That’s easy – the New York-state headquartered business focuses on pools. We’re talking about the backyard variety. What’s the harder question is how the company accomplished its considerable success. But Dan Harvey places it into perspective.
For more than 30 years, US Gunite has provided concrete resources and, in the process, established a reputation as a leading, high-quality sub-contractor for pool construction companies, commercial developers, engineering firms, and government contractors.
The company provides resources for both shotcrete (wet concrete) and gunite (dry concrete) processes. But no matter the forum, US Gunite offers clients the highest levels of craftsmanship.
Established in 1977, US Gunite has focused on pneumatically applied concrete. From its initial base in Keller, Texas, it has expanded to include more than 30 locations. Further, the operation includes a custom fleet of mixers and compressors, and about 70 crews. Currently it is headquartered in Sloatsburg, N.Y.
“From New York, we’ve moved into New Jersey, Delaware, Washington DC., Charlotte [North Carolina], and Alabama,” says Scott Frisby, manager and part owner of US Gunite. “Our main focus is dry finish gunite, which you find in swimming pool construction. Dry mix gunite, a main offering, is a mixture of sand and cement, and we have taken that into new pool construction.”
But that’s not all. “Other applications include reconstruction, basement renovation, and bolstering retaining walls,” says Frisby. “No matter the application or our service, the product remains the same.”
But it is pools where the company’s product finds the greatest application. “I would say that about 95 percent of our work involves residential backyards,” says Frisby.
Of course, that means a placement of a backyard pool. The company also does commercial pools.
“We work with hundreds of pool contractors. Relationships run the gamut, from the small contractors who run around in their pickup trucks to the largest market players, such as Blue Haven Pools and Spas,” says Frisby. “Our relationships run up and down the Eastern seaboard. And all clients are on board with what we are doing.”
US Gunite is fortunate in that it doesn’t have to butt heads with a lot of competition, thanks to the material it handles: “Dry mix gunite has become the favored material throughout the years, due to industry movement away from shotcrete, or wet cement. But while the materials may be less expensive, people find that they’re a lot harder to deal with,” explains Frisby.
But US Gunite, for its own purposes, has found the material much easier to handle. Indeed, Frisby says his company finds it as “very user friendly.”
He indicates the benefits it provides US Gunite. “For what we do, we find it to be the best alternative. We can control all materials, which means we can get the job done. That has become an enormous benefit for the pool contractor in the past 20 years,” he relates.
But the expense remains a considerable issue – a company or contractor may be facing costs that range from $150,000 to $500,000. “You’re going to have to shoot a large volume of pools if you want to make a profitable turnaround. That’s another reason why there isn’t a lot of competition,” says Frisby.
That may sound advantageous, but there’s a negative element. “Smaller and older companies have been pushed out of the market,” says Frisby. “You’re not going to find a lot of old blood or young blood in this sector. And I don’t see that changing, and for two reasons: First, and most important, the basic expense; and, second, the economic recession.”
Shot of Power
While US Gunite was founded in 1977, the roots of its success date back to the earliest part of the 20th century, when the first cement gun was introduced at the New York Concrete Show in 1910. Since then the processes and skills have evolved, and US Gunite became a leader in the engineering and application of pneumatically applied concrete.
Carl Akeley first developed the technology in the early 1900s, devising a novel method of making plaster models. He made a wire frame and, with a special gun he devised, he sprayed plaster onto the frame via compressed air. The principle behind the method was to hold a supply of dry material in the gun, convey it to the nozzle with compressed air, and wet it with the proper amount of water as it was blown onto the frame. This resulted in strong, thin coatings that wouldn’t slump off the frame. It also eliminated the problem of the plaster setting before it was fully placed. The new tool found other applications – in particular it was used to patch deteriorated concrete with a mix of sand and cement.
Results were excellent. A year after the 1910 debut at the concrete show, patents and trade names were issued for the cement gun and for “gunite,” the material produced by the process. The 1960s saw development of a rotary type of gun. Today, variations of basic gun designs are used for all dry-process applications. The wet process was developed in the 1950s, with pressure tanks used to force a stiff mortar through the hose. Additional air was added at the nozzle and the process came to be known as shotcrete. Today the wet-process is widely used and favored for certain applications. US Gunite uses both wet and dry processes, but it especially like to go dry.
Expansion of Business
“We expanded through the years, essentially by word of mouth,” relates Frisby. “The contractor puts in a good pool, and then the neighbor sees it and wants one. Again, there is not a lot of competition out there. Early on, we were doing about 200 pools a year. Now we are doing about 2,000.”
This enterprise—which is 100 employees strong— has grown rapidly in the past five years. “As we move forward, we will focus on strengthening our current markets,” says Frisby.
“Once we feel we’ve gained complete control of these markets, I’d like to see us move—in the next 10 years—farther north and farther south along the eastern seaboard, which means moving more into Florida and the New England states. Also, Chicago is an untapped market. But, right now, our hands are full with what we already have.”