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Operational Smarts

Scott Finney
President and CEO Scott Finney has run Rappahannock Concrete for 25-plus years, growing it from two to six plants, with a fleet of 40 mixers, dumps and tankers, and a payroll of 65.

Recession, slow recovery no barrier to Virginia independent’s growth beyond small market base

By Don Marsh

Rappahannock Concrete Corp. shows how an independent ready mixed operator can look beyond semi-rural roots to stake claim in larger markets with integrated producers. Smart management of financial and human capital has seen the Gloucester, Va., producer triple its two-plant scope since 2000. Acquiring two peer producers, then developing two greenfield sites, Rappahannock Concrete operates at its best with an eight-mixer, 100-150 yd./hour output transit mixed plant.

The business model is recession-tested, at least for Virginia’s Middle Peninsula market, where Newport News and Hampton approach Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the Tidewater market. Rappahannock opened a Newport News plant in 2008 and another in neighboring Hampton earlier this year. Expansion at the dawn of the Great Recession proved unexpectedly timely for an operator whose production and delivery employees average 12-15 years’ tenure. A group from the Gloucester headquarters brought the Rappahannock brand to Newport News, which like the rest of the Middle Peninsula market has seen stability or strength in commercial and military project work offset volume lost in a home building freefall.

“The company was founded on service and quality,” says Rappahannock President and CEO Scott Finney. “Those goals resonate with customers and we have maintained them moving into Newport News and Hampton. We came into these markets aiming for the best service and quality, not trying to get all the business.

“We could handle downturn better than many producers because we are lean and set high expectations for everyone. Attitude is key. If employees exhibit a positive one, you can develop their skills for a business like ours. I’ve quit trying to change people who bring negative attitude—few things damage a company worse.”

The Erie Strayer Model MP-11P has a maintenance platform for easy access to hopper gates on the 100-yd. aggregate storage bin, delivered with Z partition to net five compartments. Truck alley alignment with the bin limits the batch transfer conveyor length to accelerate mixer loading. The 1,150-bbl. silo, split in one-third and two-thirds, is equipped with internal ducting, 3-in. fly ash return pipe. Placement of the C&W dust collector on the platform opens up ground level space.
The Erie Strayer Model MP-11P has a maintenance platform for easy access to hopper gates on the 100-yd. aggregate storage bin, delivered with Z partition to net five compartments. Truck alley alignment with the bin limits the batch transfer conveyor length to accelerate mixer loading. The 1,150-bbl. silo, split in one-third and two-thirds, is equipped with internal ducting, 3-in. fly ash return pipe. Placement of the C&W dust collector on the platform opens up ground level space.

QUITE QUIET
Employee attitude is among the positives at Rappahannock Concrete’s sixth plant, Hampton, opened in March. Anyone wise to ready mixed production will see operational smarts at every turn: fast truck-loading provisions; component placement for easy access to maintenance-prone points throughout the batch plant structure; elevated dust collection in tight proximity to cement weigh batcher; and, shrouds or mini shelters protecting electrical or valve cabinets and mechanical lines.

Attention to detail is not limited to outdoor iron, as the simple but solid office/driver break room building shows. With a 14-in. thick wall, it is built of insulating concrete forms with clay brick veneer from a sister business, Rappahannock Masonry, serving markets north of the Middle Peninsula. The ICF and brick assembly assures a quiet driver break room and batch operator and dispatch office, the latter less than 20 feet from the truck charging alley. In a small office separating the break room and batch/dispatch console, staff or visitors can conduct business in surprising solitude—even with a cement tanker unloading 30 feet away. As a nod to Hampton plant employees and neighbors, Rappahannock included in the cement transfer scheme an insulated shipping container to house a turbo-style, blade-free blower, plus muffler and 50-hp motor.

Raw material handling and truck charging noise abatement suit staff and neighbors, along with plant visitors and inhabitants. The latter would include frogs, ducks and snakes that frequent a shallow pond collecting site stormwater and backing up the final portion of a three-part settling pond structure near the main property entrance. The pond occupies about 1/10 of the 3.5-acre Hampton site, owing to Virginia stormwater collection requirements. It is equipped and permitted to overflow in the storm sewer at a level about 2 feet below the main plant pavement.

Sensing gradual housing market recovery in the peninsula, while maintaining commercial project activity at Newport News, Rappahannock Concrete acquired the property in 2012. Located a half mile from the Hampton Roads Beltway/Interstate 664, the Copeland Industrial Park site was already permitted for concrete or asphalt production.

Rappahannock Concrete sources powder from Essroc Cement’s Ashland and Newport News terminals. In addition to two cement tankers, the producer has five tandem and two trailer dump trucks to serve six plants and a 33-mixer fleet. An expanded market footprint has prompted 2013-14 purchase of eight Con-Tech mixers mounted on Peterbilt 360s.
Rappahannock Concrete sources powder from Essroc Cement’s Ashland and Newport News terminals. In addition to two cement tankers, the producer has five tandem and two trailer dump trucks to serve six plants and a 33-mixer fleet. An expanded market footprint has prompted 2013-14 purchase of eight Con-Tech mixers mounted on Peterbilt 360s.

The Hampton and Newport News plants have shared dispatch. Smaller sites to the north handle their own dispatch—a service point not lost on customers in a smaller town. The Middle Peninsula market arrival was on the heels of York Supply (New Kent, Va., 2000) and Quality Concrete (White Stone, Va., 2005) acquisitions, extending the producer’s presence from long-held Gloucester and Saluda, Va., operations.

Through much of its first four decades, Rappahannock functioned as a two-plant, mom and pop company supplying residential, commercial and agricultural markets—the owners were content and profitable with facilities and equipment equal to 100 yd./hour or less. Family ownership and management have remained through 15 years of company growth. Chairman and founder John L. “Zeke” Finney keeps a limited office schedule after years of seeing son and daughter, Scott and Cora Randolph, well suited to their roles, respectively, as president/CEO and secretary/treasurer. Their brother, Sam Finney, runs Tidewater Masonry, a gray block producer in Suffolk, Va., and Rappahannock Masonry’s key supplier.

Rappahannock Concrete sources powder from Essroc Cement’s Ashland and Newport News terminals. In addition to two cement tankers, the producer has five tandem and two trailer dump trucks to serve six plants and a 33-mixer fleet. An expanded market footprint has prompted 2013-14 purchase of eight Con-Tech mixers mounted on Peterbilt 360s.

Among the new plant’s early commercial orders is the Hampton Circuit Court, requiring 2,500 yd. On the residential side, the market has been boosted by a restart of tract housing projects idled since 2008-09. Company-wide, Rappahannock Concrete primarily handles building jobs and limited Virginia Department of Transportation work. Its largest DOT contract, a bridge requiring 65,000 yd. over three seasons, pre-dated the move into the Middle Peninsula market.