By Kirk Stelsel, CAE
When Shiloh Garies, Esta Setter, Judy Furey and Kathy Maguire reminisce about their parents, Barney and Rosemarie Maguire, the memories flood the room with laughter and smiles.
These four sisters are the foremost authorities on the early years of Allied Concrete Products, the company their parents founded. As they think back, they remember how their father “always wanted to start a business of his own” and how he “couldn’t have started it without mom.”
A typesetter by trade, Barney’s goal came to fruition after a trip to California where he picked up the Kansas City-area license for a BBQ and incinerator system. Back then, yards were often outfitted with both. What started as a business out of the family’s basement has endured to third-generation ownership and fourth-generation involvement. The company also celebrated a milestone business anniversary of 70 years in 2018.
Making the grade below grade
As Judy remembers it, the family set off to California with their trailer in tow and camped their way across the country. The six-week journey netted not only priceless memories but the franchise license that would serve as the genesis for the family company.
Once back home, the Maguires eased into the business. In fact, it wasn’t even Barney’s full-time gig when he started out. He made concrete products during the day and remained a typesetter at night to ensure he could provide for his family.
Production was done in the family’s basement, including pouring the products using sack cement, applying the exterior patterns and painting the metal components.
To this day, none of his daughters can figure out why Barney chose concrete given his background in typesetting and his family make up.
“Everybody thinks it’s very funny that Barney opened a concrete company, and he has four daughters,” Judy said. “He was looking for a franchise of some kind and probably found this in a magazine and that led him down that road.”
“He could have gone with dressmaking or something, but concrete…” Esta chimed in, her emphasis on the word concrete, which led to an eruption of laughter from the room.
Whatever the reason, the decision stuck. The company, then under a different name, sold its products not only out of the side yard of the family home but eventually at top stores in the area such as Sears and Montgomery Wards. Some models were stand-alone, while others had the incinerator in the back BBQ in front. As time went on, the company took on the Allied Concrete moniker it bears today.
The three eldest daughters remember going down to the basement in the evenings to paint doors by hand and press on the pieces that showed the patterns. The trip down memory lane also dredged up Judy’s embarrassment of being dropped o at school in the company’s delivery truck.
“That embarrassed me to death, so I made him drop me off at the top of the hill, and I walked in from there,” she said with a big smile on her face.
As the operation grew, so did the need for space. In 1952, Barney and Rosemarie built the family’s first plant. At the start, everything was still manufactured by hand. The workers used bridge cranes on pulley systems they operated manually, and mixed bagged concrete prior to making the transition to a batching system. It grew twice at that location before the government moved them to the company’s current location due to persistent flooding from a nearby river.
“The joke I always heard was when the truck with the cement showed up, you couldn’t find anybody,” said Pete Furey, Judy Furey’s son who now manages the business.
As the industry and company evolved, Barney added a 1964 Praschak mixer that not only still stands in the company’s current location, but is fully operational next to a much newer batching and mixing configuration installed by Mixer Systems roughly four years back.
The additional space, Barney’s drive for innovation, along with the advent of Weber grills and Kansas City’s banning of incinerators, eventually led to a new product line, a 500-gallon tank, that put the company on its current trajectory.
One thing Barney was never accused of being in his life was complacent, and he brought that mindset to his company every day. It’s a skillset every small business owner must bring to the table, especially when the company is young. Whether it was tweaks to the plant, production practices or adding new product lines, his mind was always thinking two steps ahead. Kathy described him as a “voracious reader,” and said after he read something that intrigued him, he would think it through and then figure out how to implement it in his business.
One example that has paid dividends for decades was placing a plate with the company’s name into the form for its parking blocks, putting a logo on every piece. While it was a minor change in terms of physically placing the plates in the forms, the name recognition it generated was far more significant. Pete said they still get calls to this day from that product line, and not always just for parking blocks.
“That story about him thinking to get a name plate and imprinting the name on the curb was his mantra and his claim to success,” Kathy said. “He was such a forward thinker and entrepreneur.”
Later in his career, he worked in tandem with his son-in-law and grandsons to add product lines such as fencing. Allied has now installed more than 30,000 feet in the Kansas City area. The company also started doing specialty products as it evolved, some of which have transcended the generations.
For example, Barney manufactured roof channel slabs for a power plant before Pete was involved. The only reason Pete knew about the project was from finding the forms while doing an inventory count. Roughly 33 years after the original slabs had been installed, a contractor called Pete saying his boss knew Allied had made the original product and they needed more. The plant had an explosion and needed to replace more than 80 slabs. With the forms still on hand, Allied poured new products to replace the damaged slabs.
“We’ve never been afraid to try new things,” Pete said. “We had to get versatile, so we do stair treads and other specialty items like sound walls and signs that allow us to be productive when we’re slow in one area. That’s one of the nice things about the construction industry, there’s always another avenue somewhere and you may not see it right away but after a while it shows itself.”
Today, the product line is heavily focused on wastewater products, including aeration tanks, septic tanks, holding tanks, cisterns and grease interceptors. The company takes great pride in the aeration tanks it manufactures for Norweco, up to a 1,500-gallon-per-day system, and has added forms in recent years to add capabilities and to meet a wide array of customer needs.
Pete is also keenly aware of the fact that community support of the company over the decades has been able to keep the business going for 70 years. To thank them, he finds ways to give back. One example is the company works with veteran-focused charities and donates tanks to pay them back for their service to the country.
Although Judy and her husband Mike were the family to take ownership in Allied Concrete, family is never far away, and the company is never far from the family’s thoughts. Shiloh and Esta said to this day everyone down to their grandkids never passes a parking block without looking to see if it bears the Allied name. Kathy and Judy are also part owners of a sister company, Residential Sewage Treatment. Allied sells approximately 50% of the company’s wastewater products to the sister company.
Survive and thrive
Through the years, the family company has meant many things to many people. Barney and Rosemarie’s daughters joke that summer jobs in the plant were the No. 1 instigator for kids, grandkids, cousins and family friends to get their college degrees. For Barney and Rosemarie, it was a lifelong endeavor.
“They were very proud of the company,” Shiloh said. “And we were all very proud that they had their own business. I think when you start something like that, just like your own children, you don’t ever really give up ownership.”
Pete said Barney and Rosemarie always found a way to keep their foot in the door to keep an eye on things. Judy, Mike and Pete were always happy to have them around, although sometimes it led to generational differences, which typically emerge after a handoff. Judy recalled one that still makes her laugh to this day.
“The office and the bathroom were one room,” Judy said. “There was a cutout in the wall where the phone sat so you could work from either side. After my husband took over, he built an office, a room next to the bathroom, and Barney was hysterical, saying, ‘Why do we need an office?’”
While Rosemarie passed away five years ago and Barney has been gone for 10, their presence is always felt. For Pete, the task at hand is to honor the company his grandfather built, and his father grew, while also pushing it forward into future. His son, Kyle, has been involved for a decade, and Pete hopes it will continue.
“In my ideal world, I’d hope that Allied can survive and thrive because it’s provided for our family for 70 years and I hope it can continue,” he said. “I think precast is unlimited in its potential. All the different products that are being produced out of precast is awesome.”
“The family is very honored and knows things like this don’t typically happen,” he added. “It’s a nice feeling that my mom and my aunts are here to take part in it.”
And with that the story had been told. The four sisters looked around the room and the knowing smiles and nods of agreement made one last appearance. The gestures conveyed everything – the pride, joy, bond and hope they all felt – without needing to say a single word.
Kirk Stelsel, CAE, is NPCA’s director of communication.