Casting Character

The ready mixed business of family-owned D.R. Allen & Son Inc., Concrete Service Co. leads Fayetteville, N.C., a medium-sized market anchored by the U.S. Army’s Ft. Bragg and adjoining Pope Air Force Base

Don Marsh

I am not your lowest price, Bob Allen, Sr. assures customers. But, I am your lowest cost.

We understand construction and what contractors need to perform their jobs, he adds. Seldom does a contractor come to us with a special request we are not able to deliver.

That outlook suits one of the elder statesmen in ready mixed and chairman of an independent operator in a state where an inordinate amount of plant capacity has recently changed hands. The ready mixed business of family-owned D.R. Allen & Son Inc., Concrete Service Co. leads Fayetteville, N.C., a medium-sized market anchored by the U.S. Army’s Ft. Bragg and adjoining Pope Air Force Base.

Neighboring those massive, strategic sites is inspection-ready Concrete Service Plant 3, which opened in late 2008. Set on 11 acres in Spring Lake, N.C., the single-alley dry plant positions Concrete Service for quick deliveries to Ft. Bragg, which has seen steady expansion of housing and training facilities, thanks to the Base Realignment and Closure program Congress effected to streamline armed forces installations.

Compared to Plant 1 at a centrally located headquarters, Plant 3 cuts 20-30 minutes of delivery time to Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB sites. Metal detector inspections, driver credential checks, and other increased security measures at both installations were challenging Concrete Service’s delivery window from Plant 1 and Plant 2. Record diesel prices in mid-2008 added urgency to get the new plant up and running.

In addition to the military work, much done under Corps of Engineers contracts and specifications, Plant 3 is also better situated than the producer’s two existing operations to serve upper Cumberland County and lower Harnett County. Each had shown strong growth patterns leading up to the current housing slowdown.

Plant 3 embodies timesaving features aimed at tackling high-volume pours with fewer trucks. It also exhibits operating efficiencies and environmental management principles Bob Allen, Sr. has set over 55 years in ready mixed and block production, and as a former ENR 400 general contractor with current licensing but long-idled project log. On most concrete pours, there are three factors tied to profit and success: finishing rate, number of trucks, and plant capability, he says. Two of those things we can control.

The new operation runs a (Maximum Output) MO Big EZ model of Georgia-based Merts Inc. It parlayed speedy transit mixed plants in Florida where, like other markets, the quest for accelerated production and truck loading reflected contractors’ increasing deployment of high-output mix placement pumps or laser screed finishing technology. Plant 3 is configured for six-axle Oshkosh front discharge mixers, a fleet-wide standard that eliminates adjustment times drivers might require if switching from one truck brand to another.

With an eye toward shaving truck-loading seconds, Concrete Service worked with Atlanta dealer iwi Group LLC to design the plant with such standout features as: 1) 300 tons of overhead aggregate storage, coupled with an 8-in. charge water line and custom surge hopper at loading point; 2) a charge ramp whose 30-in. height speeds material flow into drums; 3) a digital truck call board, directly above the charge point, whose bright red numbers alert drivers when to proceed; 4) yellow pavement stripes to guide drivers, followed by foolproof, carwash-modeled steel rails steering vehicles to precise loading; 5) a horn automatically signaling to drivers load completion; and, 6) pneumatic tube ticket delivery, direct to seated drivers. Further optimizing drivers’ in-plant time are a water station equipped for filling four tanks simultaneously; twin slump adjustment racks; and, a vehicle spray wash through which site-bound mixers pass in 30 seconds.

All three water points are in the path of or adjacent to the charge alley. Their placement fits the open, elongated and linear material-storage and truck-trafficking plan evident upon entering Plant 3. To pace rapid mixer charging capability required on typical military or other commercial orders, Concrete Service opted for a two-point aggregate receiving system. A main back-up grizzly feeds a radial stacker and three 25-ft.-diameter concrete silos totaling 2,500 tons, while a secondary grizzly bypasses the silos and directly feeds the plant’s charge conveyor and overhead storage bins. Company drivers and outside haulers with rock and sand deliveries minimize their stays through quick check in at a cabinet-housed keypad next to the main grizzly ramp. The material-handling system is totally automated with no loader required.

Plant 3 is also well equipped for environmental compliance Û from the ground up. Pavement of the office, production, truck parking and routing, and tanker staging areas consumed nearly 5,000 cu. yd. of concrete, placed by D.R. Allen staff. Employees also handled construction of a five-part settling pond structure cast at the foot of the slump adjustment racks and an aggregate reclaimer. The MO Big EZ plant is served by C&W central dust collection whose capacity exceeds the air permit’s projected emissions requirements by 50 percent.


