Faddis Concrete Products has evolved into a powerhouse in the precast industry with a dedication to tailor-made products and a knack for diversification.
By Mason Nichols
“Do the right thing” is a simple mantra. No matter what the situation, make decisions that are right for you and others without compromising quality or integrity. On paper, this sounds great. In practice, it is anything but simple, especially when faced with the challenges of the business world.
Delivering high-quality products to every client on every job requires a team of special employees who care deeply about their work. These employees must have access to the proper tools and equipment. You must provide a safe plant environment and develop a proven process of manufacturing that is followed on every project, no matter what the circumstances.
Recognizing this, Don Cooper, owner of Faddis Concrete Products, immediately got to work after purchasing the company in 1989. He knew that if he instilled the right culture from the onset, growth and success would follow. More than three decades later, Faddis Concrete is a booming enterprise, with six locations across Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina. While Cooper’s work has been a critical part of the company’s evolution, the team members at Faddis Concrete also deserve credit for making the business what it is today.
A grounded approach
Cooper had no prior experience in the precast industry prior to purchasing Faddis Concrete. However, he did have nearly 40 years of experience in banking, holding every position from teller to regional vice president. This background kept Cooper grounded. In the early years, he shoveled concrete, swept and painted side-by-side with production floor employees and could often be seen mowing the lawn at the company’s plant in Downingtown, Penn.
The company was successful in the 1990s, including expanding into the sound wall market, but remained small – employing just 25 team members. Cooper knew that the sound wall side of the business could grow much larger, so he sought to bring on new talent to maximize its potential. This led to hiring Bob Hess, president and chief operating officer, and Gary Figallo, new products and special projects manager, in 2000.
“Through different sources, Mr. Cooper bumped into the two of us, and we both had a variety of experience in precast concrete and specifically with sound walls,” Hess said. “Mr. Cooper is a ‘go-for-broke’ kind of person. With the size of the company at the time, this was either going to be total overkill or something great was going to happen – and something great happened.”
Hess and Figallo joined Faddis Concrete just one week apart. There was little diversification in the company’s product line at the time, and sales could sometimes be a challenge. The pair worked closely to develop a methodology of supporting projects that was fast, reliable and comfortable for the team. This methodology, which was created using a system that Hess brought to Faddis Concrete, allowed the company to bid on projects and quote work quickly and competitively with enhanced accuracy. As a result, the company quickly outgrew the capacity of the original plant in Downingtown, and within a few years opened new locations in Newcastle, Penn., and Kutztown, Penn.
Faddis Concrete was in the process of developing a special sound wall product manufactured from wood-fiber concrete. This product was eventually named AcoustaCrete. Jim Turner, who at the time was the plant manager in Downingtown – and was the first person Cooper hired in his venture into the sound wall market – was key in the development of AcoustaCrete. The product allowed Faddis Concrete to compete for a market share in sound absorptive walls.
The company also took advantage of a Federal Highway Administration requirement that all temporary safety barrier installed at the time be replaced with new product through NCHRP 350. The Kutztown plant was positioned adjacent to a stone quarry, resulting in a low cost of materials. These two things paired perfectly with a significant uptick in demand for safety barrier due to the FHWA requirement. There were days when the company shipped more than 100 loads of safety barrier in a 24-hour period, once maxing out at 140 loads, according to Clarence Mauser, plant manager of the company’s Kutztown, Penn., location.
“Between the sound absorption and the safety barrier, we were able to capitalize on opportunities,” Figallo said. “This is one of the reasons that we’ve had jobs throughout the East and the Midwest.”
With an opportunistic mindset, Faddis Concrete expanded into additional markets, eventually beginning operations at additional plants in Virginia and South Carolina.
Hess and Cooper also attribute the growth of the business over the past two decades to hard-working, dedicated team members at all six of the company’s locations, including:
- Bob Buchanan, Assistant Plant Manager (King George, Va.)
- Doug Carvell, Plant Manager (Downingtown, Penn.)
- Brandon Clemmer, Cast Stone Plant Manager (Downingtown, Penn.)
- Heather Lear, Project Manager (King George, Va.)
- Clarence Mauser, Plant Manager (Kutztown, Penn.)
- Jerry McNeal, Regional Plant Manager (Richburg, S.C., and King George, Va.)
- Jim Turner, Plant Manager (Newcastle, Penn.)
