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In an industry that has become aware of the need to promote concrete against other building materials, the owners of North Carolina's S&W Ready Mix Concrete and the Hoosier State's Cook Block & Brick Sales Corp. are way ahead of the curve. Slipformed concrete ready-mix plant at S&W Ready Mix and a brick and concrete masonry office/warehouse facility at Cook Block & Brick show off the durability, environmental friendliness, versatility, and beauty of concrete. As a result, they allow their owners to solicit fair prices for their product. The structures are a key factor in their owners' promotion strategies. The buildings draw customers inside to look at what can be done with concrete.

After Harry Shaw, Don Sutton, and Earl Wells of Clinton, N.C.-based S&W Ready Mix Concrete supplied concrete for more than 20 slipformed feed mills in America's new hog capital, those structures began to look like concrete plants. Shaw turned thoughts into action when he called longtime friend Gene Wagester, P.E., semiretired president of Pittsburgh-based design-builder Port-Land Systems, and asked him to build a slipformed concrete plant.

Well, in reality it wasn't that easy. The partners and neighbors-who had moved in long before S&W planned to set up shop-viewed the planned site development quite differently. The way the partners wanted to store dry materials would address dust and noise concerns, among equally important operational ones.

The material storage is a key element of S&W's corporate strategy, adds Shaw. "We want to be known as the special products provider," he says. "If a guy calls in and wants an exposed-aggregate mix or a silica-fume mix, we can give it to him instantly."

The unique way in which the plant stores materials is cost-effective yet conducive to quality control, Because the producer handles aggregate only once, less segregation occurs.

Another advantage of the material-storage is low maintenance. Compared with steel silos or aggregate bins, "we don't have to paint this thing; it'll last 50 years," says Sutton. "The bins have cone hoppers; there are no screw conveyors; there are no air slides. The [bins] are gravity-fed. There are very few moving parts on this plant."

Alongside the truck load-out alley, Port-Land Systems built a three-part settling tank for process water that gets recycled as batch water. Also, the truck lot is paved concrete, which keeps dust to a minimum.

A two-story office next to the plant also uses plenty of concrete indoors, offering visual promotions of the possibilities of concrete construction. A look at the upstairs and downstairs floors reveals decorative concrete surfaces; the entryway surface was stamped and colored with dry shake-on color hardener, and the floors for the batch room, driver break room, lab, and kitchen dispatch room were acid-etched and steel-troweled. The lab has a decorative countertop using 1/2-inch #32 stone, with an integral rust-colored dye, sawed edges, and a ground-down top surface. When visitors walk outside, they see a pump house built with tilt-up concrete and a shed for the admixture dispenser built out of insulating concrete forms, a product S&W Ready Mix sells to contractors.

Another item these visitors see through a window in the company's lab is an integrally colored cylinder, a testament to the company's flowable-fill program for utility contractors. S&W pigments its flowable fill so contractors can color-code underground utilities. "A salesperson can actually go out into the field and take three or four colors with him," says Shaw.

The partners' entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to their concrete production business, though Shaw stresses that it will always be their core interest. They'd like to see the Castle Hayne plant become the prototypical 21st century ready-mix facility. The group is even toying with the idea of partnering with Port-Land Systems to build turnkey plants like its own Castle Hayne facility.

Three states to the northwest, pull into the parking lot at the new Cook Block & Brick site, Anderson, Ind., and it's immediately apparent that this is not your typical block company. The office/warehouse, located next to the batch plant, features an exterior of colored brick and colored fractured-finish, fluted, and smooth concrete masonry. A colored concrete segmental retaining wall and roof tiles on the office roof blend in with the rest of the building, and customers park in a concrete lot.

The exterior is only a taste of the masonry items Cook Block & Brick either produces or distributes. Enter the front door and a colorful quarry tile floor leads inside. Once inside, turn to the left, and a sales counter/dispatch area, accented by a glass-block facade and pillar and earth-toned fractured-finish block, welcomes customers. "We wanted to build something where we could show off all the products we make and have a nice place to display samples," says Virgil Cook Jr., whose father founded the business in 1946 from a plant on the other side of town. "I think it's tough to sell somebody on the idea of a masonry building when you've got a steel building," says Cook.

The interior and exterior appearance of the buildings lends itself to a supermarket concept. "We wanted to have a really nice place for the home buyer to come in and pick out building materials," Virgil Cook Jr. says. In the drive-through warehouse, the company stores building supplies such as masonry tools and bagged mortar.