“Over the years, L&M also has developed a group of nearly 600 certified installers for the densifying, hardening, installation of color and other special floor and repair products. Top quality products installed by trained and competent contractors makes a big difference for many projects.”
L&M Founder, Larry E. Schwietz Reminisces About 51 Years Of Inventing New Products.
As part of L&M's 51st Anniversary Year, it is fitting that we pay tribute to the guy who made this unique company happen. L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. was founded by Lawrence E. Schwietz in Omaha, Nebraska in 1961. Larry had the courage, tenacity and vision to see a need for better products for a growing concrete construction industry. The company was originally based in his home in Omaha and grew rapidly.
In a recent interview with this author, Schwietz said, “Putting food on my table for eight hungry children stared me in the face every day I woke up. This, along with a love of meeting people and solving problems for friends in the construction industry, gave me the drive and impetus to keep the company vibrant and growing in those early years. It was scary, yet an exciting time. A year later in 1962, I moved the company to the basement of a friend's tire warehouse. Fifty years later, after opening numerous packaging plants and warehouses, along with opening an international sales and distribution system, L&M continues to thrive.”
This article focuses on the reason why and how L&M grew from its humble beginnings to a major player in the concrete construction industry. In this article we will feature and examine Schwietz's penchant for being in the right places at the right times...his brilliant chemistry-formulating background and his strong people skills and salesmanship for inventing and selling products for the concrete construction industry.
The following are questions by this author...and answers by Schwietz to give our readers a rare insight into this interesting and remarkable man. Forget your preconceived notions from past sci-fi movies of a lab chemist in a white jacket with bubbling beakers behind him in an evil lab.
Schwietz is, and always has been, an incredibly focused and gifted man with a vision. His vision is to create a better concrete product...for a better world.
Question - Jim Vlcek (JV): Describe your education and first employment out of school before L&M was founded.
Answer - Larry Schwietz (LS): “I was a 1949 graduate of St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota with a BS in Science and Chemistry. I worked for STA-VIS Oil Co. as a lubrication chemist in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1950-1953. I worked for the Air Force as a fuels & lubricants inspector. I also set up QC programs at a number of refineries in the Midwest, purchasing aviation gasoline, jet fuels and lubricants from 1953-1956.
In 1957, I accepted a position as chief chemist at McCollister Grease and Oil Company in Omaha. The company formulated and sold lubricants for the automobile and farm industry. During those early years in Omaha, I developed a close relationship with the owner of Allied Oil Company. When I started L&M in 1961, I recruited Allied Oil as L&M's first distributor.
I was very fortunate to have carved-out good and lasting relationships from that early beginning. A lot of people believed in me and trusted that I would solve their problems. There were days that I was more of a salesman than a chemist, and then there were days I was busy inventing new products.”
JV: What was the economic climate back in the days leading up to founding L&M in 1961?
LS: “It was a growing construction economy. The post-war boom continued through the 60's and there was a lot of opportunity for concrete specific construction products that would do the job effectively and save time and money for the contractors.
JV: What was the typical method you used to formulate and invent a new product?
LS: “I looked for contractors that had a need. Either they weren't happy with the products they were currently using, or they required something more specific to their needs due to a unique construction method they were using. A lot of my work was based on a problem/solution kind of thinking. I would then formulate something with a lot of trial and error in testing the new product until I knew it would work...and work better than what they had been using.
For instance, I invented a release product that would better release the iron ore from large barges coming across the Great Lakes from the mines to unload at the processing plants. When they tried to dump that ore, tons of it would stick to the sides and bottoms of the barges.
The processing company was denting and beating the pulp out of those huge steel barges in an effort to get the ore to release. They absolutely loved my product. It saved them a lot of money in labor and they didn't have to damage those ore barges anymore.
JV: What was the very first product to come off your inventor's table?
LS: “That would be Debond Form Release Agent. I could see that the contractors needed a better form release product. They weren't happy with using recycled oil or diesel fuel. They needed a product that would release, eliminate or lessen bug holes, keep the forms clean and release properly every time.
Contractors spend a lot of money on maintaining their forms. They also spend a lot of labor money having their crews clean the forms after each job. I invented Debond to release forms properly, save on form cleaning costs, and save them money...simply stated, L&M always finds a better product for the job.”
JV: Where was your concrete lab located back in the early days:
LS: “In those early days, I was constantly in the proverbial 'dog house' with my wife, Marilyn. I did everything out of our home until we had a commercial lab.
The house was a mess...but I couldn't afford a commercial space. Sometimes her kitchen was full of Portland and materials dust and her oven and counter tops were a mess. That...and having to deal with eight hungry little children, who had to eat in that environment, tested her patience with me I guess. She was a saint through it all. She put up with my craziness and still loved me.”
JV: What are some of the other critical things associated with running an in-house concrete lab?
LS: “The testing of raw materials when delivered to our batch plants. Every load of materials is tested to our rigid specifications. If the raw materials don't measure up to our standards, they are rejected immediately.
In a scientific environment, everything must pass our testing before it's unloaded or shipped out. Our products and our reputation are at stake.”
JV: Does L&M ever use outside labs for any reason?
LS: “Yes. L&M uses outside labs on a selective basis for testing certain performance properties of our products. Other quality-minded manufacturers use them as well. Some of the testing machines they use are very specialized and measure performance specs in accordance to ASTM specifications and ACI Guides.
JV: How does the lab and products you invent dovetail into the overall success of the L&M brand of products?
LS: “The sales and marketing side of the company is as important as the product. My son, Greg, is president of L&M and also heads up the sales and marketing division to launch new products.
Our product line is marketed through catalogs and sell-sheets which introduce and explain existing products to the distributors, architects, engineers and specifiers. Getting this information out to the industry is critical in getting the L&M product solutions first and foremost in the minds of these professionals.
Our regional sales and technical managers represent the product line to distributors and other customers. Over the years, L&M also has developed a group of nearly 600 certified installers for the densifying, hardening, installation of color and other special floor and repair products. Top quality products installed by trained and competent contractors makes a big difference for many projects. ”
JV: In terms of new product development, what can the industry expect to see from L&M in the future?
LS: “As long as God keeps me alive, I plan to keep working long days solving problems and developing new products to help people with better concrete. I plan to keep my promises with our customers and distributors of providing top quality products to make them successful. At L&M, we've always given a lot more than we've taken. We're known as the company that listens, solves problems and holds our customer's hand along the way.”
© 2012 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Summer 2012.