October 06, 2015

Never Say Never

At the turn of the 20th century, over 20 million immigrants entered the United States. One of them was the grandfather of Justin Johnson, owner of A Concrete, Inc., in Loveland, Colorado.

His grandfather's story is typical of many immigrants who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves. "He came over from Greece in 1906," says Johnson. "He started a potato farm in western Nebraska. He put up the first irrigation pump. People thought he was crazy, but he also started using one of the first potato pullers and some other first-generation farm equipment. He was ahead of his time."

More than a hundred years later, this entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in his grandson, who purchased his concrete business with his wife in 2005. "It was just me, my wife, and two employees. Today we employ more than 40 people and run five six-man crews."

Like his grandfather, Johnson takes advantage of mechanization. He began with a John Deere 250 Skid Steer and a breaker attachment. "What I like most about John Deere skid steers is the power. That's what sold me from day one."

Today he owns five John Deere 323E Compact Track Loaders (CTLs). "We switched to CTLs because the pushing power is amazing. The tracks allow you to actually put power to the ground rather than just spin tires. Poor weather doesn't slow us down. And the size of the 323E is perfect. It's a midsize-frame machine so it can lift a lot, but it can fit between most fence posts. And it's easy to trailer."

From Paramedic to Entrepreneur

Johnson got his start in the concrete business to support himself through college. "I was working on custom homes, learning the concrete business. But I was going to school to become a paramedic, so I told myself I'd never work in concrete again." Johnson's nine-year stint as a paramedic included working for AirLink in western Nebraska and in the ambulance ER business in Colorado.

But Johnson missed working outside and running equipment, so he purchased A Concrete. The decision to buy the business was fortuitous. There was a concrete shortage, but because the company had established accounts, it always had the materials it needed. "Many other companies struggled to get concrete, but because our company had been loyal to our local ready-mix supplier, they always have taken care of us."

Bringing Their "A" Game

The company's distinctive orange "A" logo is attention grabbing. But its commitment to quality has built the business, most of which comes from word of mouth.

The company services northern Colorado from Denver to the Wyoming border, as far west as Estes Park, and east to the Kansas border. Business is booming. "In 2008, with the downturn of the economy, we did four new houses the entire year. This year we're slated to do 300 new homes."

Johnson took us to a jobsite in Fort Collins, where a crew was installing a driveway and colored stamped patio. The neighborhood is continually expanding, with million-dollar homes sprouting up all around. A Concrete installed a new pool deck for the City of Windsor in which 17,000 square feet of concrete was torn out and replaced. "The residential market also is booming in this region. I read that around $3 billion worth of concrete work is happening in just northern Colorado alone this year."

At the jobsite, the 323E CTL is busy grading, hauling dirt, and moving road base, rebar, and other materials. In addition to a bucket and forks, the operator can switch to a breaker for busting concrete or a posthole digger. The universal Quik-Tatch™ makes attachment switchover quick and easy.

"The performance and versatility of the 323E are amazing. Lift capacity and balance are great — we use counterweights for even more stability. And John Deere has managed to integrate a Final Tier 4 engine without sacrificing power. Meeting emission standards is very important to me. We work on a lot of jobs that are environmentally sensitive."

Machine reliability has also been outstanding, according to Johnson. "Other than replacing a hose or performing scheduled maintenance, it's been trouble free. And that's important because if a machine goes down, there's a six-man crew standing around waiting for it. Our schedule is really tight right now, and we can't afford to lose any time."

Open-Door Policy

Daily maintenance and servicing are simple and quick. "The side panels are super easy to remove so you can quickly get to everything. It's amazing. And you don't even need to raise the boom to get to the heart of the machine. Just pivot the cab and remove the floor. It takes only minutes. It's very, very easy — it used to take us half a day to do that."

When Johnson was at the World of Concrete® trade show in Las Vegas a few years ago, he asked for the easy-to-remove panels at the John Deere "Chatterbox" booth, which had been set up to get customer input. "Customers spoke and Deere really listened. Those side panels used to be hard to take off. Now they are easy, and everything is so accessible. It's a wonderful improvement."

Johnson also appreciates the comfortable cab — another customer-inspired enhancement. "Visibility is better. Noise levels are lower. Controls are great. Our guys appreciate good equipment because it makes their jobs easier. And a happy operator is more likely to stick around."

Johnson opted for the reversing fan on his 323E, which automatically reverses to clear core-clogging buildup. "It blows everything out of the engine compartment so you don't have to hose things out. Great timesaving feature."

The optional two-speed transmission helps speed things up. "The two-speed helps us get from point A to point B a lot faster." Johnson recently toured four John Deere factories, including the construction equipment facilities in Dubuque and Davenport.

"John Deere workers take so much pride in their work. And they should — they make great machines!"