Relationships are the heart of Pretech Corporation’s growth and success.
Article and photos by Matt Werner
Bill Bundschuh knows the precast concrete industry is a competitive place. But he also knows nobody will beat his company at cultivating and maintaining relationships, which has fueled Pretech Corporation for the past 26 years.
Built on relationships
Bill likes to joke that he conned his dad and father-in-law to lend him money to start his own company in 1993 before conning his brother Bob into being his business partner. It was a small operation, sitting on 1.5 acres of land with about 1,500 square feet of production space.
The size of the operation didn’t matter to Bill, though, since he had big visions, and, thanks to one of the first relationships he cultivated, the company began to grow.
Pretech typically worked seven days per week. A local utility contractor started stopping by the plant on Sundays to talk shop.
“Finally, he gave us a job that had nine inlets on it,” Bill said. “He told us he needed five the first day and four the second day, and I told him we could only make three a day. So, he goes, ‘Okay, I need three the first day, three the second day and three the third day.’”
Pleased with the product – and the relationship – the contractor started giving the company more work. The contractor could tell Pretech was going to stay for a while and gave Bill two rules – keep working hard and be honest.
“He told me he’d give us all the work we could do,” Bill recalled. “If he ever gave us too much, he’d take some away, but if we could handle more, he’d give us more.
“He was true to his word except if I told him we couldn’t get the work done, he’d say, ‘Oh, sure you can.’”
Careful attention was given to each step of engineering, production and the transport process to help build a positive reputation for the new company. For instance, they would manually load upgrade rings into a pickup truck, place foam between them and deliver them to job sites by themselves to ensure none would be damaged.
“Now, we may or may not have brought the guys in the field beers, but we got to build relationships with those guys,” Bill joked. “We gave our time to the guys out in the field so then they’d tell their bosses, ‘Hey, go out and buy from Pretech; they took care of us last time.’”
Bill knows the numbers and knows he’s not the lowest bidder on a project, yet that doesn’t really matter to him if you have the right relationships.
“You can always be beat on price,” he said. “You can lose every job on price, and that’s why we have to sell based on relationships. Our niche is our relationships.
“It’s the value that we add, and that’s different for every contractor. A guy won’t pay you just because you’re his buddy. But if you build that trust and he knows you’re going to take care of him, that’s a big part of it.”
Bill said they will redesign products, make things differently, show a contractor how to make something precast instead of cast-in-place and more to provide value.
“We’ll precast a space shuttle,” he joked. “I wouldn’t fly in it, but if you give us something to do, we’ll figure out how to do it.”
That mindset permeates throughout the company. Bill’s brother Mike started at Pretech in 1996 on a temporary basis and is now the vice president of operations.
According to Mike, it’s not just about having that relationship but how you deal with problems that build trust and lead to more business.
“If somebody has a problem in the field, you’ve got to take care of them,” he said. “We fix it, then we’ll worry about who’s going to pay for it. It’s about keeping the guys in the field happy.
“As long as those guys aren’t complaining about it being a bad product or being behind schedule, that’s the biggest thing.”
Even things as simple as answering a phone call with live voice and conducting face-to-face meetings provide value and help build a relationship.
“With all the technology, what’s becoming difficult to do is staying in touch with your customers and keeping that relationship going,” Bill explained. “ taken a lot of relationship building out of our industry, and that’s what we really push. We want our salesmen to go out.”
Getting through the downturn
Bill can still remember the day in 2009 when Mike came into his office and told them they didn’t have any work. Confused, Bill asked him if he meant they didn’t have any work approved or no work at all. Mike had to tell him – they had no work at all.
The economic downturn hit everyone hard, but it hit Pretech like a ton of precast. For years, Bill watched his company grow 20% every year. They added new buildings, new office space and even an automated Schlusselbauer pipe machine.
“I could owe somebody $100,000 and only have $10 in the bank and not be worried,” Bill said of his pre-downturn mindset. “The downturn beat that out of me.”
Pretech went from 60% of their business being housing developments in 2008 to having none in 2009. Adding more heartbreak to the situation, Bill’s father, who helped found the company and was always around to bounce ideas off of, got sick.
“It was two blows at one time, and I think we could have weathered the storm better had he been around,” Bill said. “We just went from my knowledge and his knowledge combined to where it was just me.”
But, thanks to those earlier relationships, Pretech was able to get through those difficult years. Suppliers Bill had been doing business with would extend credit or deadlines to pay. Contractors he knew would pay ahead of time because they knew Pretech needed help. But as the company began to turn around, so did Pretech, with more business coming back online, and the pipe machine continuing to pay dividends.
Bill will also be quick to mention dedicated employees helped them through the Great Recession. Having good relationships with plant floor employees is important to Bill, and it results in having many long-time plant employees.
Jeremy Haskin, the plant manager for the dry cast division, has been with the company for 21 years.
“They’ve always been good to me and given me a lot of opportunities,” he said. “They treat us like family and helped me out in a lot of ways. Bill’s always got an open door, and he treats everybody like a friend.”
Poised to grow
After the recession, Bill’s dreams of being a giant operation with four plants went away, but he still sees growth on the horizon from expanding into new markets to increasing product lines and automation.
His children, Ryan and Kaitlynn, are heavily involved with the company now and are there to help take the business into the future and challenge their dad along the way.
“They had their set way, but when Ryan and I came in, it’s a new generation and new technology,” Kaitlynn said. “We’re pushing them to change. When I came in, it was all paper and pencil, but we’re trying to switch gears to keep up with everyone else.”
Ryan also mentioned the companies his dad has had relationships with for years are also being passed down to the next generation, with more relationships being developed between the kids.
“A lot of contractors, their sons are taking over, and they’re coming from the same boat we are,” he noted. “They’re tech driven. So, we’re starting to see some of the old methods fade out, and we still keep our relationships up with them.”
The relationships Bill has cultivated with fellow NPCA members has helped the company grow too.
“We buy the best products out there, but a lot of it is driven by relationships we have with our reps and salesmen,” he explained. “We do a lot with that and depend on that. The knowledge from people in NPCA between visiting plants and just being involved is phenomenal.
“The relationships are just as important as all of the things at The Precast Show. Getting to know fellow members in the bar in the evening is just as important as the show itself for us.”
And that’s what it all boils down to for Bill – relationships. Whether it’s bringing some beer out to the guys in the field or strengthening communication between generations of employees, Bill knows the value of building and maintaining relationships and sees it every day when going to work.
Matt Werner is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s communication manager.