Hardscaping Horizon

A fast-growing field, residential and commercial offers abundant opportunity for National Concrete Masonry Association members, and primary among the


A fast-growing field, residential and commercial ÎhardscapingÌ offers abundant opportunity for National Concrete Masonry Association members, and primary among the group’s aims is ensuring that its producers have the materials needed to exploit this expanding market.

Spurred by exciting new concrete masonry products, low interest rates, and a proliferation of landscape contractors nationwide offering competitive prices, hardscaping of areas around residential and commercial structures has become a huge market for the industry. So impressive has been the growth that NCMA added the market last year to its official logo.

We all work toward the goals of our strategic, long-term plan, affirms 2007 NCMA Chairman Steve Doty, who is chief executive officer of Peerless Block & Brick Co. in St. Albans, W. Va. And, part of that is a revision of our logo, which retains the original design, but adds a line underneath: Sustainable Concrete Products for Structures and Hardscapes.

Doty is to be installed as chairman at NCMA’s annual meeting in February, coinciding with the 2007 Manufactured Concrete Products Expo (MCPX) in Orlando.


Hardscapes add to the curb appeal of a residence, and the industry has been capitalizing on that trend over the last decade. The payback is in the value added to a house, Doty emphasizes. The sale price is greatly enhanced by landscaping. And, people are building ÎspacesÌ now, not just houses. They’re building patios, barbecue kitchens, outside fire pits, and swimming pool decks with pavers. People are making a destination out of their backyards. And, much of it is Îdo-it-yourselfÌ, involving plans, ideas and products that make installation easier for the homeowner. It contributes to tremendous pride of ownership.

For the homeowner who doesn’t want to build it himself, there has been a big growth of hardscape/landscape contractors who will do it for them. And, hardscapes last forever.

In addition to a fast-growth market, hardscaping comprises value-added products not subject to the commodity pricing associated with standard gray block units. Also boosting profit margins are refined production techniques. Bigger machine pallets allow more products to be made on a single cycle, Doty reports. Plus, more precise methods exist for blending colors with our products, he adds. Everybody is expanding and differentiating their product lines. From batching, to the addition of color, to mold technology, to curing, handling, tumbling and packaging technologies, and even installation, all factors have been beneficial to our industry in fabricating hardscaping products.


Besides cultivating markets for exclusive, value-added masonry products, NCMA’s agenda includes Û as its logo tag line indicates Û continuing promotion of the ÎgreenÌ or environmentally sustainable benefits of concrete masonry, emphasized by immediate past chairman Jim Weber in last year’s interview (Easy Bein’ Green, February 2006, p. 49-51).

Jim talked about the need for sustainable, green products, Doty tells Concrete Products. Our new logo emphasizes the sustainability of concrete ÎgreenÌ products that will last a long time, as well as hardscapes.

Updating the association’s long-range plan occurs once, and sometimes twice, a year as dictated by current conditions and forecasts. The goal is to maintain our focus and grow the market, Doty states. We are working with building code bodies to make it easier for designers to specify masonry products. We want to alter them, if necessary, to make them more friendly to masonry.

Changes to NCMA’s annual exposition are also afoot. Doty explains, About seven years ago, the National Concrete Masonry Association made a commitment to conduct a joint industry trade show that would serve the entire concrete products industry. Our decision to do that made good sense, and we are going to press forward remaining committed to that concept.

One of the important driving factors is the need to offer an opportunity where exhibitors can deliver the latest technology applicable to the whole industry. That can’t be done effectively when there are multiple shows.

While MCPX will end after the last show by that name in 2008, NCMA is working with exhibitors and partners to stage an extravaganza beginning in 2009 that will include all components of the concrete industry, Doty notes. I might add that we welcome the participation of all industry groups and encourage them to join NCMA in unveiling our new 2009 expo where exhibits will include concrete pavers, pipe, precast, prestressed, and block, he says. This is what our exhibitors tell us they want and we are going to deliver it.

While the National Precast Concrete Association will participate in the 2007 and 2008 MCPX shows with NCMA and allied trade associations, at press time NPCA will be on its own as NCMA and partners launch a totally new show in 2009.


Beyond a focus on sustainable products and hardscaping, building codes and the upcoming expos, Steve Doty aims to increase association revenues. This would come from membership, both producers and associates, from Portland Cement Association (PCA) regional marketing group programs and separate PCA marketing dollars, as well as subscriptions and sales of publications, he predicts.

We also employ Îoptional ballotÌ funding in which members can elect to fund specific programs on their own, Doty reports. Whichever program you believe is specific to your market or needs can be individually funded by you. The self-funded programs Û like NCMA’s educational programs or ÎschoolsÌ Û also contribute to future revenues. MCPX and the industry’s new trade show beginning in 2009 are counted among funding sources as well.

Increased laboratory income is yet another source, Doty tells Concrete Products. We have a great laboratory, whose income is in the mid-six figures, he says. It has the potential to do up to a million dollars a year for independent and related lab work.

Getting the lab to that level is a sales function. People need to know that the service is there. It’s a high-level laboratory for concrete products that’s used for freeze-thaw and compressive strength testing, plus ASTM certification. Any form of cementitious product can be tested and certified in our lab. But, more people need to know about it.

Although consolidation within the industry has reduced the number of member companies, NCMA’s financial resources are unaffected, Doty maintains. There may be fewer members, but the people who are consolidating are still paying dues on our capacity/actual production-based dues schedule.


To maintain today’s momentum, Doty emphasizes, the industry’s development of new and innovative products must not abate. We need new block designs, he proposes. Hardscape products are exciting, but we need to apply new thinking to the basic block. We need the mindset to lay blocks year-round, in all kinds of weather.

