our office, they can look at pictures of some of the jobs we’ve completed and see the certifications. Especially when architects and GCs come in here to discuss a future project and wondering if it’s something we can do. When they see the certification and that we’re one of the Top 25, they typically don’t have to ask that question.”
What are the next steps for this small but growing company? Whatever they are, the Machledts are certain to scrutinize every action, and wherever it leads them, they’ll likely retain their next-door-neighbor disposition.
Ron Hyink is NPCA’s managing editor.