An old-line, family-owned ready mixed operation continues to hold its ground in the shadow of Atlanta, where more than 20 years ago companies like RMC
An old-line, family-owned ready mixed operation continues to hold its ground in the shadow of Atlanta, where more than 20 years ago companies like RMC Allied Readymix and Home Depot began to frame the future of concrete production and building material retailing in terms of scale.
Five-plant Fowler Flemister Concrete Inc. (FFCI) in Milledgeville, Ga., has nearly doubled in payroll since 2000, solidifying a niche during a period when the ownership of Allied operations and much other Georgia concrete capacity changed. FFCI’s growth has mirrored development along the Georgia Power reservoirs, Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, and the rest of the lakes country between Atlanta and Augusta. The region’s abundance of waterfront sites has spurred vacation or second home development from a broad range of Georgians and out-of-state buyers, fueling conventional slab business along with colored and other premium flatwork.
Company expansion is also due to Fowler Flemister CEO John A. Gus Pursley Jr., who after 55 years in ready mixed is arguably among the industry’s most astute elder statesmen. Also known as Mr. Gus, he holds firm on certain customer service traditions, like getting up from his desk to greet headquarters office and showroom visitors, or walking out to a customer’s car to help with a light load and ask about business and family. Making people feel welcome, he exemplifies the company’s Friends serving Friends motto.
Without compromising a penchant for Southern-styled customer service rooted in his experience as a rural merchant’s son during the Depression, Mr. Gus has allowed company president John A. Pursley III and his managers to guide FFCI’s future by investing in plant capacity and information technology and expanding product offerings. The company recently built a second alley at its highest-volume and most central location, the Lake Oconee Plant in Eatonton, while adding to that property and two others showrooms catering to contractors who want a one-stop shop.
In addition to bagged product, gray concrete block and a few staples that FFCI has carried for decades, the showrooms have a line of Pavestone pavers and segmental retaining wall units, plus a concrete tool and contractor supply offering. Builders and contractors who have entered our market were accustomed to a one-stop shop in Atlanta. We felt we needed to make things more convenient for them than simply delivering ready mixed and aggregate, says Showroom Manager Bill Kennedy. As a sales representative, he launched the showroom program in 2004 at the Milledgeville headquarters, expanding the concept shortly after to the Madison and Lake Oconee plants.
DOS DAYS DONE
On the technology side, Fowler Flemister has improved record keeping, fleet management and customer service. Selection and implementation of technology tools have shown the operating priorities of both Gus Pursley Jr. and Gus Pursley III. GPS-enabled truck tracking, for example, has been adopted while dispatch has remained local to the five sites Û maximizing the opportunities for customers to interact with familiar plant staff and drivers. Upgrade to enterprise-type information technology, driven by Gus Pursley III, occurred prior to installation of a voicemail system this year. That system has not lessened management’s preference for having callers during business hours start out with a human voice.
We adopt new technology to serve customers, and are always looking for an edge, says Gus Pursley III. The company strives to capitalize on the industry’s latest technological advances to provide a high-quality, consistent product at competitive prices. We wanted a full service system to take the order, schedule it, batch it, track it, and get the bill out.
The shift to an enterprise system in mid-2006 enabled the company to shed old MS DOS-based technology. Under the latter, FFCI had to enter ticket order information separately for accounting and batching. In the interim, the company installed GivenHansco’s accounting system with the assurance from its old batch-panel provider that staff could export the appropriate data to accounting. The interface never quite worked, possibly due to file structure and communication issues.
FFCI then opted for GH’s Keystone enterprise platform, encompassing the accounting system and new batch panels for six plants on five sites, plus fleet tools. Keystone allows staff to enter the order as ticket information flows to the batch system and accounting. Dispatch and GPS modules extend the efficiency by managing and displaying orders to include demand and truck scheduling and tracking. Each plant’s dispatchers know what orders they have to schedule, when a truck is on the job site or returning to the plant, and can track all points in between.
The move to a one-stop material, tool and supply shop model saw FFCI expand inventory from a handful to a few thousand items. Keystone, notes Secretary/Treasurer Linda Hammett, was the only program we found that had accounting for concrete, aggregate and general warehousing. We don’t have the limitations and redundancies of our old system. The package, she finds, produces sales tax report and other information quickly and has greatly improved accounts receivable.
When customers call, their account information is right there, and invoicing is quicker, adds Alan Deariso, sales/technical service. An invoicing schedule used to run late into the day, but is now usually complete shortly after noon. Customers like getting their invoices faster because they can bill their customers right away. They are paid faster, which means we get paid faster. Another thing customers like is the data on their statements, because they see their job totals. It’s not just a bunch of invoices.
Mr. Gus is a very hands-on manager who looks at every invoice and ticket, says Bill Kennedy. He is all in favor of the technology upgrades if they can make us better at what we do, but doesn’t want us to lose the customer service focus. Even though we are using most technology available to a ready mixed company, we still treat this as a people business.
Fowler Flemister Concrete embraces a philosophy Mr. Gus was sure to bring any employer upon his return from Okinawa, Manila and other points he crossed during a WWII Pacific theater tour of duty with the Army 96th Infantry. But there would be only one employer for the merchant-minded GI, who reported for yard duty at Milledgeville’s Fowler Flemister Coal on Sept. 5, 1946. An initial concrete operation, established in 1952 as a separate entity of Fowler Flemister Builders Supply, was crude enough for Pursley to recall an early-1950s company milestone, when an all-day pour ended at 24 yd. It was no small feat for an operator that had recently picked up two of a bridge builder’s 2-yd. mixers.
Fowler Flemister’s coal and concrete businesses were separated in 1953, and Pursley continued to stake a claim in ready mixed by spotting additional plant equipment deals and supplying the area’s largest contractor, Georgia Power. FFCI added a second location in central Eatonton Û since vacated for the nearby Lake Oconee plant Û in the 1960s. In 1967, he and a loyal coworker, Mrs. Alta Sis Ross, purchased the ready mixed business. Ten years later, when he was two years shy of typical retirement age, Pursley bought out his partner.
Three additional ready mixed plants were acquired in 1985, positioning FFCI with fleet and production scale that would serve it well as residential and commercial development put the lakes country on the Georgia map. Keeping a full time schedule, Pursley has observed the upward trend of concrete demand in a market well suited to second homes and vacation homes. Favorable market conditions and a realization that his company is in the good hands of Gus III and loyal staff might have been the best script Mr. Gus could have envisioned for September 5, 2006. That day marked his 60th anniversary with Fowler Flemister and 83rd birthday, events celebrated with customers and employees at the Milledgeville headquarters.
During a visit since the celebration, he gave Concrete Products a good indication of what spawned his success in a business based on weights, volumes and relationships: As a rural merchant in the 1930s, John A. Pursley laid down the law on service and fair pricing when customers seeking a special treat would ask for a nickel’s worth of peanut brittle. My father told me that whatever weight the scale says is what you charge, regardless if the customer is a field hand or a banker, affirms Mr. Gus. You learned at an early age in the Depression that a customer was someone to be cherished.