Then & Now is a new series for Precast Inc. magazine this year. Each issue, NPCA will catch up with companies previously featured in what was then called MC magazine.
By Kirk Stelsel
For the first Then & Now feature, NPCA caught up with Dan Barbour and Amy Burnett of Barbour Concrete in Independence, Mo. Barbour Concrete was featured in the Fall 1995 issue of MC magazine. At the time of the story, their parents, Jim and Daneen, were running the company. Dan had just joined full time the year prior, and Amy would join it the following year. Dan now serves as company president, while Amy is vice president. Barbour Concrete is proudly celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Q: Your feature article in the Fall 1995 issue of MC magazine focused on adapting your company to changes in the industry and the marketplace at that time. How much has your company changed in the 25 years since that time?
A: The biggest, craziest thing we have seen was the impact of the 2008 recession and the fact that we were able to survive it while others were not. We still make a lot of the same products, as well as some new ones. We are also proud to be celebrating our 75th anniversary this year.
Things change through the generations. Our dad would tell the story about when his father got so upset when he bought a $400 calculator. Now, we are buying $100,000 pieces of equipment or doing things that he had a hard time wrapping his mind around. When he started in this, he never had the thought of us having the need or the ability to pick up 100,000 pounds. The size of our products and the scope of the projects we work on has grown.
Q: When that story ran, your parents (Jim and Daneen) were running the company. Now, you two have left your mark on it. How do you think each of your parents would feel about the company today and where it is headed?
A: Mom passed away very early in that span, but dad continued to be involved and was a sounding board until about two-and-a-half years ago. The transition was never scheduled or mapped out for us. It’s been an evolutionary thing. From mom’s perspective, I think she’d be very proud. Dad was very proud.
Q: What were some of the best lessons your parents taught you?
A: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Work hard. Take notes. Base hits score runs – you don’t have to swing for the fences every time. Be realistic.
Q: Another key aspect to the story was your reliance on employees for not only the day-to-day business, but also helping you identify where you need to grow and change. Talk a little about the team you have today and their contributions to the company.
A: Some of those people who were here when that first article was written are still here. One gentleman who retired at the end of 2020 was here 46 years. He would have seen our grandfather, our father and now us run the business. We have another who has been here more than 30 years in the office. More than 70% of our staff has been with us 7-10 years or more. We have a lot of people involved who have been here across the generational gap, and we are trying to find the next generation of people who will keep us going into the next generation. They feel like they are a part of the family, and we treat them with respect.
Q: Dan, you talked about training in that article. How has your approach to training changed over the years?
A: Once we feel like they are a fit, we start training them to be more productive, more efficient and to better understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. I think NPCA’s training validates what we tell them. NPCA has been a tremendous help to us so that it’s not just us, but there is another source telling them how and why things are done.
Q: What are big shifts you see coming in the next 25 years?
A: One of the biggest shifts I see will be with labor. When I came back here in 1994, I told my father that my guess was that blue collar workers would be in short supply, and he thought I was crazy. But here we are having trouble finding that type of labor. People don’t seem to want to get into the trades anymore, and we lost so many construction workers during the recession who never came back. We have not come close to replacing that.
Q: Your father spoke about the importance of his NPCA network to generate new ideas and solve problems. How important has your NPCA network been to you two during your time leading the company?
A: It goes back before we even worked here. Growing up, their friends were always around so it’s a lifetime thing. We remember being little tikes in 1974 when the Convention was in Kansas City for the first time and the Board of Directors dinner was at our house. Mom and dad always said they had to give back to the industry because the industry had given them what they had. It’s extremely important to continue those relationships. The transition was fairly seamless because we all saw those things were important and wanted to help each other. Our plant manager was just talking to me about a relationship he has developed. Our employees who travel with us are learning and understand the importance of it. You’re going to get back twice as much as what you put into it.
Q: At the time of that story, your kids were still young, and you didn’t know if any would be interested in joining the business. How has the next generation played into the family business?
A: We both have a son involved with the company, both working on trying to understand and learn the industry. Both are Master Precasters and travel with us to the shows. They are starting their lives in the industry. We’re not ready to be done, and we don’t know what the timeline looks like, but it will be an evolution. We’ll remain flexible and make sure they learn the entire business. In this industry, and at this size, you don’t think about retirement or “chase the rabbit” to retirement. Our parents stayed involved, and we will as well. You just get a little bit longer vacation. Our dad knew what was going on pretty much until he passed.
Q: What are you hopes for Barbour Concrete for the next 25 years?
A: I don’t think I can dream to that point because a lot of stuff is evolutionary. My grandparents would have said bird baths and flower pots were the greatest thing. Dad said manholes were going to be the greatest thing. Now we’re doing telecommunications shelters, retaining walls and a lot of other things that have just been a part of the natural progression.
Kirk Stelsel is the vice president of communications at NPCA.