Business in Focus reached out to Wells Concrete for a feature article on how the company was founded, the success they have realized over the years, and their growth in the upper Midwest. The article was published in the May 2014 issue titled “Fifty-Six Years and Counting,” find it at: http://www.businessinfocusmagazine.com/2014/05/wells-concrete/
[Recap of feature article]
Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is a byword for stability. It is politically stable, its residents are famed for their civic participation and it is one of the healthiest states in the U.S…
The city is a hub for business in sectors such as farming, mining and biomedical. It is even home to an internationally recognized arts community. It is, in part, because of this continuously stable environment that Wells Concrete has managed to stay in business, growing and thriving, for an incredible fifty-six years.
Wells Concrete has gone from a small drain tile and ready-mix concrete business to a multidisciplinary organization that specializes in sales, project management, drafting, engineering, production and field work. The company now employs over 650 people in these areas. While the environment of Minnesota has played a part in maintaining this business, it is much more accurate to say that Wells Concrete has existed so long because of forward thinking leadership, a dedicated workforce and sheer hard work. Since 1957, Wells Concrete has operated using values based on integrity, trust and care.
In business, it is vital to maintain focus on the immediate target; ensuring that focus is not lost on the day to day work allows a company to set longer term goals. While being in business for fifty-six years is no guarantee of future success, with that many years of experience comes the realisation that troughs and downturns will happen and they, in turn, will subside. Given the difficulties faced by businesses in recent times, particularly in the construction industry, it has been this experience that has allowed Wells Concrete to come through the recent difficult times all the better.
Suffice to say, however, times have changed since the company first went into business. The company started its operation with a four foot wide steel form stretching four hundred feet, capable of producing double tees measuring four feet wide and fourteen inches deep. A double tee is a pre-stressed concrete component used for constructing the long spans of parking structures, roofs or floors. Its name is given by the appearance of its cross-section, as it resembles two joined upper case Ts.
The first form was set up in the middle of a field on the outskirts of Wells, MN in stark contrast to the operation now run by the company. The company now takes ownership of over two million square feet of covered manufacturing space between three plants.
However, as certain aspects of the business (the scale of the organization in particular) may have changed, Tanya Pierce, Director of Marketing at Wells Concrete, is quick to point out that some things have remained constant since those early days. “One thing that is interesting to note is that the double tee product was the starting point and it is still a solid product for us,” she explains. “It is one of our core products; we just use it in a different way to when we first started. It was used predominantly in a wall panel, now it has become a roof and floor member for a parking structure.”
The company has demonstrated an innate ability to gradually increase its reach and its market share. Never expanding too quickly or too aggressively, its growth has been natural and necessary. Dan Juntunen, CEO of the company, explains the path that Wells Concrete has followed to reach the stage of expansion at which it now sits. “In 1994, we acquired a company called Concrete Inc. in Grand Forks, ND and, in 2009, we built the facility in Albany, Minnesota. As our primary manufacturing plant, that is where the growth comes. As far as expanding our markets, in 2010, we opened an office in Minneapolis, which is primarily sales. Last, but not least, in 2013 we opened two sales offices in Winnipeg and Iowa. These small sales offices have established a physical presence in Manitoba and Iowa.”
The reason for this continued expansion is down to the level of service and expertise Wells Concrete offers its customer. The company follows a set of core values which outline a commitment to quality, building and installing “reliable, competitively superior concrete products that are leading-edge in quality, cost and customer satisfaction through the integration of experienced people, production technology and industry standards,” says Dan. Such strong claims are impressive, but the real proof of quality is longevity, something which it has demonstrated in abundance. It is simple, in order to survive, a business must be better than its rivals.
So what sets Wells Concrete apart from its competitors? Dan explains that, “One of the things that separates us a little bit from our competition is that we have our own in-house drafting and engineering, and we also have our own fleet of cranes and we do the installation. In this industry, some people tend to just be a producer and they outsource the design and the installation, whereas we are full service.”
This sophisticated business model, incorporating a multidisciplinary approach coupled with an in-house support network, ensures the customer can receive support from design right through to completion.
Another aspect of the Wells model is to utilize the different areas of the business in order to give the staff the best possible knowledge base and training. The company ensures that, where appropriate, staff members are given experience in other areas of the business. Dan sees this as hugely beneficial. “Drafting tends to be a good breeding ground for sales actually; out in the field tends to be a very good breeding ground for design engineers. We do like to leverage. The reason we do like to start our engineers out in the field is because if they have to put it together, it forces them to think about how they design.”
So where does a company with this much business experience go now? Dan sees a very clear and cohesive link between the level of service Wells Concrete can offer its customer and the business opportunities that will be created as a result of this service. “We have done a fair amount of work on defining what our vision is for the future. We don’t have a lot of interest in going national; we want to stay where we can be geographically connected. Our goal is to be the premier precast supplier for commercial buildings in the Upper Midwest. When we say that, what we are shooting for is in terms of quality of service. We believe that the volume will follow.”
If anything has been shown throughout the company’s history, it is that it has continuously followed the correct trends, developed the correct markets and ultimately chosen the correct direction for its business. Through strategic investments, carefully considered growth strategies and by offering a high level of service with top quality products, Wells has navigated incredibly difficult times in the construction industry and is still around and growing. It is not hyperbole to suggest that Wells Concrete will likely be around for at least another fifty-six years.