At Fayetteville headquarters, the Concrete Service flagship operates in tandem with sister D.R. Allen company Fay Block Materials, a single-plant, gray and architectural concrete masonry producer with companion brick and veneer, material and tool sales. A visit to the home office reveals Concrete Service’s keys to a unique market position in a state with a most unusual track record of plant and producer consolidation and multinational operator influx and retreat: A management team whose combined D.R. Allen umbrella tenure nears 200 years, plus a training program, Character First, with monthly themed modules.

Today’s Concrete Service is the product of a 1995 deal through which the Allen family reacquired what are now Plants 1 & 2 from Evered Bardon. A U.K. operator that grew into the eastern half of Aggregate Industries Management, Bardon had picked up Concrete Service in 1991, then a 12-plant operator serving Fayetteville and surrounding central North Carolina markets. (Remaining properties were sold to Ready Mixed Concrete of Raleigh and S&W Ready Mix Concrete of Clinton, N.C.)

We could cover this market well and stick to a strategy of being a debt-free, service-oriented producer, says Bob Allen, Sr. The mid-1990s proved a good launching point to refocus on Fayetteville, he adds, thanks to steady growth fueled by Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB work; residential development linked to or independent of the military; and, big box retail projects.

Contractors began to require high-volume orders delivered at tighter schedules than in the past, says Concrete Service’s Lanny Clark, who over a 37-year D.R. Allen career has worked his way to general manager from yard hand, driver, sales, quality control and operations positions. Mixer fleet expansion, equipment modifications to increase Plants 1 & 2 output capability, and adjusting work schedules to off-hour pours, he notes, enabled the company to solidify its niche in Fayetteville.

Carolinas Associated General Contractors members underscored Concrete Service’s reemergence under Allen family ownership, naming the producer Best Supplier/Service Company in the 1999 Pinnacle Awards. The program, where judging combines nomination-form screening and extensive follow-up with contractor references, seeks To pay tribute to excellence within the industry and reinforce standards of construction excellence.


Concrete Service displays the Pinnacle Award and references the honor in marketing and promotional materials. But, beyond the goal of maintaining a Pinnacle-grade operation, management has moved on to another challenge, Character First. The training series is billed by Oklahoma City-based Character First Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation, as a leadership model that strengthens relationships, improves communication, and builds teamwork. It is an outgrowth of a turnaround strategy an Oklahoma City manufacturing executive used to address low quality and high costs linked to a dysfunctional staff.

Every business will use some set of values by which to make decisions and govern its actions, says Concrete Service President Bob Allen, Jr., a Clemson University-trained civil engineer. Our management has chosen to uphold qualities stemming from biblical law that will further honesty and integrity within our team.

Through the use of Character First corporate training resources, we highlight a character quality like ÎTruthfulnessÌ, ÎPunctualityÌ, ÎDiscretionÌ or ÎDiligenceÌ every month. Everyone wants good performance, and we know that good character achieves good results. When a team can approach a business opportunity from the perspective of applying excellent character in every decision, real progress is made in delivering first-rate products with superior service. Exemplary character creates an atmosphere of trust, confidence, predictability, and inward motivation to do what is right.

Bob Allen, Jr. championed the leadership model in 2003 after attending an intensive, four-day Character First Institute training program, where participants interact with public and private-sector peers from around the world in a television-, radio- and Internet-free environment. Using brochures, videos and tutorials, he and subsequently trained colleagues incorporated character quality modules as part of monthly management, sales, or safety meetings. Character First adopters are provided colorful wildlife sketches to signify each month’s module. Examples of wildlife subjects include a donkey, koala bear and horse signifying the Humility, Thriftiness, and Meekness modules, respectively.

This is not an overnight process, observes Allen. It takes years to implement, pointing to a headquarters wall with 49 framed sketches.

Every aspect of what an employee in our company does relates to character, says Concrete Service Chief Financial Officer Jerry King, a 37-year D.R. Allen veteran. When confronting a problem or incident, we have to ask, ÎDid our system of values play out? Where did it break down?Ì

Character First challenges companies to examine their core philosophies. What are a company’s values? notes King. Do we raise the bar for safety because of regulatory compliance or the value placed on an employee’s health and well being?

Good character will always run to a problem, not from it. We have earned customers’ respect by responding immediately to a problem.

Good performance is driven by good character. The idea of Character First is to build that into the organization. Managers have to set the standard, affirms Bob Allen, Sr. He credits the leadership model with upholding a tradition instilled among D.R. Allen & Son staff: Say what you do and do what you say, plus a little bit more.