If a small precast manufacturer can produce quality, watertight septic tanks, any precaster can.
By Eric Barger
The tank market has witnessed alternative materials gaining market share and building momentum in the onsite wastewater tank industry. This is due mainly to a small percentage of precast tank manufacturers’ long history of poor-quality products and even poorer attitudes.
There are many advantages in producing high-quality, watertight tanks that many manufacturers overlook. Investing a few dollars and several minutes per tank form can produce a watertight tank that will open new markets while attracting new customers who are willing to pay a premium for superior products.
It is no secret that some precast tank manufacturers have become complacent while perpetuating a belief that concrete tanks cannot be watertight. You may think, “What does it matter? It all goes in the ground.” This is the very attitude plastic tank manufacturers have used to convince regulatory agencies that only plastic and fiberglass tanks are watertight options. The truth is that precast concrete tanks, compared with alternative materials, are cheaper to produce and have longer life cycles when properly manufactured.
A few manufacturers continue to deliver poor-quality tanks that leak, which forces state agencies and private firms to seek other products to meet current demands. This is done for a number of reasons that are unfair to the customer and environment. Who wants to purchase a new car only to find that the oil pan has a drip because the manufacturer decided to use a $1.25 oil pan gasket rather than a higher-quality $3 gasket? We all need to stop telling customers what they need and start delivering what they want: quality, watertight
There are several advantages to producing high-quality, watertight precast concrete tanks. For starters, it will increase your sales volume. Growing markets, such as decentralized on-site wastewater systems, are emerging and are still on the upside of the growth curve. Few precast manufacturers are willing to invest in watertight concrete tanks for various reasons. Either you or your competition will be the first in line to meet the demand, and being last to the table offers far less growth potential for your company.
It is not realistic to expect zero defects in any manufacturing process; however, it is possible to reduce the defects to such a low occurrence that production workers spend more time earning money (being productive) and less time being counterproductive and delaying pour schedules. Defects interrupt hectic mornings, repairs take up valuable time reserved for daily preparations, and precious yard space is devoted to the storage of the defective products while they wait for repairs.
Lowering product defects will be the most notable difference toward watertight products in your manufacturing process. Production crews will have extra time on their hands once the routine for producing quality, watertight tanks has been established. More importantly, delivery drivers will no longer arrive on job sites with tanks that have water splashing out of the seams and show visible cracking. Once local inspectors and contractors begin to see lasting improvements to your product line, an attitude shift begins to occur. Inspectors will no longer overlook your company when contractors and customers inquire about quality products and where to purchase them.
Engineering firms and utilities are demanding watertight tanks for use in their projects. The water is pumped out of the tank to on-site treatment facilities. Recirculating sand filters are an example of this type of system, and if ground and/or surface water infiltrates the tank, the system will eventually exceed capacity and fail. The design criteria for these systems do not allow for much error in daily flow volumes. Supplying a watertight tank is critical to the performance and longevity of these systems, and engineers and utilities will pay for a higher-quality watertight tank that meets these demands.
Projects that demand watertight tanks generally require hundreds of tanks per development to be supplied over short periods of time. Engineering firms specifying these projects want to see quality control programs, raw material testing and continual checks on plant operations by independent agencies. While these requirements may sound like a hassle, they are really easy to achieve. In fact, once you start documenting processes and test results, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Marketing is the single most important way to separate yourself from your competition. The biggest reason to market your company is because your competition is more than likely not marketing his product. If you launch a successful campaign, you will start seeing returns that pay for the marketing within a few months. Name recognition is everything in any business, and not every installer knows that your company exists. My company found that approximately 75 percent of the regional installers did not know about our company. It was a hard pill to swallow when I heard that statistic, even though we have been producing septic tanks for three generations spanning more than 40 years, which makes us one of the oldest septic tank manufacturers in our state.
