West Jordan, Utah
Industry: Built Environment
Utah's standout brick manufacturer has withstood the test of time -- much like its award-winning products.
Historians share that when Brigham Young first saw the Salt Lake Valley he declared, "This is the right place." As some of the earliest settlers, the John Cahoon family quickly realized Utah was absolutely the right place to make bricks.
"There are a number of clay veins around this valley that provide a lot of good resources for us," shares Jeff Elder, manager of Interstate Brick. "In Utah, we are surrounded by mountains that are formed by earth plates moving upward. As these plates move upward, they expose clay layers of a wider range of colors that are normally found deep in the earth and not easily accessed or mined."
Today, more than 125 years after firing its first batch of bricks, the company provides materials across the United States and Canada. "We ship coast to coast," adds Elder.
Elder estimates that more than 90 percent of all bricks made in the United States are manufactured east of Denver. "And so for us to take brick to Florida, or New York, or Maryland, we have to pass almost every brick manufacturer along the way. It's like taking sand to the beach, which means we have to be better. Hence, our slogan and our belief: 'Nothing Else Stacks Up!'"
Fulfilling that mission "to be better" began with the Cahoons in 1891. "The Cahoons had a vision when they created this brick company," says Elder. In 1893, Interstate Brick received an award at the Chicago World's Fair for the "Best Quality Red Shale Pressed Brick in the Unites States."
In the late 1970s, the building codes introduced earthquake requirements that impacted the use of brick. "In the early 1980s, they began making reinforceable brick to make their brick earthquake-resistant," says Elder. "As manpower costs have increased, Interstate has focused on developing bricks that reduce the cost of laying bricks. Interstate Brick is nationally recognized as a national leader in larger brick sizes. Our larger sizes set us apart."
To survive in both the commercial and residential market, Elder understands the business must be committed to staying ahead by staying on top of trends and consumer demand, particularly in the residential market.
"We are living in a society with a throwaway mindset," Elder says. "We are okay cladding our buildings with 15-year, high-maintenance products knowing that they will need to be repaired in a few years. We use exterior products that are painted because we are willing to repaint. It's a mindshift away from durability. Brick lasts. An older brick building looks as good today as it did 60, 70 even 200 years ago. To keep up with market trends, we constantly must look at developing new colors. What's trending? What can we do with our clays to change the colors as needed so our products are current?"
Elder focuses on East Coast building trends. "If we know what is in demand there, we are ahead of the process when it reaches Utah in a few years. The trends move west but it takes a few years," he says.
In 1990, Interstate Brick was acquired by Pacific Coast Building Products, a privately held company located in Sacramento, California. Elder appreciates the relationship with Pacific Coast because they provide financial security and a successful business platform, "but they recognize that the best decisions are those made close to home. We report to a president and board of directors, but they still allow us a lot of autonomy to run this business. It has been a good relationship."
Challenges: Elder points to freight expenses. Interstate Brick has to ship a heavy product long distances. "We have to make the cost after the freight expense worth it by being unique, by being the best."
Opportunities: Thin brick. A relatively new product, thin brick is being used to create exposed brick walls inside and out, particularly for the industrial-chic loft look. "It's a lightweight material and conforms to the construction methods used today," Elder explains. "It has really taken off. We've had to invest in equipment and production processes to allow us to make these slim slabs because it's a product that is here to stay."
Needs: Labor. With a low unemployment rate, Interstate Brick works hard to maintain a good labor pool. "Our entry-level positions are labor intensive," Elder says. "But potential employees need to see the bigger picture. People that work here, stay here. We have over 30 employees that have been with us for 30 years or more. This means that we have opportunities in upper management. Our people are our greatest assets. Come work with us!"