“Long Live The King!” Handling Priority Customer$

The number one cause of poor customer service are your priority customers.  Priority customers can call at the last minute and demand service for which this industry is all too willing to comply.  This of course means that the needed trucks are “stolen” from other customers causing them poor service.  This is the prime cause of the origination of the old Ready Mixed Concrete saw “We never hurt the same customer twice in a row”.  This is, of course, not a service statement but a reaction to providing poor service.  Why provide poor service even once? Continue reading “Long Live The King!” Handling Priority Customer$

That’s Not My Job!

Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s not my job.”? In today’s world, where so many options and opportunities assail us every day, the natural reaction is to try and focus on just a few things and specialize. This happens in our everyday, personal lives as well as our work life. From the homemaker, who knows how to cook 10 or 15 basic meals and cooks them over and over, to the computer programmer, who has programmed in 1 or 2 languages for 20 years and is now surprised to be out of a job, specialization has become the mantra of the past few generations.

This applies to the concrete industry as well. Vibrator operators don’t understand formwork and resteel fabricators don’t understand testing. This doesn’t just apply to the trades. Engineers don’t know the difficulties of delivering fresh concrete, and Architects don’t realize that a perfectly smooth concrete wall 40 feet high and 120 feet long is impossible to achieve. Let’s face it – except for a few limited conditions, the days of the Master Builder are over. I challenge you to find a single person with is a Master Electrician, Master Plumber, can (legally) install his own HVAC and finish concrete properly. This paragon of construction doesn’t exist! But that doesn’t mean that a builder can’t  understand the basics of electrical work, plumbing, HVAC and concrete. We all need to step away from the attitude of “It’s not my job” and learn more about how our work affects the people around us. This is especially true of the concrete industry. Continue reading That’s Not My Job!

Performance Concrete – The Next Steps

In my blog entry, “Let the bakers bake!” – http://www.commandalkonconnect.com/2012/10/08/let-the-bakers-bake/ back in October of last year, I posted a call to arms for new emphasis on converting to performance concrete specifications. Shortly after that I realized that even concrete producers did not have a consensus opinion on what constituted performance concrete and how willing they were to pursue it. In addition, I have posted several blog entries about the use of “f’c” for specifying strength, “Missed it by that much – Concrete Tests and f’c” – http://www.commandalkonconnect.com/2012/09/26/missed-it-by-that-much-concrete-tests-and-fc/ , and – “Superman, MacGuyver and Concrete!” – http://www.commandalkonconnect.com/2012/11/05/superman-macguyver-and-concrete/, and how in reality we don’t really practice what we preach. ACI 318 isn’t really being followed properly, which may explain some of their desire to totally revamp the document.

Now that I have the results of my latest survey on “U.S. Concrete Producers’ Attitudes toward Performance Concrete”, I think I have a better idea of what I want to do to encourage the use of Performance Specifications. Below is a summary of some of the results of the survey, plus my roadmap of what I think ought to be done to encourage Performance Specs. Continue reading Performance Concrete – The Next Steps

Concrete Blogging – The Year in Review (and other inspirations from Janus)

It is hard for me to believe, but this blog entry marks the end of one year of blogging for me. Even though I was reticent to start blogging at first, the favorable responses I have received from around the world have made it well worthwhile. Comments from friends, colleagues, people I know of from their writings, complete strangers and even the “cute young thing” who was about my daughter’s age have made me truly grateful to be in this industry. At the same time, I don’t think that I am in danger of winning the Pulitzer Prize for “Most Widely Read Blogger”. Let’s just say that I write for a very narrow niche market, but I think that I am read by a good number of people in that niche.

I’d like to thank Ron, Shawn and Michael at Command Alkon for “prodding” me to write this blog. I would also like to thank the people who have commented on my articles, both on the blog site and also in private communications off the site. It is nice to get occasional confirmation that someone out there really is reading my articles.

For today’s blog I would like to summarize what I have written over the last year. In case you are wondering, the most widely read entry was “Well Graded Aggregates vs. Gap Graded Aggregates” with over 1300 pageviews in the last year. After that we have “The 0.26 w/c Myth-Conception” and “Missed It by That Much – Concrete Tests and f’c”. I guess I need to do more articles on concrete mix design. Continue reading Concrete Blogging – The Year in Review (and other inspirations from Janus)

Avoiding Trouble: Efficiently Scheduling Multiple Plants

When visiting a dispatch office, I am often proudly shown a scheduling screen showing the entire fleet on one page. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are referring to this total to determine when to accept orders. Unfortunately this produces reduced volume per driver hour, as trucks are sent all over the city to service orders. Plants are often overbooked, creating long queues for loading. Lack of plant detail discourages in-depth analysis and promotes generalizations.