There is little doubt that word-of-mouth advertising will happen and do a great job for you. With the demand for quality, watertight tanks outpacing most plants’ ability to maintain supply, a large gap develops between how fast word-of-mouth and a small marketing campaign gets the word out. At the very least, a small marketing campaign will be needed to reach specifiers and potential customers. Placing something as small as a brochure into the right hands will generate the curiosity that leads to phone calls and long-term relationships while spreading the good news that your plant is producing a product that the customer sees as highly desirable.
Producing quality, watertight tanks places your company in a prime position to easily market your product as a better and more viable long-term solution compared with your competition. This aspect of producing watertight tanks is almost always overlooked as an advantage because most precasters steer clear of spending extra dollars that do not produce immediate and direct returns. When installers realize that you are saving them time and problems, the local inspectors will begin to notice. Turn the tables and host a lunch-and-learn or invite the inspectors in for a plant tour. You will be surprised how they will become your best salesmen because they can see the quality compared with other manufacturers.
This leads to having a great reputation for manufacturing and supplying the highest-quality products in your region. Homeowners are taking more of a role when making purchasing decisions concerning their new homes. If you don’t believe me, ask any homebuilder, or ask me how many e-mail messages a day we get from concerned homeowners wanting more information on our products. Homeowners will demand superior products when they are aware of a company’s reputation. That leads to phone calls or Web site visits to learn more about your company and products.
Manufacturing watertight quality tanks is easy
It is hard to put a price difference between doing something and doing something correctly. Another common belief among precasters is that it takes too much time and money to produce a quality, watertight tank with installers who just want the cheapest tank available. When management and ownership are committed to producing quality products, the production work force jumps on board, which makes the high-quality production standards easier to implement.
Completing NPCA’s Production and Quality School (PQS) for management and production employees is a cheap and effective method for explaining solid concrete manufacturing techniques. Topics covered in the Level 1 certification include: the use of quality concrete; proper consolidation; quality sealants; and appropriate reinforcement placement.
These techniques can become entrenched in the daily manufacture of products and add little to production time and possibly reduce the total time spent manufacturing products and inventory life cycles.
How much extra money is needed to produce a quality precast concrete watertight tank, and what is the key for achieving this goal? If your company uses a mix design that achieves a compressive strength of 4,000 psi or greater (at 28 days) and practices proper vibration and/or consolidation techniques, you just need to ensure that you are following up with the small details.
Most manufacturers will spend only an extra three minutes and a few dollars more per form when manufacturing septic tanks. Proper reinforcement bedding chairs and stands are cheap and keep your rebar and/or wire embedded in the concrete properly, which maximizes strength. High-quality sealant costs only a few cents more per foot and can take a tank from probably watertight to guaranteed watertight. Preand post-pour inspections generally take less than a minute per form and catch improper form setups, reinforcement troubles and hammers being cast into the products. This means that fewer costly mistakes are made during manufacturing.
Embrace and advance the philosophy of quality, watertight tanks and take back sales from inferior concrete manufacturers and alternative material tank providers. The market for precast concrete tanks will continue to shrink if current attitudes and product quality standards are not changed by precast concrete tank manufacturers. Some precast tank manufacturers believe that producing a quality, watertight tank is not financially feasible. The profitable and growing precast tank manufacturers believe they cannot afford to not produce a quality, watertight tank.
Earnings and future growth potential will continue to shrink if the small precast tank manufacturer continues to ignore the current situation. The perception is that concrete tanks are not watertight, and this myth is partially perpetuated by the very concrete manufacturers who produce them. Prove that the perception is not the reality and produce a quality, watertight tank that will market your business in an evergrowing market. Why not make the best decision your business can make? The alternative tank manufacturers are betting against our ability to educate, produce and market quality, watertight tanks.
Eric Barger is president of Barger & Sons Inc., a manufacturer of septic tanks, grease traps, pump tanks, catch basins and other precast concrete products, based in Harriman, Tenn.
Visit his company’s Web site at www.BargerAndSons.com