The Power of Positivity
Premier Concrete Credits Technology, Strong Work Ethic for Its Success
It was the mid-1980s and Jim Workmeister was working for a concrete company that started having financial trouble. After nearly everyone was laid off, Workmeister knew it was time to make a change. While talking with his father, he concluded he would trade in his Harley Davidson motorcycle for a pickup truck so that he could start his own business. It was 1986 and Premier Concrete, Inc. was born.
For the first four to five years, the company focused on residential work. Eventually, Jim’s brother, Steve, started working part time at Premier Concrete while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Jim directed the field force while Steve ran the office and performed all the administrative functions. Upon completing his degree, Steve considered leaving his brother’s business to find a full-time job.
“I offered him half the company to stick around,” Jim recalls. “Things were going well, and it was too much for me to do everything. He took me up on it.” For Steve, there was no better education than owning a business.
The brothers’ first office was in the spare bedroom of Jim’s house. After a few months, the pair moved into a small office in the basement of a bank building. Today, Premier Concrete is operated out of an office in White Marsh, Maryland. The company has nearly 60 employees and its average annual revenue is $10 million to $12 million. Over time, the company transitioned from solely residential to solely commercial work, which now ranges from small to multimillion dollar projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Unlike a lot of other companies, we’re OK with not growing that much every year,” Jim says. “We’re more concerned about quality of life, being efficient and attracting quality people.”
The company focuses on building concrete foundations, walls and slabs, completing site concrete work, and performing large renovations and complex reconstruction concrete projects. One of its signature projects was a 240,000-square-foot, dual-level international prototype that housed a Walmart store on the second level and a Sam’s Club on the lower level in Owings Mill, Maryland.
Premier has also performed work for PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Johns Hopkins Medicine, CVS Pharmacy and the University of Maryland, among many others.
Providing Good Benefits and The Prevailing Wage
As far back as the early 1990s, the Workmeister brothers felt it was challenging to hire people who viewed construction as a “true career,” Jim says. “In order to combat that, we have always believed in providing good benefits, and tried to bring in people who had already chosen construction as a career.”
To be competitive in a tough industry, they decided early on to offer health, dental and vision insurance; 401(k) retirement plans; profit sharing; paid time off; and short-term disability coverage.
“It’s rare in this industry to see that,” Jim says, “but it was part of our plan to attract better quality people.” Also, the pair decided a few years ago to target federal government work for the benefit of prevailing wage jobs.
“If you get prevailing wage jobs, then employees get an automatic raise,” says Steve, a past President of the American Subcontractors Association. “They’re able to get a base pay and fringe benefits.” Today, federal government work makes up about 60 to 70 percent of the company’s business. Much of the work is conducted on military bases.
Front-Line Field Experience
Besides focusing on being able to provide good benefits for employees, Premier Concrete has also made it a point to do quality work in the field and be easy to work with in the office. As part of that effort, virtually all the company’s project managers and estimators have previously worked in the field.
“They understand our culture and where our customers are coming from,” Steve says. “We put more value on concrete experience than education. And since we can usually see both sides of a story, we work to find a solution to problems.”
Premier Concrete has also dismissed the notion that millennials don’t have a good work ethic. They have instead used the generation’s knowledge of technology to the company’s benefit. Premier Concrete uses advanced digital software and enhanced technology to make its work better.
“We found that if you hire the right millennials and lead them in the right direction, they can have some outstanding ideas and be great workers,” Jim says. “We’re embracing the next generation and, in fact, have a few father-son pairs working for us.”
The younger generation, he adds, are often looking for creative ideas to be more efficient.
“They don’t want to do meaningless work if they can find a better way,” Jim notes. “They look to see how technology can help, so they don’t have to waste time, and can move on to the next task.”
Overall, the company sees little turnover with long-term employees.
Part of that is focusing on striking a good work-life balance so that employees “aren’t working 50-60 hours per week and can have a true family life.”
The pair notes that the past couple of decades have had their ups and downs with some “scary” moments during the recession in the late 2000s when they wondered if the company would survive. But the brothers decided failure was not an option.
“There was nothing really easy about it,” Steve says. “I do believe the biggest thing we can hang our hat on is watching our parents and looking at their work ethic. We always soldiered on and pushed through. I think perseverance and ‘never say die’ is what separates the people still in this tough business and those who are not.”