From architects and contractors to everyday homeowners, consumers are increasingly looking for bright colors and exciting new finishes in concrete blocks, which is where a company called New Holland Concrete comes into play. William Bunch tells how this diversified company from the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country is meeting a surge in consumer demand.
You normally would not expect a company that was founded to produce the basic American building block of the 20th century – the gray cinder block – to be very big on marketing and promotion.
But New Holland Concrete, which is one of the largest single-site producers of concrete masonry units in the Eastern United States, chose not to rest on that solid foundation, a strategic decision that has advanced the Pennsylvania-based company as more construction companies switched from gray blocks to poured concrete for basic foundation construction.
But today, New Holland Concrete is growing faster than ever, because of a strong focus on specialty products, such as colored architectural blocks, that are in use everywhere from office complexes to new ballparks, as well as blocks that are used by homeowners for landscaping.
Dan Longenderfer, the marketing manager for New Holland Concrete, near Lancaster, Pa., said that the company’s increasing diversification – it also has growing divisions in ready-mix concrete, commercial doors, and distribution of construction supplies – has ensured that the firm is not buffeted by the ups and downs of the marketplace.
A wide array
“We have such a wide array of construction products that when our block business might be slow, our door business may be growing or our ready-mix business is expanding, and visa-versa. Because our four divisions cover so much of the construction process, we are always kept busy,” Longenderfer explained.
Perhaps ironically, New Holland Concrete, named for its hometown outside of Lancaster, has developed a reputation as an innovator in a part of the world where the site of a horse and buggy is still common.
Recently, Amish residents raised an addition onto a 140-year-old farmhouse in the traditional way, but they did the work atop a line of newfangled plastic foam walls, the basis of a home construction system called insulated concrete forms, or ICF, which New Holland supplied as a regional distributor for Reward® Wall Systems.
As New Holland Concrete has grown, the company has extended its reach far beyond the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania. Longenderfer said that the company now sells its most popular block products, including the architectural blocks and its landscaping retaining wall blocks, in an area that encompasses the entire mid-Atlantic region, as far north as New York, as far south as Virginia and west through West Virginia, with the ability to serve most any client east of the Mississippi.
Indeed, the 20th century saw steady and fairly non-stop growth for a company with humble Pennsylvania roots. The company had been around for several years, owned by local businessmen, when it installed its first mechanical block machine in 1929, just in time for the Great Depression. The firm remained small until 1942, when it was purchased by Ivan and Irene Martin.
The company was ultimately placed under Martin’s main business holding, Martin Limestone, and it flourished in the years following World War II. Between 1948 and 1951, New Holland Concrete built a new plant with two new block machines, expanded into ready-mix concrete with the purchase of two mixer trucks, and added a commercial door business. The company expanded again in 1978 with the construction of a new block plant in its hometown of New Holland.
Today, the company, which is still privately held by Martin Limestone, Inc., currently employs over 170 people. The firm has evolved into four separate divisions, including:
• The block division, which is still the mainstay of New Holland Concrete. The division’s plant, which has the capacity to make as many as 100,000 blocks in a day, still excels at producing gray blocks, but also produces a full line of colored architectural block and retaining wall block.
• Construction Supply Centers™. Formerly called New Holland Concrete Building Materials, it was re-branded “Construction Supply Centers™” in 2002 with showrooms in New Holland and in Denver, Pa. This unit now has seven separate locations across Pennsylvania, offering essential supplies to masons, general contractors, excavators, landscapers, and other contractors.
• Door Solutions™ by New Holland Concrete, which deals in Amweld® door products, offers hollow-metal, wood, stainless steel, FRP and traffic doors as well as the necessary hardware. In a UL-approved shop, Door Solutions™ can modify hollow-metal fire doors and make fire-rated windows, sidelite frames and aluminum storefronts.
• The ready mix concrete division, which currently serves customers in the central and eastern regions of Pennsylvania from three separate locations. The unit offers standard and colored product, as well as mixes approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
A higher level of design
Increasingly, however, the company has emphasized its growing line of architectural block products. For example, New Holland Concrete invested in a state-of-the-art grinding machine that produces a unique, mirror-like finish on ground face units. “With ground-face architectural block, we feed our block under a specialized grinder to expose the range of aggregates inside the block, giving it an appearance not unlike marble or terrazzo,” Longenderfer explained. It is just one of many special products aimed at architects and builders looking to give a fresh look to projects as diverse as public schools and convention centers to churches or even bowling alleys and sewage treatment plants.
The company’s newest product, The Designer Collection™, is a line of decorative concrete brick not unlike traditional clay brick. However it is significantly less expensive than clay brick, and coordinates with New Holland’s standard architectural block. Another new product, the Natural Stone Blend Series™, features Split Face block that incorporates two color tones “softly-blended” to provide a veining effect resembling that of natural stone. It comes in shades that can take on a rustic Fieldstone appearance, or the traditional grays of Pennsylvania limestone, among several other color variants.
That same approach to new products also extends to landscaping blocks that match the Natural Stone Blend Series™ architectural units, providing a unified approach to color for both a building’s design and the landscaping needs surrounding the building. Longenderfer noted that New Holland Concrete works hard to educate architects about these new products. “What sets us apart is that we go to great lengths to communicate with architects and designers,” he said, pointing to a special information section on the company’s Web site for architects, as well as seminars and other educational tools that are targeted specially at those involved in building design.
Customer comes first
Beyond that, the firm has thrived because of the strong emphasis that it places upon customer service. “Most companies state they have excellent quality and customer service, but we have a reputation for actually delivering on a consistent basis,” Longenderfer said. That means working with construction companies as a business partner to do more than just supply products.
In addition to offering a large product inventory, a significant advantage New Holland Concrete provides to its block customers is that it stocks architectural split face block in five key shapes and 12 different colors, providing a level of product availability unmatched in the industry. In a market that typically needs block ASAP, this architectural block-stocking program has proved to be of critical importance to mason customers, architects, and building owners alike.
Although some in the construction business are concerned about the lingering effects of a slowdown in home building that began in 2006, Longenderfer said that officials at New Holland Concrete have carefully studied the projections from many sources, such as Reed Construction Data, and believe that 2007 will bring growth of at least 5 percent in both the residential and commercial sectors.
Longenderfer said that doing its homework is one more thing that sets the company apart from its rivals. He said the company is continually performing research, including focus groups, to make sure that the company stays on top of the products that its clients are looking for.
New Holland Concrete may have its roots in basic gray block, but it is one company that has brought color and excitement to its industry.