By Eric Peterson | Aug 17, 2015
Concrete and Paving
Employees: About 90 (75 in Colorado)
"My grandfather started the company doing sidewalks, driveways and garages in Denver," says Vince of the company's origin during Denver's postwar boom.
His father, Calvin Van Heukelem, succeeded grandfather Wendell in 1977 with a similar mix of projects and about five employees.
The company grew to about 100 employees, and Vince took over as CEO in 2003. With his sister and Colorado Hardscapes' business developer, Karen Keyes, he represents the family's third generation in the business. They've pushed the work towards innovative and artful concrete products instead of just the same old grey.
Colorado Hardscapes serves four main markets: Municipal and parks projects are about 40 percent of sales, followed by commercial/retail (30 percent), military (20 percent), and high-end residential (10 percent).
Developed in the late 1990s, Sandscape is a proprietary product that offers a colorful surface with an upgraded texture for poured-in place concrete projects. Vince says sales took off in 2005 and has been a big driver of the company's growth for the past decade.
The company's portfolio includes marquee Denver projects like Union Station's water play feature, embedded with a mile of pipe to supply 92 jets. "All of our work is underground, so you can't see it," says Vince.
Colorado Hardscapes recently provided four different products for the new Johnson Habitat Park, part of the $25 million River Vision initiative on the South Platte River in Denver: stamped and patterned concrete, a giant faux play tree and concrete boulders, "LithoMosaic” tiles, and colored concrete.
The company is now working on the train platform and polished concrete benches at the expansion at Denver International Airport.
Only 5 percent of the market is outside of Colorado. Permeable concrete that returns runoff to the water table is a growing category.
A new product is in the works. "We're currently taking the Sandscape to the next level," says Vince. "We call it Sandscape Refined. It has a more engineered look and it's available in more colors."
Sales from the Denver office are double what they were in 2011, he says, as the head count surged from 50 to 75. Colorado Hardscapes also has 12 employees with Progressive Hardscapes in Phoenix from an acquisition in 2012.
"There was a real slow period from 2008 to 2012," says Vince. "The last three years have been great."
Challenges: Safety. "Making sure people are trained, making sure we don't go too fast," says Vince. "We're having a good year this year after a few near-misses in 2013 and 2014."
Daily morning meetings have helped reduce accidents, he adds. "Communication and planning are key for safety."
Budgeting is another challenge. "A lot of our customers ask us for pricing a year or two beforehand," Vince says. "We're finding in the budgeting process we have to be more conservative."
Opportunities: Vince sees opportunities in the resort towns in Colorado, as well as Montana and Wyoming, but isn't planning to actively pursue them in the short term. "There's definitely opportunities for sandblasting we can probably continue to grow in," he adds, and also cites the upcoming release of Sandscape Refined.
Needs: Manpower. "We'll continue to look for more concrete carpenters," Vince says. "There's not a whole lot of people, and they're getting older, and there's not a college for it.It's really a dying art."
Good carpenters need five years of on-the-job experience to really be able to tackle complicated work, he adds. "It's one thing to be able to build it," he explains, "but you've got to think as you build it how you're going to take it apart once the concrete sets."
Another need is continual. "We always replace our equipment as it starts to get older," says Vince. "We buy new equipment every year."