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CFA Presents 2008 Contractor of the Year KUBICA’S EARN AWARD

The Concrete Foundation Association (CFA) recently presented its 2008 Contractor of the Year Award to Rich and Patty Kubica of K-Wall Poured Walls of Traverse City, Michigan & Asheville, North Carolina.

A member of the CFA for nearly a decade, the Kubicas were selected for this award for their aggressive pursuit of excellence and business expansion.

According to Ed Sauter, executive director of the CFA, the Kubica’s high level of enthusiasm and commitment to advancing the concrete foundations industry and the CFA are primary reasons why they were selected for the CFA Contractor of the Year.

“Rich and Patty have been one of the most aggressive companies in our Association,” said Sauter. “We have reveled at their ability to take on challenges for promoting high-performance foundation walls, above-grade concrete shells and the growth of poured concrete foundations in traditionally block markets.”

The annual award recognizes the contributions of a poured wall contractor to the industry. This year’s award was presented at the CFA Annual Convention held July 30 to August 2 in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.

Founded in 1992, in Traverse City, Michigan, K-Wall Poured Walls have maintained a commitment to craftsmanship and quality by implementing the latest foundation technology and staying active in education opportunities. Their original location established a commitment to a full line of services including custom poured walls, flatwork and waterproofing that included ready to live basements. However, that wasn’t enough for the Kubicas and their firm. They continued to stay ahead of the market curves by expanding into epoxy-coated floors, pools and spas, decorative concrete and even flooring underlayment and radiant in-floor heating systems. Their excellence in crafting high-quality poured concrete foundations also led them into the above-grade concrete home market where they pioneered this form of real estate in their market. The opportunities continued to unfold as they became involved in featured concrete homes in St. John including a project affectionately known as “The Secret Seashell”.

The warmth of St. John behind them now, Rich and Patty have continued to push forward. The excellence that they brought to the Traverse City market has now been replicated in the market surrounding Asheville, North Carolina.

Traditionally a concrete block market, this region has produced many challenges requiring innovative ways of promoting concrete, proving design compatibility and raising the bar for the quality of foundations.

At every step of the way, the Kubicas have remained an excellent model for contractor members of the CFA by recognizing the value of the CFA network to their business. Rich credits the CFA with keeping his sights focused on the changing technology and providing valuable education opportunities that broadened both his construction and business backgrounds. “Where we have found headaches and extreme challenges,” states Rich, “the CFA contractors and professional staff have been quick to come to our aid and support. This encouraged us to tackle some pretty major obstacles such as jumping into the Caribbean and starting up a new venture half a country away.”

Rich and Patty thanked the CFA for the many opportunities, the support and the confidence during their presentation in New Mexico. They continued to encourage contractors to take on challenges and broaden their project opportunities by finding new products and techniques. They also encouraged each company to recognize the wealth of knowledge and the reliability that resides in the CFA network and staff. By using their membership and accessing these benefits, they can leverage their company to new heights. They firmly believe that participation in the CFA is a main reason for their success. The Kubicas were honored to receive this award and encouraged others to become involved in the one industry association that cares the most about the business they conduct.

Also during this presentation, Ron Ward, President of Western Forms, Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri added his congratulation and presented the Kubicas with a crystal eagle symbolizing the soaring achievements that their company embodies.

ENJOY THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW WITH RICH AND PATTY KUBICA.

Do you remember your first year as a CFA member — what was it like?

Patty: We had just joined the CFA, but the very first meeting we attended was in 1999 or 2000 when we went to the World of Concrete. CFA had their Annual Winter dinner and Awards presentation in Las Vegas. Scott Smith won Contractor of the Year. He and his son have a foundation company (MPW Construction Services), and we remember talking to him. We were babies of the group, announced as new members that night. There were so many people at the meeting, focused on the foundation industry. We were in awe because everybody we talked to had knowledge of poured walls; and we had never been with that many people who knew our industry! We were members of our local group where only a few people had foundation businesses, so most of our local network consisted of builder connections. Our local meetings were always about their world; so to be in a large room at the CFA meeting, with that many people that focused on just poured walls and concrete was so cool to us – it was about us.

What is something you’d like to learn more about — what would make a good seminar topic that would be helpful to you?

Rich: I have two seminar topics I’d recommend. First, I’d like to know more about how to accurately do good job costing. As you know there is so much detail and time that goes into preparing a project estimate. Everyone seems to have their own way of doing this. We currently use a lot of software programs, but haven’t found just one that really works. We primarily use QuickBooks. We would like to know, and accurately track, what our true job costs are. Then, we could determine an accurate profit margin on the job when we are done.

