Providing Strong Foundations
Van Lom Concrete Inc. Delivers Quality Product, Services for Seven Decades
Without concrete, there is no construction. According to the Portland Cement Association, Portland cement is the basic ingredient in concrete and is used in construction all over the world.
Van Lom Concrete Inc. in Portland, Oregon, since its founding just after World War II, has been one of the most reliable providers of concrete in the region. Brothers Jim and Bob Van Lom started their concrete company during the post-war construction boom. Bob’s son, Darryl, eventually took over the company and, in 2004, he sold it to long-time employee Dan Benfield.
The Bedrock of a Business
The company’s home base is notable considering Portland cement is a key ingredient of concrete; the name comes from its resemblance to Portland stone from the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.
Over the years, the company has remained successful and vibrant. Like the product it provides, Van Lom Concrete has been consistent and steady in a no-frills manner.
“I consider us to be survivors in the business,” says Benfield, who started working for the company in 1976. “As I got older, it was harder on the body to be out in the elements wrestling concrete. I was able to work with Darryl and move from field management to office management in the late 1990s. There was definitely a responsibility to maintain a business that had been started as a family business. After working there for 30 years, I felt as part of the family and the Van Loms had been good to me.”
Today, Van Lom offers comprehensive concrete services, including form work, shoring, elevated post-tensioned decks, footings, walls, columns, slabs and tilt-up panels. It also furnishes and installs reinforced steel, sidewalks, curbs and gutters. Van Lom even has its own curb machine for larger projects and partners with reliable companies for excavation work before pouring concrete.
Over the last 15 years, the company has improved and changed as it adapted to the digital age. “We’re starting to do more with 3D computer drawings of our projects,” Benfield says. “Providing that sort of information to the onsite crews helps with their understanding of what they’re doing and helps lessen their field time.”
While its services are impressive, Van Lom’s reliability is what sets it apart.
“They do everything they can to accommodate,” says Jeff Herd, Senior Superintendent of Fortis Construction in Portland. “They have a challenging job pouring concrete in the Pacific Northwest. The weather can be a huge issue and right now construction projects are never-ending. Dan and his office staff are very personable and helpful in keeping us informed of scheduling. Dan knows so many people in the business that he can make calls and juggle schedules to try to keep everybody happy.”
Overcoming Concrete Challenges
Working with concrete presents demands that most people can’t imagine. The material is mixed, typically at a ready-mixed concrete plant. Once loaded into mixer trucks, there’s about a 90-minute window before it needs to be delivered and poured at a construction site.
“We’re dealing with several suppliers, and the nature of their product is often different from supplier to supplier,” Benfield says. “We have great relationships with the suppliers we work with, which allows us to remain flexible in terms of staying on schedule.”
Van Lom currently employees approximately 40 people, with about half a dozen in the office and the rest working in the field. The company’s office managers coordinate the availability of the concrete from suppliers and the delivery to the work sites, juggling a variety of factors, including how many crew members to send to a job site.
When it rains, it’s tough to pour (concrete). And while it doesn’t rain as much in the Pacific Northwest as many assume, precipitation can alter the schedule. Temperature also is a factor. When it’s hot, Benfield has to add people to crews because the concrete hardens faster.
“Dan has clout with the suppliers to make sure that he can obtain concrete when it’s needed,” Herd says. “Van Lom has brand awareness in our region. It comes down to relationships between Van Lom, the concrete suppliers and the construction folks. It’s all based on service.”
While Van Lom tries to schedule its jobs two to three weeks in advance, those dates are far from set in…concrete. In addition to making sure the correct amount of product is available from the provider, there are occasions when the contractor on the job site hits unexpected snags that can change the work schedule. Approximately 20 percent of the time, Van Lom has to negotiate schedule changes as far in advance as possible.
“It’s a perishable product,” Benfield says. “You have a limited amount of time to get the concrete from the supplier to the job site and then a limited amount of time after it’s poured to trowel it and finish the surface. Air temperature and the weather conditions are two of the many variables. You need the experience to understand how to deal with all those variables.”
A version of the carpenter’s creed of “measure twice, cut once” is also applicable to companies that pour concrete. “You don’t want a second chance when you pour concrete,” Benfield says, “because the only second chance you get with concrete is to tear it out and redo it.”
As someone who understands the work requirements on a job site, Benfield is proud of Van Lom’s safety record and the emphasis that is placed on keeping employees safe. Working with concrete can literally be backbreaking, so Van Lom encourages its workers to do the proper stretching to prevent muscle injuries. Benfield says working around rebar on job sites also means that his employees need a heightened awareness of their surroundings.
Cementing the Future
At age 63, Benfield—like the company he runs—is still going strong. Nonetheless, he’s looking to the future, working on a transition plan for the next generation. His son, Brandon, who poured concrete in the summers while getting his college degree in education, has decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, expanding his knowledge and experience to one day take over Van Lom.
“Considering that this started out as a family business, I’m proud that we’re basically going to keep it going in the same direction,” Benfield says. “We’ve always been responsible for our own work. We stand behind what we do.”