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Promoting Tilt-Up in a Non-Tilt-Up Market

by: Kimberly Corwin

What does it take to get a new construction concept started? A farming background.

I am a farmer’s daughter from the Midwest transplanted into East Greenwich, RI. I have been in the construction industry for over 20 years. For the last 5 years I have been on a mission to promote and grow Tilt-Up in a non Tilt-Up (masonry dominated) market. I am proud to say Tilt-Up is here and I credit my success to my farm background.

There are a lot of similarities between farming and construction: Both are labor intensive industries. Both have to contend with Mother Nature on a regular basis. Both industries have grown exponentially in the last 20 years and both are made up of honorable hard working men and women.

Growing up on a farm in Iowa I learned 2 things: hard work is a part of life and it’s up to you to get the job done.

On the farm, no matter how tired you were, the chores persisted regardless of fatigue and the animals weren’t going to feed themselves. They depended on you; in fact, the entire farming operation depended on each person completing his or her work. There were many days when I wanted to stay in bed, play hooky or just give up. But my parents taught me the value of perseverance and the reward of a job well done.

I also learned that if I wanted to have any energy left to go the football game Friday night, I had better learn to work smarter and not just harder. Loading 5-gallon buckets of water into the front end of the skid loader was a lot more efficient (and easier on the back) than carrying them by hand, two at a time. Efficiency and Speed: two key components of tilt-up construction.

I came on board AH Harris in September of 2003 from a distribution company in Florida, a Tilt-Up dominated market. As I looked around the New England area I was amazed at how much masonry construction still existed. Had someone forgotten to tell these people that the average age of the mason is 58? That no young adults are actively pursuing careers in laying block? And that you could build a Tilt-Up building in half the time? I have 5 teenagers and I can’t even get them to mow the lawn let alone consider a career in physical labor. I started talking to contractors about Tilt-Up, but I kept getting the same response. “We don’t do that here” and “You can’t do tilt-up in our New England winters”.

Well I was not going to give up that easily. I had to prove to them what I knew was truth – Tilt-Up could and would work in New England. Despite the objections and disbelief, I knew for a fact that Tilt-Up had been utilized in New England. I contacted the TCA and got a list of projects in the area. Most of them had been completed by fellow Midwesterners, Clayco and Korte, but Cutler had a presence here as well. No offense boys, but as a local supplier, I wanted to see my contractors get a piece of the Tilt-Up pie. I took pictures, I went to the TCA Symposium in Atlanta, GA, became certified to present Tilt-Up, and I began chanting my mantra “Tilt-Up is Here.” It was like planting a seed in the fertile soil.

The presentation begins with 30 slides of existing Tilt-Up buildings in MA, CT, NJ, NY, ME, some of which are already 20 years old and several of which were poured in the dead of winter. I set up speaking engagements with any concrete organization that had a monthly meeting and needed a speaker. I completed box lunches programs for architects and engineers. I coordinated internal education for key Account Managers within our organization.

My first breakthrough came in May 2006 when I was asked to speak to a large group on behalf of the CT Concrete Promotions Council. I finished my presentation and was doing some Questions and Answers when I was approached by Phil Clark of Claris Construction of Newtown, CT. Phil said “I want to do that, it just makes sense”. Success! My hard work had cultivated a connection. Phil is an architect, an engineer and an owner of his own general contracting company. It’s not every day you meet a three-in-one. I had a good feeling about Phil Clark and Claris – he is an innovator. I knew if I stuck with Claris, followed up and followed through, I could make this happen. Like a patient farmer waiting for the rain, I was ready.

I continued to be active in TCA, volunteering for committees and helping out at the annual conferences. One of the biggest benefits of being a TCA member is the networking opportunities. The Tilt-Up industry is one of the few that I have been involved with where the majority of the members are open to sharing information (tricks and techniques) with others in an effort to grow the industry.