Second, I believe our industry is lagging behind on the use of insulated concrete walls. This is a technology that very few traditional poured wall contractors are grabbing a hold of. There are two or three good insulating wall systems on the market, and very few wall contractors are promoting them while at the same time more and more home builders are converting to hybrid walls (like EPS foam insulated walls). My concern is that we may all wake up some day and have to be reactive instead of proactive and figure out how to get our market share back. Perhaps 20-30% of today’s foundations are insulated in northern Michigan, when just 3 to 4 years ago it was maybe 1-5%. Our northern Michigan market is getting overrun by alternative foundation systems.

Times are different and I don’t believe we can continue to only do just what our dads and their dads did. As traditional poured-concrete-wall guys, we need to maintain and improve our market share not let it slip through our fingers.

I think promoting the use of our industry’s concrete insulated walls is a win-win situation for us as contractors, for homeowners, and the environment. We have the ability to complete the job insulated or non-insulated with the same set of tools on the same job and at the same time. For the homeowner it is a financial savings because it is not only more energy efficient, but we have the ability to insulate only where it is needed to save them money during construction of their homes. For the environment, it is a green technology as our insulating material are both made of recycled materials and is highly energy efficient. We have a more economical way to get a hybrid wall that builders and homeowners love.

Patty: I would like a session about how to keep both competitive pricing and quality construction in our market. I find that when we lose jobs, it is because our competition has lowered the price by sacrificing quality for the customer, and we just won’t do that. Builders will come back to us and ask us to lower our price, and we say ‘no’ because we feel this is what we are worth and what we need for the job; particularly since in our organization we have educated and high quality employees, and we run it like a ship. Then, the customer has to make a choice over quality vs cost. I’d like to know how we let our competitors know we want fair pricing in the foundation industry that will keep us from each other’s throat? In the end, competitors lose money, have to cut back on something to make ends meet, and it lowers the quality for our customers. I’d like people to talk about this, and the CFA is the perfect source to get this going. It’s not something we like to talk about when just visiting with other CFA members.

What did you bring home from the CFA Summer Convention that will be helpful to you?

Patty: The first thing we brought home is our award of course. No one can say that but us! We have displayed it – capitalized on it, shared it with the press, and love telling others about it.

But we brought several other things home from the meeting too. We talked to a lot of people who are struggling – people going through hardship. We listened a lot, and we got some good pointers about coping with losing work, losing jobs and losing money. Now that the election is over we hope that the economy gets better.

We also brought home new information about the immigration issue. I was able to talk to the Mr. Whitlock from Littler Mendenhal, one-on-one about this. We try not employ any illegal immigrants; in fact, when we opened our office in North Carolina, we brought some of our experienced Michigan employees with us and their wages are higher than this area’s typical labor rates. These are educated employees with experience that we pay to keep. They also brought their families with them to North Carolina and have made a commitment to our company. Yes, immigrants are cheaper; for $10 an hour they work hard and don’t complain. In the end their wages keep overhead down and prices lower. David really highlighted information about this issue that Rich and I were clueless to. Now we are in tune, and watch for social security cards, etc that might indicate someone is here illegally.

Another thing that we brought home from this meeting, and all CFA meetings, is that just being a member has enriched our business. We’ve called on CFA for many resources, and both of us have called on Ed and Jim for assistance many times. Rich has often called Jim Baty, Tech Director with questions that he has needed help with. I can call Ed anytime and he is there for me. For instance, we’ve brainstormed about having potential CFA meetings in my area – and Ed took time to listen to me. CFA is a wonderful, wonderful organization to belong to. The organization is focused on our industry and responsive to individual members. You become a part of that family and that’s why we continue to be a member. We look forward every year to seeing the CFA staff and members at the Annual Convention — , it’s like a little family reunion. Lots of faces to see. Children are growing. They (the CFA members) have all welcomed our little girl, Kennedy Grace, this year. Now 18 months old, at the time she was crawling and at the evening events she enjoyed being with all the little kids. She had a ball being around all these kids what was a big spacious area and crawling-to-run to keep up them.

You have been called ‘one of the most aggressive companies in the CFA the past ten years’, where does your confidence come from?

Patty:I didn’t know we would be referred to as aggressive. We’re just regular business people. However, maybe it is because ‘we are’ our business and company – we live it and breathe it.