“It’s really about the people,” Hess said. “When you get people together that synchronize and work well as a team, you can do almost anything.”
Team members at Faddis Concrete are guided by the company’s “R.I.G.H.T.” core values system, which was developed by Hess in a nod to Cooper’s commitment to doing the right thing. With the company growing larger each year and adding more locations and employees, Hess explained a set of basic principles was necessary to guide operations. He had a few ideas in mind but turned to Figallo to develop an acronym that would solidify the company’s culture and stick with employees. As a result, the R.I.G.H.T. system was born:
- Responsibility: Be accountable for your decisions and actions at all times.
- Integrity: Be a person with high values, in speech and in actions.
- Good Quality of Life: Manage your work and leisure to be well-rounded and completely dependable.
- Honesty: Be totally truthful and trustworthy.
- Teamwork: Do what is necessary to make the team successful even when it is difficult.
The system tells Faddis Concrete team members that working diligently to deliver high-quality products to clients is a top priority, but also that the health and well-being of each team member is crucial. It also reminds workers that being accountable for your actions will set you back on the right path when adversity hits.
“R.I.G.H.T. is such a great set of values to live and work by,” Figallo said. “All these values working together free you up to be totally committed and totally honest about what you’re doing.”
As Hess explained, a significant portion of the work Faddis performs is in the above-ground category, meaning any mistakes made will be visible. But through the R.I.G.H.T. system, team members are encouraged to learn from mistakes and improve their work on future projects.
The company’s culture has attracted a slew of young talent to the team, including Bob Hess’s son Austin Hess, vice president of sales and engineering.
“One thing that’s contributed to the wave of younger people we’ve hired is that we are really looking for the person, individual and character – not so much the experience,” Austin said. “Instead, we’re willing to offer on-the-job training to help people develop here and do things the way that fits our culture.”
Bringing it all to bear
Faddis Concrete has worked on a variety of big projects throughout the years, including the Intercounty Connector in Maryland, which consisted of several hundred thousand square feet of sound wall and retaining wall panels. The company also manufactured more than 2 million square feet of sound wall for large-scale design-build projects on the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway and I-95 corridor south toward Fredericksburg, Va.
With projects of this size, one might surmise that Faddis Concrete’s products are cookie-cutter, with simplistic or repetitive designs. But Figallo noted that due to the very specific requirements associated with the work the company performs, every project can be considered custom.
“Walls can be sound-absorptive, have finishes on one side or both sides, and have a number of colors involved,” Figallo said. “We are fully committed to making the product that the owner or customer wants. In effect, every job is custom, requiring plenty of setup, approvals and quality controls to satisfy the parties involved.”
Austin agreed, adding that many of the sound wall and safety barrier projects begin with basic requirements, but then evolve based on clients’ specific needs.
Faddis Concrete completed a special project for Eversource Power Company earlier this year that required the company’s full range of capabilities, from meeting exacting specifications and tight tolerances to a high-end look. The work was completed in Greenwich, Conn., and comprised a substation perimeter wall in a residential and commercial area. The wall was produced with thin, clay-brick multi-level surfaces, a cast stone water table and coping on panels and pilasters. Many of the panel units were custom lengths, and each had to meet a specific aesthetic to match the architecture of an adjacent building. Faddis Concrete also fabricated the intricate formwork needed for the project and installed the brick into formliners provided by Architectural Polymers.
“In my mind, the Eversource project required every bit of talent that Faddis can bring to the table, from shop drawings to the concept, formwork and design,” Figallo said. “It came together beautifully. We just nailed it.”
Armed with ample talent, a strong group of employees and a vision that includes additional product diversification, Faddis Concrete is ready to continue advancing. According to Figallo, the team is seeking to add precast concrete pavement to their product line and will also consider adding environmental solutions to address issues such as river flooding and coastal erosion. And with the success of the Eversource project, the team will also seek more architectural precast work moving forward.
Wherever the company heads next, it will find the way there by continuing to heed Cooper’s words, extolling the benefits of doing the right thing through the Faddis Concrete core value system and maintaining the highest levels of quality and consistency.
“Our strength is really in our numbers,” Austin said. “We have so many people with multiple talent sets and the resources, experience and flexibility to overcome any obstacle.”
The senior Hess agreed.
“We’re flexible, but we’re also resilient,” he said. “You don’t see the type of growth we’ve had without a lot of tremendous people working hard and committing to do the right thing each and every day.” PI
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.