The second breakthrough came while attending a TCA Conference in Denver, CO. Laurence Smith, then President of TCA, and I struck up a conversation about tilt-up in New England; I told Laurence “it was ripe for the picking”. I had been doing tilt-up presentations to Architects/Engineers/Contractors for almost three years. Masonry costs were rising and commercial construction was growing. Since Lindsay Contracting is a Nova Scotia based contractor, we also discussed the challenges of winter construction and how tilt-up was a great option. Laurence mentioned that his firm was an experienced tilt-up construction company and was considering opening a location in CT or MA. I could not believe my luck; a contractor with Tilt-Up experience and winter knowledge to boot moving into the heart of my territory. I was on it!

I continued to maintain contact with both Lindsay and Claris, partnering with them on presentations, introducing them to players (developers, owners, architects) in the market, introducing them to each other.

In September 2007, Lindsay was ready to open shop in CT but I had to commit to having everything they needed in inventory and ready to roll.

I went to my CEO, Bob Parsons, and explained my desire to have AH Harris be a significant player in the Tilt- Up market and the opportunity that being a full service supplier would offer to AH Harris. Bob listened and embraced the concept and empowered me with his personal commitment, financial commitment and most importantly, inventory. Through his contacts we were able to secure the Meadow Burke Tilt-Up line. We also went to other key vendors and negotiated stocking deals, Noxcrete, Victory Bear, Greenstreak to name a few. AH Harris is fully committed to Tilt-Up.

Here is what Bob has to say about Tilt-Up, “Part of our corporate mission statement pledges that we will lead our industry utilizing tomorrow’s technology. Although Tilt-Up is not new technology its use in the Harris marketing area was minimal at best. The chance to be “first” in any arena does not come often. We saw the benefits of Tilt-Up over then current Northeast construction methods making the commitment a “no brainer”. We believe in the process and Kim Corwin has worked tirelessly to introduce the concept in our area. The fruits of those labors have begun to pay off and we look forward to the increased acceptance of Tilt-Up construction in our marketplace and our participation in those projects. Tilt-Up affords everyone involved, owners, designers, contractors and suppliers a huge opportunity to add value to their companies and profits to their bottom line. It is truly a win-win process.”

Shortly thereafter, Lindsay Construction opened shop in Hartford, CT. They are in the process of constructing their fourth Tilt-Up project. Two have been completed in CT and two more in Mass. They are looking at several more. In a recent conversation I asked Laurence what he felt was the biggest obstacle of introducing Tilt-Up in our market,

“Debunking the myth that Tilt-Up is a warm climate warehousing building type has been our biggest challenge. As a result, convincing builders and owners that Tilt-Up can be a mainstream, cost efficient building system remains the focus of our marketing efforts. Once that obstacle is overcome, we have no problem generating repeat clients.”

Claris Construction now has two Tilt-Up buildings under their belt, an 18,000 SF building in the Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park, one of several planned for that development. After the first one was completed, Phil Clark was ready to take it to the next level. The father of three, Phil wanted to give back to the community and provide a facility that would be around for his children and generations to come, and was environmentally friendly or “green”. We brainstormed on a way to get the Tilt-Up message out to more people. The most visually impressive day of a Tilt-Up project is “lift day” – the sight of the massive crane lifting a gigantic piece of concrete like a feather and gently setting it in place. We decided we were going to use that to our advantage. On the second project, an 86,000 SF Youth Academy in Newtown, CT, Claris/AH Harris and Meadow Burke coordinated a “Show and Tell” BBQ. We invited almost 250 architects, developers, owners and key community members to the job site, the crane was on site, some panels were lifted and others were being lifted. The resounding “oohs” and “ahs” were almost deafening. I recently attended an internal Sales Manager’s meeting where for the past four years I have been telling them “tilt-up is coming”. This year I got to stand in front of them and thank them for their support and hard work because “tilt up is here in New England”.

So if you are trying to get Tilt-Up started in your market place, don’t give up. Network, tell the Tilt-Up story, educate, educate, educate, and, if possible, demonstrate. Tilt-Up construction is the fastest form of construction from conception to completion. And, the hottest topic right now is being “green” – Tilt-up concrete is sustainable. It is locally produced, it is energy efficient, it contains recycled materials and it can be recycled.

Maybe it’s just because of my background, but I think of growing Tilt-Up as farming, each day you need to plant seeds (educate new people), cultivate (be active in the TCA, learn about new concepts and products) and then reap what you have sown (watch Tilt-Up buildings being erected in your market).

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.