I was a chef and also built houses before I met Rich. I met Rich when I had hired him to do a foundation. When we got married, I either had to come in to his world or he had to come in mine (restaurant). So, we decided ‘Let’s make the business grow, I‘ll become our sales rep and do the books – so I learned how to sell. We’ve now been married 13 years. People look at us as ‘Rich and Patty from K-Wall’, and we have earned that. Many wives have said to me I don’t know how you do it to work with your husband all day. I say I don’t know how I couldn’t. We communicate all day, starting with coffee in the morning.

We now have 35 employees and we work hard to make it a team. I really enjoy being part of this team by planning holiday events, doing payroll and helping where I can. On the other side, my husband is the one that brings us knowledge about ‘the changing of times’. We talk and discuss, and support each other. Many times I was the wife with my husband’s dinner in the microwave heating at 11 pm at night. But I understand the life because I’m living it. It is not an easy industry; not easy to live and breath concrete. Because it’s my passion as well I’ve gotten over that hump and understand the hours my husband works.

Our confidence comes from the ‘one package’ we share as supporting each other in our company. The work is stressful, but I see the love my husband has for what he knows. We believe in what we do and love what we do. We feel this is a leading industry losing ground to hybrid wall systems. Doesn’t have to be that way — as an industry we must embrace technology. We keep updating ourselves and do good things with that knowledge, and we provide good service. We do special things that make us good (to our customers).

In the market conditions today, what ‘tools’ (figuratively – education? networks? experienced crews? or literally — machinery that keeps you competitive, software?) are the most helpful to your business?

Patty: One thing we use and we really believe in is a software program called ‘job clock’. It tracks employee work hours geared to the job site.

This was one of the biggest improvements we made, and we don’t use job cards any more.

A second thing that really helps us has been to ‘keep on learning’. Ever year we take one employee per year with us to the World of Concrete. We put them in classes and seminars and Rich and I always take some kind of class too. Then we bring back what we have learned and share it with others in the company. Each year the employees are excited, wondering who will get picked.

We’ve also been working on St. John for 4 years, and we’ll be taking a crew back again this year. We use the Wall Ties and Forms ledger system to pour complete concrete home shells. With our experience on St. John, we’ve learned a lot about total-concrete homes, primarily built to hold up against extreme conditions such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

With hard work, North Carolina is slowly becoming a viable business for us, and as a result we will discontinue working in St. John. We’ve captured a great deal of knowledge from working in St. John. In fact we’re going to build a concrete home this year in North Carolina. It is going to be a greenbuilt concrete home, and we hope this opens some doors in this area to this type of home construction method.

What is your best ‘surviving the current economy’ tip?

Rich: No waste. Don’t waste anything right now. Watch employee hours. Use all your extra rebar and materials where needed. Don’t over order and don’t eat up your profit costs.”

Patty: Payroll is important – have a system in place. Keeping track of employees’ hours is really important. Not only do we need to know for billing and estimating, but we don’t want to have a payroll check incorrect and short someone – we know that money is important to families.

What is your best ‘family business’ tip?

Rich: My wife and I are a team and we discuss and agree on what makes our family work.

Patty: As I said earlier, we are ‘our business’ and 90 percent of our conversation with each other is our business. We protect our business, are proud of our company, and work together as a team on projects. We understand what each other has to do. The best family business tip I can offer is ‘you have to be involved with each other to make it work.’

What is ‘next’ for the Kubica’s and K-Wall Poured Walls?

Patty: While we are not quite sure at this point, we will wrap up St. John and close there. We will focus on what we have built to this point now, and be good at what we do. Be conservative and make good customers.

With our baby we now have a home office and we are trying to think about our life cycle. We’re blessed with where we and our company are at now, and we feel very comfortable.

We will continue our growth through the CFA and the World of Concrete. We feel very appreciative of the support and friends we’ve got through this business. I respect my husband; I love him and respect our employees for what they do for us. Our employees have stayed with us for years and we have grown together. I take my hat off to our employees for keeping at it and staying with us to build our company to where we are today.

We are now reaping the benefit of our first 16 years of work and we look back and ask where did the years go? But look what we have built, we’ve done it.

K-Wall Poured Walls Inc
www.k-wall.com
PO Box 2189, Skyland, NC 28776
(828) 628 WALL 9255
(828) 687-0036
(828) 687-0025 PATTY
Fax 231-943-4727
rich@k-wall.com, patty@k-wall.com
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Concrete FACTS, a publication of the Concrete Foundations Association, is THE voice for residential concrete industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the cast-in-place concrete industry. Subscriptions to Concrete FACTS is available to anyone involved or interested in the residential concrete industry as a service to your industry. Please contact CFA Headquarters to find out more about your free subscription or Email Us