A relatively recent product sold by Peerless is articulated block. That’s a growth item among erosion-control products, Doty observes. It’s made by a number of producers around the country: concrete components are laced together with cables and placed as large mats with cranes.

Additionally, Peerless developed and patented a green product, promoted as SuperBlock. Composed of cement, recycled Styrofoam, polypropylene fibers, and bottom ash, the unit measures 7 _ 16 _ 24 in. and weighs 40 lb. The oversized but lightweight block is intended for coal mine stoppings and overcasts.


NCMA identifies and defines existing markets for member-manufactured concrete products, analyzes the potential for growth in each market, and develops programs to promote market expansion. The association nurtures development of new products, systems and concepts that will provide cost-effective solutions to challenges facing the industry.

As part of its outreach to specifiers of concrete masonry, NCMA publishes Residential Concrete Masonry, Commercial Concrete Masonry, and Concrete Landscape Designs magazines. The three journals spotlight examples of concrete masonry construction worldwide by presenting case studies, profiling building features, and promoting best practices.

NCMA also communicates with its members and other public audiences via the monthly industry magazine CM News, an electronic e-News Brief, and other industry bulletins, including the annual membership directory. Moreover, its e-TEK Series of technical briefs, developed for industry professionals to ensure quality concrete masonry design and construction, can be downloaded from the NCMA web site. Each four- to six-page TEK document targets a specific issue and can be ordered individually, as part of a complete set, or by subscription. A 45-page Catalog of Resources for 2007, outlining all NCMA products, offerings and courses, is downloadable as well from www.ncma.org.


That NCMA continues to promote use of concrete block for mold suppression and safe rooms is evident in its trade-journal ad program. Besides over a dozen canned articles highlighting the benefits of concrete masonry, available for immediate download from its web site, the association provides downloadable advertisements supporting NCMA’s outreach. Such ads Û for example, juxtaposing the Great Wall of China with outdoor masonry walls Û may be downloaded in large zip files for placement by individual masonry producers in local media. Among available ads are the following:

  • Great Walls are Built to Last
  • Great Walls: Standing the Test of Time
  • How Should Landscape Architects Grade Erosion Control?
  • What’s Better than Nature?
  • What’s More Durable than Nature?
  • [The] Mold Monster, in two versions.

Mold and personal safety are among the issues that decision makers have to consider as they design a building, Doty tells Concrete Products. They may not be at the top of the list, but they remain an important part of our promotion.


Executing the association’s long-range, strategic plan constitutes a major part of the staff’s mission, and meetings throughout the year facilitate fine-tuning to that end. A critical element in the endeavor is educational outreach.

NCMA school curricula and workshops offer courses developed primarily for representatives of concrete masonry producers and other entities supplying the masonry industry. The association’s customized training programs range from lunch-time presentations to full-week training sessions. NCMA also facilitates educational programs offered by the Masonry Society and the Masonry Institute of Tennessee-sponsored Masonry University.

This year I would like to work toward member company certification in three areas: sales, plant personnel, and dispatch, Doty affirms. In order to be certified, a company would have to have certain qualifications for the salespeople, for plant people, and for the dispatcher. While NCMA does not provide complete plant certification, it does offer a certified concrete masonry testing technician program.

In addition, NCMA continues its work to enhance available manpower by partnering with masons to boost training. NCMA has an excellent management group in Herndon, Va., that really responds to membership, says Doty. Most [staff] are not in the field like we are, but nonetheless, they know the issues and interact well with members. They constitute an excellent staff.



From a small, one-person start-up in 1905, Peerless Block & Brick Co. has evolved into one of West Virginia’s leading masonry product suppliers and information resources. Peerless Block & Brick is the oldest, continuously manufacturing block company existing in the United States, says Steve Doty, company CEO and the 2007 National Concrete Masonry Association chairman.

Peerless has four West Virginia locations: St. Albans (headquarters), Nitro, Parkersburg, and Huntington. Its product is marketed through five strategic business units, including residential; commercial; hardscape/erosion-control; dealer/distributor; and, the coal mining industry, where block is used primarily for ventilation control underground.

Peerless officials note that the cornerstone of this success has been continued focus on its customers, a commitment to their requirements, and shared values. Now in the third generation of family management, the company is privately owned, employing about 45 among the four plants.
Û www.peerlessblock.com




Peerless Block & Brick Co.
St. Albans, West Virginia


Bend Industries
West Bend, Wisconsin


Block USA
Birmingham, Alabama

Representing the U.S. concrete masonry industry since 1918, the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) is involved in a broad range of technical, research, marketing, government relations, and communications activities. In each of these capacities, the association supports concrete masonry producers and allied suppliers of products and services from its central location near Dulles Airport outside the District of Columbia.

NCMA service efforts include residential, landscape, and commercial product groups. It also provides educational programming. Association staff and volunteers are particularly active in ASTM standards committees and building code writing bodies. The NCMA Research and Development laboratory is a leader in product testing and validation. Association technical services include research and design aids, which are distributed through publications, computer programs, slide presentations and technical training.

An affiliate, the NCMA Education and Research Foundation, aims to advance and support concrete masonry producers and the public interest by funding research and educational programs designed to meet future needs.

Mark B. Hogan, P.E., is president of NCMA. Headquarters is located at 13750 Sunrise Valley Drive, Herndon, VA 20171; tel.: 703/713-1900; fax: 703/713-1910; e-mail: [email protected]; web site: www.ncma.org.