Concrete Shop, Inc. cements age-old practices with innovation and customization
For more than 40 years, Concrete Shop, Inc. has been innovating the way precast concrete is used in construction. The family-owned business doesn’t shy away from one-of-a-kind projects—think statues and park benches. And, they don’t tread lightly—literally; the stair treads you walk on may be some they’ve created.
Concrete Shop manufactures precast concrete, cast stone and glass fiberreinforced concrete for architectural, structural and ornamental applications. Founded in 1975 in Vancouver, Washington, the firm supplies custom concrete building materials throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.
“Concrete has been around forever,” says company President Jeff Stevens. “But it isn’t static. With new technology and new mixes, it is an exciting time to be in the industry. We are changing the molecular level of the concrete process.”
“We like to try new things,” Jeff says. “That can range from the use of new materials to creating one-off pieces. Our work bridges the gap between craftsmanship and technology, recognizing the balance between time-tested methods and the swift pace of advancing technology.”
Out of the Ordinary
The company works with general contractors across the Pacific Northwest and is known for its willingness to tackle custom projects and ship the manufactured items to wherever they’re needed.
“We want to make sure precast has a good name and is a complement to construction so it is used more readily. We will help people by creating and shipping the mold for a project. It is all about helping someone produce it on the end, so we don’t mind partnering with other companies,” he says.
With an in-house artist on staff, creating unique and specialty shapes is a niche the firm fills, Jeff says. “Most companies would like to build a block of items, but because of our willingness to do an individual piece, we’ve worked with multiple entities creating works of art. We even built a time capsule for one city,” Jeff says. “We also work with architects routinely to help speed up their projects. We work with architects in the early design phase to plan, which eases handling and installation, and to help with potential design issues that may be unrealistic. It addresses questions like ‘Can they be precast or should they be cast in place? Will the precast mesh with the other materials?’ ”
Concrete Shop created memorial benches for the City of Gresham. “It’s a one-time shape that they want, and with our own mold fabrication in-house, we can do that in a quick turnaround and satisfy project timelines quickly,” he says.
Other projects include the public library in Portland and several courthouses, including the Multnomah County Courthouse. The firm provided staircases and landings in the T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) parking garage, as well.
The firm has produced multiple precast benches, stair treads and wall caps for at least one county courthouse and is an approved precaster for the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Beaverton, which means the firm is the listed provider for certain items that are specified in park projects and other various products required by code.
Concrete Shop also provides parking curbs and wheel stops, trash cans, benches for park-and-ride stops and more for multiple government entities.
Jeff says the bread and butter of the company in 2018 centered on interior and exterior stair treads in apartments and single-family homes. The main stairway in the University Center building, the Student Union at Humboldt State University, features the company’s stair treads.
“We were honored to make a floating staircase in the main entry of Ziba Design’s corporate office in Portland. That firm designs a lot of architectural elements, so it was really cool to do that project for them,” Jeff says.
Diversification and Creativity
In addition to the architectural precast line of products, Concrete Shop also has an ornamental line with fountains, statues and ornamental water features, plus the firm will manufacture site furnishings like benches, picnic tables, trash and ash receptacles, and wheel stops, outdoor kitchens and even indoor countertops.
“We also do historic preservation, from an old artifact to a building façade that is deteriorated,” Jeff says. “Seismic retrofits—the modification of existing structures to make them more resistant to seismic activity, ground motion or soil failure due to earthquakes—can be addressed on old buildings, too.”
Spokane’s Monroe Street Bridge was a historic preservation project that involved some creative artistry, Jeff says. The bridge was first built in 1911 and features life-size buffalo skulls, wagon wheels, wagon pavilions and chain handrails to embody the pioneer spirit of Spokane’s earliest settlers.
As the bridge was declining and underwent rehabilitation efforts around 2005, Concrete Shop was hired by the District Department of Transportation to archive the deteriorating artistic pieces. The firm’s in-house artist had to recreate the artworks and create a mold to essentially remanufacture them for the bridge, Jeff says.
Diversified work helps keep the company profitable between bigger projects and fills in the gaps as jobs are delayed, he says. The team enjoys doing the ornamental pieces because it allows them to use their artistic skills more.
“There’s always something for them to do, and there are times that we work to support the community with pro bono projects because when you give something away, something always seems to come your way in return,” Jeff says.
Jeff’s father, Hal, started the business in 1975, and Jeff took over the shop of about 10 employees in 1998. Hal recently celebrated his 88th birthday and has long been retired, but he likes to visit and suggest ideas.
“Concrete has been in the family for a long time; my grandfather started a concrete pipe and block business in the mid-1930s,” Jeff says. “It has been part of my upbringing with my dad and my grandfather. I was always interested in joining my dad after college, and it became one of those jobs where I had to work my way up. I’ve brought some new ideas in along with the tested technology that has been around.”
Hal was a visionary and gave Jeff the freedom to dream and introduce new processes and expand product lines. He learned both business and life lessons from his dad and his grandad, Harold Stevens, along the way.
“My grandfather taught me to do it right. ‘You’re never any better than the materials that you use or the employees you incorporate,’ and he was right. If you do it right, you’ll never have to apologize for your work,” Jeff says.
Because concrete is around for a long time, he says, the evidence is there for everyone to see.
The company morning ritual is a daily meeting with everyone on the team, from management to laborers in the shop. “We go over the past day and talk about the goals for today and the rest of the week. We talk about what’s needed in the shop, from tools to materials, and the discussion might be personal depending upon what each employee needs that day,” Jeff says.
Because Concrete Shop is a family business, it is important that everyone is respected and treated like family, Jeff says. If an employee needs to attend a child’s school event, the team works to cover for the employee.
“We cross-train all of the employees, so if someone is gone or sick, we can step over from other areas to fill spots,” Jeff says. “This also ensures employees can go to those school events and then share the details and even show some pictures from the event at the next team meeting. We are a community.”