An abundance of creativity is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when describing the attributes of a leading precast concrete manufacturer. Terms like standard and volume are more familiar. But competition in the precast industry is quite fierce and as such it behooves the leaders to distinguish themselves is some manner. At Proform Construction Products, they are conceptualizing precast manufacturing in a different way. And that is what sets them apart from the typical precast concrete manufacturer.
Based in Central Alberta, Proform has two manufacturing plants, one in Red Deer and one in Calgary, that have been servicing the concrete demands of Western Canada for over 40 years. Its success is largely derived from one source – versatility. This means being able to supply customers with standard precast products but also utilizing their in-house engineering department to customize virtually any project’s design. Being more versatile and creative than the competition allows Proform to attract more unique projects. This is a vital attribute in a crowded field where everyone else is fighting for the same type of customer. This creativity drives innovation and in turn you see new and dynamic products and updated modes of operation from the sales team to the production floor. And the synergy between each department creates a platform for Proform to be a holistic precast concrete solution for its customers; a One-Stop Shop. As Proform COO, Rob Heemskerk described it, “We have custom forms our competitors do not. And so, when you get a project that has customization required, in some cases, we’re the only game. We’re the only ones that are doing it.” Illustrative of this are the vault structures that Proform manufactures. Instead of offering only standard sizes they can customize these structures to the customer’s needs. As Precast Manager Syd Stansall explained, “We have a very universal form set that can offer any size of vault. A lot of the projects are getting a little more complicated on the design. So, our form set can actually adapt to accommodate those. Those designs are very flexible that way, and it just makes a lot friendlier and easier for the contractor to install.”
Tackling unique projects has become something of a calling card for the company and another avenue for success. When you’re willing to take on projects that other companies might not, then you begin to separate yourself from the crowd. Proform offers precast elevator shafts, which can also be manufactured using forms for other precast products. This innovation is unparalleled, and when combined with manufacturing in a controlled plant, can save an enormous amount of time and effort, including weather delays, compared to pouring in place on site.
Proform even created a precast fish ladder that was shipped to British Columbia to help fish migrate around physical structures and into otherwise inaccessible water. It is probably safe to say that fish ladders are not going to be a large percentage of orders but it does, however, signal Proform’s willingness to tackle all types of projects, giving them a multitude of ways to grow and stand out as a precast leader. According to Heemskerk, “If I think about it, our team is programmed to think out of the box. And when I say that I mean difficult schedules, difficult sites, difficult products… if you have a unique project, then you’re going to be working with us.”
Proform’s aggressive eagerness to do things differently worked in their favour and ended up shaping the residential precast market. After offering a line of stylized precast steps and decks for residential builders, the immediate appeal of the product tilted the market heavily to favor that design. Poured in place concrete steps and wood steps instantly looked drab in comparison and the curb appeal of homes with precast steps increased. Heemskerk said, “Precast steps kind of evolved for this market alone. You don’t really seek precast with this significant market share anywhere else. And the reason for it is that, again, we got creative. We devised a way to make custom steps and custom verandas. So, now precast steps in this market is probably as high as 70% market share.” That daring bit of innovation led to a totally unplanned downstream effect for the company and are now setting the industry standard for the product.
“After offering a line of stylized precast steps and decks for residential builders, the immediate appeal of the product tilted the market heavily to favor that design.”
Supply chain issues that become rampant in the past year and made prices of certain materials skyrocket, created an opportunity for Proform. The inability to source resin created a PVC pipe shortage and as a result, small-diameter precast concrete pipe emerged as an attractive alternative. Proform immediately saw this as a chance to pivot and provide solutions in their wheel house. Precast pipe is a time-tested choice for conveying water and is easy to install, low maintenance and sustainable – which in today’s standards is becoming increasingly important. Engineering and Operations Manager, Randy Gibson said, “One of the things, I feel, that Proform is really good at, is adapting very quickly to the market. In the beginning of the year, we were going in one direction and then had to re-evaluate as the market kept changing. We made adjustments really quickly and started going a different direction. That is one example in terms of how we found ways to acquire material and increase production in order to be able to supply the industry with that small diameter precast pipe.”
Even with the devastating effects of COVID-19 wreaking havoc across all industries, Proform used the disturbance as a chance to reassess, and make improvements where possible. If every problem is just a creative solution in waiting, then you can’t help but stay ahead. As Marketing Coordinator, Alicia Demchuk said, “We started to focus our attention more on having a higher online presence. We improved our website so that it was more attainable to our customers, we made our product catalogue more user friendly and we restructured our contact list so that it was easier for customers to navigate.”
The latitude given to Proform’s employees at every level, to think on their feet, challenge assumptions and constantly come up with new ideas is energizing. And Proform tries to bring that energy to their customers as well. As Heemskerk put it, “We really try to meet our customers’ needs rather than trying to get our customers to fit to our production or our products… We’re always trying to figure out how we can assist the customer, whether it be with product design, product concept, delivery schedule. We’re trying to always work to our customers’ needs versus the other way around.” The confidence to put that much trust in your employees truly pays dividends but is easy when you have so many combined years of experience and diversity under one umbrella. Encouraging creative solutions allows Proform to thrive and create a business filled with highly-engaged people eager to meet and surpass customer needs. All these factors combined fosters a company that provides reliable concrete solutions for the commercial, residential, transportation and industrial sectors through quality workmanship, innovative technologies and, of course, creativity.