By Jeff Bonkiewicz, Editor
An Interview with Mike Poppoff, President of ASCC and owner of Poppoff, Inc., a concrete contracting company.
Mike Poppoff, president and owner of Poppoff, Inc., is a 1972 graduate of the University of Washington with a BA in business administration. After several years in the concrete-related industry, he began his own contracting company in 1977. Mike is President and board member of the American Society of Concrete Contractors, where he is also a member of the Technical Review and Education Committees, as well as Chair of the Membership Committee.
He is an enthusiastic speaker at universities in the Pacific Northwest for their Construction Management programs. Poppoff, Inc. is active in the Associated General Contractors of Washington at the local and regional levels, as well as Yakima Valley Construction Federation, and ACI International.
JB: Please give us a little background on your concrete contracting company and what type of concrete projects you guys take on.
MP: I started out working for my neighbor, who was a concrete contractor. I worked for him in college and then for 5 years out of college. I travelled all throughout the northwest. I started Poppoff Inc. in 1977, working on my own the first year, doing garages and patios. I slowly worked into the commercial market. In the mid-80s, I began getting small commercial projects. Then, in 1989, CostCo moved into town and I started doing big box retail. This began the jump Poppoff experienced. We grew from there. We were going through a technical revolution encompassing the F number system, the new riding trowel, and laser screeds used in placing concrete. I joined ASCC and thought I could learn something from the organization, which has been a huge part of Poppoff's success. The networking and expertise available in ASCC is a game changer for business information as well as concrete technical expertise.
JB: What industry changes have you experienced over the years?
MP: The technical concrete revolution was a big one. This kicked-off in the early 90s. These trends generally start in the east and slowly make their way to the west. I first heard about the laser screed in an ad in Concrete Construction. About that same time, we joined the ASCC. Its members recommended the laser screed. It was great having that big purchase vetted by the ASCC members. How we did business was changing, and the product was changing—we could now make better floors. We thought we were installing good floors up to that point; however, we learned we were not installing great floors before the F-Number system. The F-Number system quantified what we were doing: you either met the specification or you didn't.
- Mike Poppoff
JB: What makes your contracting company different? What actions have you found that make you guys successful?
MP: We don't care about how big a company we are. We care about the quality of our work. You have to produce good, quality work to keep the repeat customers. We limit ourselves to slabs right now. That's what we do best, and we want to get better at it. We focus on 2 things: 1) Slab quality; and 2) Limit our scope of work. We do slabs very well and that's what we do day after day. I feel our craftsmen are much more knowledgeable about slabs because that is our focus.
Another thing that makes us different is we provide medical insurance and a pension plan here at Poppoff.
JB: What's your favorite part about the concrete business?
MP: Every day is different. This is a great industry. Every day has a different set of challenges that turn into opportunities. This industry provides a lot of satisfaction for a lot of people in our company and in our industry. Our inside joke is, “We should wait 5 minutes because things will change.” This industry makes me think hard every day on challenges and how we can make them opportunities. And it's fun.
JB: What's your least favorite part about this business?
MP: Government regulations and the stronger hold the government is getting on the contracting business. Sometimes these can go too far.
JB: Do you actively market your concrete contracting services or have you earned a lot of repeat business from past customers?
MP: We don't actively market as such. The majority of our work is negotiated and through referrals. When the economy was bad, it was low price. But the majority of our work is referrals, repeats, and negotiating. We want to get a customer and prove to him that he'll want us back.
JB: Poppoff does quite a bit of international concrete work. What's the difference between international concrete and domestic concrete?
MP: You work twice as hard internationally. You have language and culture challenges, and we respect those. The challenges begin with mix designs. Very, very high shrink mix designs. These are designs we used back in the 80s. Their means and methods are different than ours. We find we can tweak and modify theirs to be better. We specify tools, equipment and products that we know are superior, such as laser screeds, chemical hardeners and joint fillers to use. Each country is different. Japan is different from Singapore which is different from South Korea which is different from China. Each provides its own set of challenges. But there is a lot of L&M’s Seal Hard in Asia.
We will help them produce a better slab. It is still not perfect, but it is better than if we weren't there. We assist the crews. We have both consultants and crews overseas.
JB: From your new perch as president of ASCC, what direction do you see concrete going in the next 5 to 10 years? What challenges do you foresee?
MP: Government regulation. Make sure they're not a big burden on the contractor. I see manpower being a challenge. During the downturn, we lost a lot of craft workers. They simply left the industry. As this economy improves, we'll struggle getting qualified craft workers out in the field. We can improve the advertising for concrete as a profession. Advertise what a good industry this is to make careers.
I see the next 5 years being great. We're climbing out of the economic doldrums now. And there is a heap of optimism out there. I remember after 9/11, there was a boom—it shot straight up, which made it tough to handle all the work. It'll be a good 5 years.
JB: How has your ASCC role helped Poppoff, Inc., professionally?
MP: It has, but it is tough to measure. My mission as president is to keep a diverse group of contractors and suppliers aimed in the same direction: to enhance the capabilities of those who work in concrete. This is a very diverse group. We have different types of contractors: flatwork, paving, decorative, etc. My job as president is to further our mission and make this industry better. It is a very humbling job because there have been big shoes to fill over the last 20 years.
JB: What advice do you have for green concrete contractors just starting out?
MP: Produce high quality work. Get help because you can't do it all yourself. Get educated. Join ASCC because of the wealth of knowledge and networking this group provides. Stay as advanced technologically as you can in the concrete industry. And stay profitable! If you show red year after year, you won't be around long.
JB: How do our readers contact you?
© 2014 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Spring 2014.