By Matt Werner
Jeff Opachinski knew he had his work cut out when he purchased a concrete company from his father in the 1980s. He took over an operation that only had a handful of customers, a couple of forms and virtually no experience in precast.
After 35 years in business, however, MBO Precast is showing how a relative newcomer can carve out a place in a competitive market and succeed. A mindset of doing whatever it takes helped get the company off the ground and propelled it to the future.
Self-taught precast knowledge
Opachinski grew up in the construction industry. His father owned a ready-mix concrete plant before branching out into precast.
When Opachinski was 23, he started manufacturing burial vaults and eventually took over the precast branch of his father’s company, which at the time had one truck and two forms. Soon, MBO was manufacturing septic systems and leaching systems.
“There was a huge learning curve, because I had no precast background,” said Opachinski, now president at MBO. “I learned a little bit on my own with the burial vaults. So, I knew a little bit about how precast worked, but everything was self-taught and whatever I could pick up.”
Slowly, MBO began adding additional employees and product lines to expand its customer base. Opachinski knew it would be tough to break through the Northeast market, going up against many companies that had been in business for more than 50 years.
“We couldn’t compete with a neighbor who could produce 20 manholes a day,” he said. “We didn’t have the money or the equipment to do it.”
MBO began stockpiling as many products as it could, manufacturing as many blank manhole structures as possible. Doing so allowed MBO to appeal to customers wanting product as quickly as possible.
“That’s how I pried my way into the market that was pretty well saturated,” Opachinski said. “That really enabled me to get into other product lines and other facets of the industry, and we just grew off that.”
MBO then began adding new equipment, including an automated mixer system in the 1990s, which fueled further growth. Eventually, it became clear the facility had reached its capacity in terms of production space and would need to expand.
As he started planning what type of facility the company would need, Opachinski knew he wanted to build the biggest and best facility the company could afford. One solution was doing some of the construction themselves to save money that could be invested into better equipment.
The 12,000-square-foot facility opened in 2007 and was ready to propel the company’s growth further, but that year wasn’t kind to the construction industry as the economy collapsed.
“It was a big move, and then all of a sudden, the economy died,” Opachinski said. “We’ve been rebuilding ever since that.”
The move was about as tough as it could be, and the company struggled to get financing. Rather than seeing the experience as a negative, Opachinski remains positive.
“Thank God we did build it because it opened us up to all kinds of new work and products,” he said. “It was real touch and go, but we were able to do a lot of the state work, which is all there was when the economy tanked.”
The former facility housed a 10-ton crane and a 5-ton crane. The new facility features two 15-ton cranes, a 10-ton crane and a 5-ton crane. New equipment and innovative technology allow MBO to efficiently manufacture more product. A larger yard provides more space to stock product. A new mixer and batching system allow workers to be more precise with mix designs. Indoor storage bins for aggregate allow production to continue even through the cold Massachusetts winters.
“We were able to take on a lot of different product lines, the big one being Stone Strong,” Opachinski said. “That really became a big staple in our product line, our volume, and it broadened what we were able to do.”
Getting a foot in the door
Pretty soon, MBO was taking on bigger projects and proving itself a major player in the Northeast. One of the first ventures that really put it on the map was a Cape Cod solar project that involved reclaiming landfills and the largest private solar project in the Northeast at the time. MBO produced precast concrete ballast blocks to support the panels.
Another project that drove expansion was a large Massachusetts Department of Transportation job that involved more than 1,400 precast concrete structures.
“We got our feet wet with some of the biggest clients in the area that were semi-untouchable because they had such long-standing relationships with other companies,”
Opachinski said. “We were able to get our foot in the door and prove that we could do the big projects.”
Opachinski credits his team for sticking with him and getting through the downturn. He’s proud that he never laid anyone off during those tough years. A large portion of his staff has been with him for more than 25 years, and his son Eric is heavily involved in the business, managing the day-to-day operations.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of experience who have seen a lot and done a lot,” Eric said. “That expertise really adds to what we provide for our customers, because a lot of experience goes a long way as far as getting a quality product out the door.”
Eric and Jeff point to the employees’ knowledge as a boost to the business, with most everyone working in production at one point or another.
“Everyone has gotten their hands dirty,” Eric said. “When a phone call comes in, you have someone that can answer your question, no matter what it is. They’re all experienced from being in the trenches.”
This approach helps MBO show its employees that working there can lead to a career rather than thinking of it as a paycheck.
“We’re always giving them goals and something to reach for,” Eric said. “People that come to work here see that there’s room for advancement and improvement. We try to instill that as soon as they get hired.”
Culture of quality and service
MBO also stresses the importance of quality and service in everything it does, and NPCA membership is critical to advancing those goals.
“NPCA is associated with quality,” Eric said. “Anybody that knows anything about the industry knows NPCA, and it’s a badge of honor and quality in our products.”
Several employees have gone through NPCA’s Production and Quality School, helping them advance their careers at the company and becoming a more integral member of the MBO team. That expanded knowledge creates a higher quality end product for the customer.
“Pre- and post-pour inspections are important to us,” Eric said. “There’s no margin for error – check, check, double-check. In the end, that helps us reduce waste and become more efficient.
“By doing all of that, you really have to pay attention to what you do and take pride in your work.”
That pride keeps permeating once a product is shipped out, ensuring that every customer’s need is met until the project is finished. Whether that’s sending a short load to get a piece to the client quicker or having crew members on site to assist with installation, MBO places a premium on customer service.
“I really think the service end of business is where we really push the envelope, and that’s why we are where we are,” Eric said. “We just really pride ourselves on taking care of the client, whatever they need. People don’t forget when you do them a favor or get them the structure they need or if you help them in an emergency.”
Jeff is quick to point to Eric’s efforts on that front for the company’s success – having more organization with quoting, following up on bids and even getting feedback on why they didn’t get a job.
“Having all that information has really opened up a lot of doors for us,” Jeff said. “We’re really dialed in on that end of things, and that helps us. If we lose a project, now we know what it is, which helps us dictate where we spend our time on the next round.”
Keep moving forward
The 2007-09 Great Recession could have sunk MBO, but thanks to a dedicated staff and a vision for the future, the company pulled through. It took years to recover, but MBO did and has continued to enjoy growth all the way through today. By getting its foot in the door and pushing the envelope on customer service, Eric and Jeff see more opportunities in the future.
The father and son team always looks for ways to improve the business and seek out new directions. Moving forward, they’re looking for ways to reinvest not only in the company but also in its employees.
“We’re just going to continue to try and grow and do what we’ve been doing that got us here,” Eric said. “We’re going to push the envelope on quoting as much work as possible and not denying any possibilities.
“We’re open to new customers, new product lines, and we’re going to explore any and all options that we feel is in our capability.”
Matt Werner is a former NPCA communications manager.