Sched - single plant-graph flat-no titles

Schedule of a single plant with a fairly flat demand graph

Continue reading Avoiding Trouble: Efficiently Scheduling Multiple Plants

Think Pink for Concrete

concrete-care-logoMany of you are probably already aware of the Concrete Cares campaign started by Mike Murray. www.concretecares.com So far this group has concentrated on raising awareness about breast cancer more than fund raising to fight the disease, but that is fine by me. It is good that “manly” professions, like plumbers, HVAC people, electricians and now concrete producers are recognizing the need for EVERYONE pitching in and not just women. After all, not only are men affected by loved ones developing the disease, but over 2,000 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 (compared to almost 230,000 women). Over 400 men and almost 40,000 women died from the disease last year. Altogether, almost 600,000 people in the U.S. died from various forms of cancer last year. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.20138/pdf

The good news is that we are winning the war on cancer. Since the early 1990s, deaths due to cancer have declined each year. Since 1993 it is estimated that over 1,000,000 people who would normally have died are still alive due to improved cancer treatments. That is something to be proud of.

Part of Concrete Cares’ plan is to have each locale create a unifying project demonstrating the concrete industry’s support for the fight against breast cancer. This could be a decorative pavement, concrete countertop or some other element that can act as a rally point for the fight.

Concrete Cares recently announced their 2013 goal is to have the entire concrete industry show their support for cancer research and treatment by placing a pink ribbon on their work and personal vehicles on October 1, 2013. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

http://www.concretecares.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/October12013.pdf

After all, it is the least we can do… Shouldn’t we be doing more?

Jay

Performance Concrete at a Crossroads

Back in October I published a blog entry entitled “Let the Bakers Bake”. http://www.commandalkonconnect.com/2012/10/08/let-the-bakers-bake/ In it I declared my support for performance concrete specifications and production. I also supported the Australian and European approach that makes the concrete producer responsible for conformance testing of concrete, with confirmation testing being performed by the Owner/Customer.  I created a LinkedIn group called “Let the Bakers Bake” and posted a survey asking if concrete producers wanted to do their own testing. 72% of those who responded said “Yes”. You can see the survey at http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Concrete-producers-in-US-should-4662586.S.173044207?qid=7fd1692e-89f9-4dfe-9e22-2d35032ed3a7&trk=group_most_recent_rich-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmr_4662586

However, there was a significant group of Producers that said they didn’t want to get into the testing business. I admit that I didn’t specify that Producers could hire this function out to an independent lab, but I think there was more concern than just their capability to perform tests. However, I think that any concrete producer making more than 100,000 cubic yards a year should be able to afford the investment in equipment and personnel to allow them to test most compression cylinders. Continue reading Performance Concrete at a Crossroads

Concrete at Disney: Not Mickey Mouse stuff

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of conducting a seminar on “Concrete QC as a Profit Center” for a group of concrete producers in Orlando, Florida. We had a nice turnout and I think everyone was pretty pleased with the presentation.

As part of my travel plans, I discovered I could save about $300 by going into Orlando a day early. I now had an extra day in Orlando, east coast home of the world’s most famous Mouse. What should I do? You guessed it; I went to Disney World, or more specifically EPCOT. For those that don’t know, EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. The words “experimental” and “prototype” always catch my attentions and, ever faithful to my readers (both of you ;>}) I decided to plan my visit with the idea of creating a blog entry on how Disney is using concrete to provide a sustainable environment for its guests. I contacted Disney to get a statement on how concrete helped enhance their sustainable development efforts. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I got a response from their Communications Department that Disney’s sustainability efforts were proprietary information and would not be released. But fear not, faithful readers, for I donned my trench coat, pulled out my trusty spy cam and proceeded to document the facts that Disney doesn’t want the public to know. Continue reading Concrete at Disney: Not Mickey Mouse stuff

Hiring The Right People

Are you hiring the right people for your dispatch office?

Over my long career in the industry I have often been asked, “Jim, how do I set up my dispatch office for optimum performance?” The answer I start off with is, “Who do you have working for you?” Sounds simple enough, but how many times have I heard that we hired “Aunt Sally’s son” or “They have a lot of industry knowledge”. With all respects to Aunt Sally and those Know-It-Alls hiring from within your social circle or industry can have its downfalls.

For any company to succeed it must be staffed with managers who can fulfill three requirements. These are Sales, Financial, and Technical. One person can have 1 discipline. The rare person may have 2 disciplines but no one has all three. Likewise, for a dispatch office to function effectively it requires three similar disciplines. These are Customer Service (Sales or Order Taking), Scheduler/Logistician (Financial) and Shipper (Technical). Again, one person can have 1 discipline, the rare person may have 2 disciplines but no one has all three. Continue reading Hiring The Right People