Story and Photos by Sara Geer
Turning Pro-Cast Products into a one-stop shop for precast products in Southern California has been one of the keys to the company’s success in an increasingly competitive precast market.
The competitive advantage of a diverse product line, initiated by Warren Taylor, president of Pro-Cast Products, keeps the company ahead of its competitors who may spend time and resources focusing on producing one or two specialty items. The company, located 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Highland, California, not only produces a wide variety of drainage products, but also manufactures wall panels, barriers and paving slabs.
“I think the more you have to offer, the more one-stop shopping you have with customers,” said Taylor. “Offer more items, then they don’t need to shop anywhere else.”
Taylor said cultivating a competitive spirit has always been in his blood, even before coming to the company in 1997. He got involved in the precast industry at an early age while working for his father’s company Rampart General, which was known for making unique, custom precast masonry fireplaces. There, he moved up within the company working in sales and later added new product lines, including sound walls, with his father.
All the right elements
Prior to Taylor’s arriving, Pro-Cast Products had all the needed elements for success lined up – a great location, access to concrete on-site and a great starting product: septic tanks.
The company started in 1987 after purchasing MC Nottingham, a septic tank company. The workers from MC Nottingham, known still as the septic tank crew, then ventured over to Pro-Cast Products to start a new precast company with the owner of Robertson’s Ready Mix, a ready mix operation located next door.
“We’re located in the sand and gravel pits, so the aggregate that we use to make the ready mix is mined on-site,” Taylor said. “We have a leg up on our ready mix because the aggregate doesn’t need to be trucked to another site.”
Combining the years of precast expertise with the temperate California weather, an old trailer and a 5-acre start-up manufacturing facility, Pro-Cast Products was on its way to “holding its own,” Taylor said. Today, the old trailer and five acres have grown into a 28-acre manufacturing facility equipped with golf carts for each supervisor on staff.
King of k-rail
Taylor said manufacturing DOT precast traffic barriers is how Pro-Cast Products started getting the attention of area general engineering contractors. With the capacity to make 1,400 ft of k-rail, also known in the east as Jersey barrier, a day, it’s no secret the company is known as the “king of k-rail.”
“There have been plenty of times where we’re in full production six to seven months out of the year in order to meet the contractor’s schedule,” Taylor said. “We can produce over a mile a week.”
The company stocks about 50,000 ft of new k-rail in inventory at any given time – adding one more advantage against competitors. In June, the company purchased more than 100,000 ft of used k-rail back from contractors that will be refurbished and sold again. The k-rail came from a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles that was closed for a weekend in 2011, a gridlock nightmare locals called “carmageddon.”
“On that project, we sold about 25 miles of k-rail and the job is just closing now,” Taylor said. “We didn’t want the contractor selling it to all our other customers, so we bought it.”
Following the success of k-rail, ideas to develop other product lines started churning for Taylor, including sound walls and L-Walls. Today, the company uses SoundSorb, a proprietary product by Concrete Solutions Inc., based in Austin, Texas, on its well-developed sound wall line. Taylor said SoundSorb absorbs 90% of the sound energy that hits the wall. “It’s a great product,” he said.
And L-Walls, an instant retaining wall system, have proven to be a safe time-saving product by allowing workers on a project to repair the sides of a freshwater channel without shutting the water off. The panels went into the water right next to each other with an expandable watertight seal, and allowed workers behind the barrier to complete the concrete repair work. “They were very happy with it,” he said.
Taylor said he continues to diversify product lines every year by adding different sizes, shapes and types of products to keep his customers coming back for business. It also helps the company survive and thrive year after year.
“We never know what products are going to carry us through the next year,” said Taylor. “Maybe we’ll have a soundwall that’s really big or a box culvert and sometimes we get them all at once, which is good too. It has been hectic the last couple of years.”
Staying on top
Taylor believes that “keeping his eyes” open when looking at construction products out to bid improves his company’s chances to stay on top of customer needs. He regularly reviews green sheets, plans or specs that come through his office each day. The strategy encourages finding solutions to better answer customer demands. Pro-Cast Products deals mainly with a customer base that is 70% general engineering contractors and 30% general contractors or residential.
“I’ve been in construction and building most of my life and I keep my eyes open to just see what’s out there,” Taylor said. “To me its not that tough of a leap to figure out what I’m going to need and how much we’re willing to spend on it.”
Often, the company will repurpose a previous product or project to fulfill a new customer request. For an example, when a customer contacted him interested in a small order of 40 ft of concrete barrier to be used as a retaining wall – a product not in stock – he had to think about what similar item he could offer. That’s when he realized he had some L-Walls from another project that could work.
“You know, that will work for us,’ he told me,” Taylor said. ‘“You help him out on this one and maybe he calls me on the next one.”
Taylor said having the company certified by NPCA has also given it the opportunity to manufacture more products at a quicker rate. “We take quality control seriously,” Taylor said. “Being certified by NPCA and self-inspecting is a nice feature and also less mistakes saves money. You only have to make the product once since you have a QC department checking and double checking. There is that benefit.”
Paving the future
Volume is an important criteria Taylor favors when considering if a product is suitable for precast. For this reason, he feels the immense volume of paving panels demanded by Caltrans in the next few years has the potential to take the company to another level of success.
Caltrans recently bought into the idea of using precast pavement for repairing damaged highways since it’s less expensive and more convenient for the public.
“In all my years in precast, through my dad’s company and a couple other companies, I’ve never seen anything with so much sheer volume potential as paving,” Taylor said.
The company, after receiving approval by Caltrans to be a prestressed manufacturer, has even purchased a second stressing deck to meet the high demands. The extra 300 ft of prestressing line is a good selling point for bidding on upcoming work.
“What I believe is that the paving market isn’t going to be so much about price, but capacity,” Taylor said. “They (Caltrans) are going to say, ‘Who can get me 40-50 panels a day.’ And we’re going to say, ‘We can!’”
However, precast paving is also a tough project since it’s still in the infancy stages of development and experts keep changing their minds on how to best produce the product.
“It’s frustrating because you get to a point where you think you know what you are building in the future,” said Taylor. “Then it changes a week later. There are still more changes to come, but that’s part of the pioneering process.”
He believes the company has a leg up in the paving continuum due to pretensioning panels and offering the capacity other precast companies could not. Being ahead of the curve when it comes to figuring out how to make a product easier, faster and better is a common trend at Pro-Cast Products – a trend Taylor sees sticking around for many years to come.
“I like every advantage I can get,” Taylor said. “I’m a creative thinker and I’m, like most precasters, always trying to figure out how to do it better and faster.”
Sara Geer is NPCA’s internal communication and web manager, and is managing editor of Precast Inc.