Experience at the Core
Suburban Sales & Service Corporation brings decades of experience in cutting and coring
There’s a popular theory today, put forward by author Malcolm Gladwell, that to be a world-class expert in something, you must invest 10,000 hours in it. If that’s true, Howard Bishop, owner of Suburban Sales & Service Corporation, is such an expert many times over. He’s been cutting and coring concrete in his native Rhode Island and throughout New England for 55 years.
“I’ve been doing this longer than anyone in the state,” Howard says. “Longer than almost anyone anywhere. There’s no problem I haven’t seen. I cut my teeth on cutting concrete. When I was 13, I was doing this. I’ve done so many jobs over the years that whatever it is, I know exactly how to do it and what needs to be done.”
A Legacy of Experience
Howard got his start working for his father, also Howard, who opened Howard G. Bishop Inc. in 1959. The business sold fasteners and tools, and is still around today. He spent his summers with his father making sales calls to construction job sites, and by the time he was 12, he was working in shipping, receiving and repair of power-actuated tools. In 1964, his father had the opportunity to perform an extensive concrete cutting project at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, expanding the existing concrete docks to accommodate Nautilus-class submarines. Howard’s father formed Suburban Sales & Service Corporation to house his new concrete cutting business.
“I graduated to working in the field with the concrete cutting crew,” Howard says. “I spent all my summer vacations working in the field with the equipment. I worked for every trade in the construction industry: road builders, utility contractors, electrical contractors, mechanical contractors.”
Howard graduated from high school in 1970 and immediately went to work full time cutting concrete. Even at that time, it was a business he knew well, and a business with a clear future.
“We were about the only place in Rhode Island doing this kind of work,” Howard says. “We got any job we wanted. I could see the need for what we were doing and knew we had to have several employees to service the contracts to expand and grow the business. We hired people, bought new equipment. At one point, we probably had 70 percent or more of the concrete cutting business in Rhode Island, from the ‘70s and ‘80s into the ‘90s. Other shops opened up then and took some of that business away. Some are still in business and some aren’t, but I’m still here.”
With more than half a century of experience in Howard alone, Suburban Sales & Service, based in North Scituate, Rhode Island, has a track record of success in projects all over Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In addition to the work at General Dynamics, Howard’s company, which currently employs 11, has served clients in civil construction, defense, education, aviation and commercial construction.
Leaving a Mark
Howard points to the Providence Place shopping mall in Providence, Rhode Island, as one example of Suburban Sales & Service’s workmanship. When the mall was built in 1999, it was constructed of precast concrete panels. However, when the first panels were put into place, it was discovered they were made to the wrong dimensions—in fact, every one of the panels was of the wrong dimensions. Each day, crews from Suburban Sales & Service would set up at the job site and cut that day’s panels to fit. In addition, there was a problem in the parking garage. Each of the T-shaped ceiling supports was the wrong size; the supports butted against one another with no room for a flex joint between them. Again, Howard’s crew had to cut each of them to the proper size. It was a job that lasted an entire year, but was finished on time and without accident or injury.
When Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts needed to install a new refueling station to service C-5 Galaxy aircraft, Suburban Sales & Service got the call. The project spanned two years, sometimes requiring work in the dead of winter, when the weather was so cold Howard and his team had to add antifreeze to the cooling water for their saws.
“Using our ride-on deep-sawing diesel slab saws, in conjunction with our CC135 Vermeer rock saw, we cut thousands of feet of 24-inch-deep cuts,” Howard says. “The triple-mat concrete slab was a challenge, but due to my extensive knowledge of diamond blades and how they work, we were able to work with the manufacturer to dial in a spec that performed well.”
Despite the challenges of the job and the weather, Howard and his team were able to complete the work on time, on budget and without injuries.
Though jobs like Providence Place and Westover are impressive, it’s the smaller projects that make up much of the company’s bread and butter, Howard says.
“We really specialize in underground utilities,” Howard explains. “I have several road-cutting saws. Anytime you want to put a utility under a road, you have to cut it first. We also provide core drilling services for any situation in construction where you need to pass a pipe through a wall or slab. We can do 2-inch-diameter to 48-inch-diameter holes. We do wall cutting, too, with both electrically operated and hydraulic saws. We can spin 59-inch-diameter blades to cut through up to 2 feet of reinforced concrete, stone, brick or masonry, or bring in a diamond-wire saw that pulls a quarter-inch diamond-studded wire up to 300 feet long at extreme speed—we’ve used that for underwater cutting or to cut a 12-foot by 12-foot hole in a 12-foot-thick wall. Whatever the client needs we can do.”
“There’s no problem I haven’t seen. I cut my teeth on cutting concrete. When I was 13, I was doing this. I’ve done so many jobs over the years that whatever it is, I know exactly how to do it and what needs to be done.” Howard Bishop, Owner, Suburban Sales & Service Corporation
A Cut Above
“We’ve grown 30 to 35 percent each year for the last two years,” Howard says. “I presume this year will be the same. We’re expanding, buying new equipment, new trucks. I’ve bought one truck a year for the last three years, and I’ll buy another this year. After customization and outfitting, those trucks are about $90,000 each. Every truck has to have a huge amount of equipment on it, from diamond bits to hand saws, and we currently have eight of them. That’s one thing that sets us apart. Everyone’s got most of the same equipment. We’ve just got more of it, with more experienced people operating it. We also have some of the more advanced 480-volt, high-cycle cutting equipment.”
Having the right equipment is vital to survive in the business, but it’s not the only reason behind Howard’s success. Experience is key as well, as are reputation, reliability and relationships.
“If we get a call at 4 p.m., we can have someone on the job site at 7 a.m. the next day,” Howard says. “Service and dependability are very important to us. Contractors know they can call me and be at ease that I’ll have someone there do to the job on time. Our reputation precedes us. Every contractor knows who I am. Some people I’ve been working for since 1970 or before. My dad introduced me to the owner of D’Ambra Construction Company, Inc. in the 1960s. I was in his office just yesterday; we still do work for him.”
In a business involving heavy machinery, thick concrete and fast saws, a commitment to safety is a necessity. Suburban Sales & Service holds weekly safety meetings and boasts an exemplary safety record, Howard says.
After 55 years in the business, Howard has considered the idea of retirement, but he’s not ready to do so just yet. His two sons are working for him now and are poised to step in when he passes the reins to them. In the meantime, he’s considering opening another branch of the business in Connecticut.
“My sons will help us continue to grow,” Howard says. “They’re young, ambitious people, which is what you need to be to succeed. It’s what I look for in everyone I hire. I can teach you about concrete or how to operate the machinery. I can teach anything but the right work ethic. Being reliable and professional will take you most of the way. If you tell someone you’re going to be there, you better be there, and you better do the job right.”