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When customers arrive at Ventura U-Cart Concrete in Ventura, Calif., to pick up and haul their own mixed concrete, a cart is chained to the truck's undercarriage. The plant operator pours a small quantity of concrete in the cart, and off the customer goes, out the exit and onto the day's special project. In less than 15 minutes, Ventura has sent another do-it-yourselfer on the road. "Selling concrete to the u-haul customer is our primary business," says owner/operator Gary Ryan, who also sells contractor tools and supplies.

Down the coast, United Rentals, San Diego, has been doing a brisk stationary mixer business since 1987. With 75% of its customer base consisting of small and large contractors, United Rentals sells concrete by the quarter-yard.

With a public demand for quick service and a willingness to undertake more projects, versatile and aggressive producers are gaining a competitive edge by using onsite stationary volumetric mixers combined with rental carts to create profitable businesses.

Previously an area concrete contractor for 15 years, Gary and David Ryan-equal partners-bought an existing material supply company in 1994. There were few customers, and the equipment was worn out. The Ryans worked 70-hour weeks to build a healthy, lucrative business. Their efforts have paid off. After generating about 100 yards of concrete per month at first, the company's sales have multiplied to about 300 yards per month.

About 80% of the company's stationary volumetric mixer customers are contractors who work on such projects as sidewalk repair. A large number of these contractors are engineering firms that use small quantities of concrete for such projects as storm drains, curbs, gutters, water mains, and pipes. "Even big contractors will have a need for only a yard or two of concrete," explains Ryan. The other 20% of the business consists of homeowners making such home improvements as storage sheds, patios, and driveways. The Ryans began batching concrete with an old paddle mixer. However, 2 years ago they purchased a truck-mounted volumetric mixer at World of Concrete. "We were so impressed with the technology," comments Ryan, "that 6 months later we bought a stationary volumetric plant to replace the paddle mixer." With a 30-yard-per-hour capacity, the system has two aggregate bins holding pea gravel and a 1-inch minus mix--which Ryan refers to as that most commonly used in concrete--and a large cement silo.

Says Ryan, "It's only four minutes per yard-that's pretty fast. We tell customers they can be in and out of here in 15 minutes maximum."

Ventura has 18 carts: seven single-axle hydraulic lifts, seven double axles, four rotary carts usually used for longer routes. A yard of concrete, including the cart, costs $100, with extra charges if hydraulic carts are not rinsed off, if customers leave significant amounts of concrete and rotary carts.

United Rentals charges $90 per yard, which includes use of a hydraulic lift cart for 3 hours, and adds a $50-per-hour charge for any additional time. Those who return carts with concrete pay $85.

Working hard to maintain a good reputation, Ryan stresses, "Contractors are pretty demanding. You have to meet certain standards to do business with them."

Ryan's marketing methods yellow pages, word of mouth, brochures and followup with office visits.

Ryan plans to double business in 2001. Having invested about $150,000 in the stationary volumetric mixer and carts, Ryan and his son expect to pay them off in another year and a half.

Bill Meade, co-owner of Meade Concrete Products Inc., Lexington, Ky., installed a volumetric mixer onsite less than 2 years ago. According to Meade, the stationary mixer also serves as an excellent marketing tool for the company's diverse inventory. "Do-it-yourselfers and homeowners who come in to pick up concrete for projects see some of the other products we have besides concrete block."

Chester Deboe, owner of A.C. Krebs Co., Louisville, Ky., is the block producer who encouraged Meade to invest in the stationary volumetric mixer. What gave him the idea a dozen years ago to pursue this application? "I read something in your magazine," he responds with an amused tone.