High Note

When it set up shop in Music City a decade ago, Irving Materials Inc. (imi) developed a business plan dedicated to state-of-the-art facilities and front

Don Marsh

When it set up shop in Music City a decade ago, Irving Materials Inc. (imi) developed a business plan dedicated to state-of-the-art facilities and front discharge mixer-fleet management that had made it an Indiana and Kentucky fixture. From a single plant on the edge of downtown Nashville, the imi-Tennessee Division has grown to 27 sites and approximately one million yards annual production. Most of those operations lie within a 10-county area of middle Tennessee that saw a collective population jump of more than 9 percent from 2000 to 2005.

We needed to do two things to differentiate ourselves in the market: product branding and operational efficiency, says imi-Tennessee President John Curtis, who arrived in 1999 after 13 years with the imi North flagship, Greenfield, Ind. Product branding took about a year, with sales contests at plants and training of managers and staff to promote and sell application-specific concrete.

The branded program has yielded the imix series for foundations, slabs, walls, decorative flatwork, fills and backfilling, paving, and cold-temperature conditions. Backed with testing from the company’s technical division at Greenfield headquarters, Curtis and imi Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing Bob Haldrup launched the imix concept in the Tennessee division. Branded products have since been adopted in the company’s North (Indiana), South (Kentucky) and (Evansville, Ind.-based) Southwest divisions. We target different solutions for concrete from the ground up, and have customers provide performance requirements for us to tailor mixes.

We try to deliver concrete that is finisher and installer friendly. Most customers care mainly about how easy a mix is to place or pour, and finish.

When the first branded mixes were introduced, he adds, The goal was to have 15 percent of volume in imix orders. Those products now account for about 25 percent of all deliveries.


Irving Materials, Inc. timed its expansion south of Kentucky in 1997, after General Motors’ Saturn Corp. had elevated the Nashville and surrounding area profile. Middle Tennessee has always been strong for business and attracted additional corporate interest for headquarters and major facilities, says Curtis. Between the business factor, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center, and other higher education institutions, the area has had a buffer against economic swings.

Just prior to imi’s arrival, downtown Nashville had ushered a new landmark, the Bell South tower, built with high strength (up to 14,000-psi) concrete and Batman-style crown. Music City was then poised to open a new arena for an NHL expansion team, the Predators, followed by a stadium for the relocating Tennessee Titans NFL franchise.

Link Concrete, occupying just under three acres on the edge of downtown, was imi’s market entry. (Former business owner, Joe Link, is among imi’s concrete-finisher customers.) A handful of acquisitions in 1997-1999 positioned the Tennessee Division with 10 plants and scale to begin the imix launch. The successful rollout of branded products and assimilation of additional ready mixed businesses across middle Tennessee have enabled imi to reinvest in plants.

That began in 2004 with the building of a twin-alley plant at Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, and home to Middle Tennessee State University and its flagship Concrete Industry Management four-year degree program. Significant big box retail and residential development activity in Murfreesboro helped buoy the plant toward a near doubling of output.

The site was acquired from Southland Supply and equipped with an old transit mixed plant. In a 12- to 15-hour day, we might have reached 500 yd. with that equipment, says Tennessee Operations Manager Fletcher Taylor. Now, we have routinely shorter, more productive days. Increased traffic around Murfreesboro, he adds, has seen area contractors start earlier, while the plant staff and operators have become more accustomed to nighttime pours for public and private work. Although imi is strongest in residential and light commercial construction, Taylor says, the Murfreesboro plant has enabled a move into commercial and Tennessee Department of Transportation jobs. The facility’s enclosure design, material-handling system, and alley configuration have been borrowed for subsequent overhauls at the company’s Columbia plant, about an hour south of Nashville, and at the downtown Nashville site.

We have steered the market in Murfreesboro and Nashville toward central mixed production, says Taylor. Our long-term plan is to have the downtown plant dedicated to heavy commercial work within its target zone, and have a nearby transit mixed site to the west to continue handling lighter projects.

The downtown plant’s central mixed production capability, advanced material handling, batch controls and quality assurance will serve imi-Tennessee well as central Nashville grows. One job on the drawing board, with contracts soon to be let, is the 70-story Signature Tower. Contractors bidding on the hotel and condominium project – a natural candidate for reinforced concrete – are sure to talk to the ready mixed producer in town that has quickly made a name for itself.


Roller-compacted concrete, pervious pavement or exposed aggregate mixes, or grout by another name? The Tennessee Division pioneered the branded product strategy for all of Irving Materials Inc. Aiming to take the guesswork out of ordering, the company formulated mix designs and fibrous mixes suited especially to residential and light commercial applications. imix-trademarked products are offered under these headings: Foundations-(steel fiber-reinforced) Footing XS, EZ Footing; Slabs & Walls-Drive+, SuperSlab and EZ Wall; Decorative-Spectra, AggPlus, MasterChip; Fills & Paving-Flexifill, Blockfill, EZ Curb, RollerPave, EcoPave; and, Cold Weather Applications-SureSet, FreezeGuard.

Billed as The Reinforcement Alternative, imix XS offers steel fiber-reinforced mix options for residential or light commercial building footings, and light to heavy commercial slabs on grade. The product uses hook-end steel fibers that are integrally mixed at the plant. imi tests have shown sharply higher consistency of strength when comparing XS concrete specimens against those bearing conventional rebar. In addition to steel fibers, imi has incorporated synthetic fibers in appropriate imix products. To automate dispensing and increase operators’ safety in fiber delivery, the company has adopted the Buckeye Technologies UltraFiber system (below).