By Sara Cooke
Fifty years ago, a local Fayetteville family opened a ready-made concrete business. Two years later, in March 1966, Marvis Howell Sr. purchased the company and a legacy began.
Marvis Jr., better known as Gene, began working for his father at age 16. He graduated from high school and attended NC State, played competitive golf and had hopes of going pro. But plans changed; during his sophomore year of college, Marvis Sr. suffered from heart trouble and Gene left school, returned home and took over the business.
“It was sink or swim,” recalled Pat, Gene’s wife, “Gene is 61 and is still working on a daily basis.” He chimed in, “Being the second generation, we have been successful which is so unusual because second generation businesses generally don’t make it.”
Then, 14 years ago, Pat joined Gene at Quality Concrete so that if necessary, she would be qualified to take over. She left an 18-year career in the banking industry and today the couple manages the business together. Pat spends her days at construction sites and coordinates with the contractors and superintendents, while Gene works in the office directly supervising truck routes and employees. Together the Howells’ management style is hands-on and Gene personally locks up at the end of each day. To those thinking of running their own business, he offers sage advice: “Plan on long hours and hard work. You don’t get time off when you’re trying to become successful.”
Pat said of working together, “We make a great team and it’s probably because we work in different physical spaces,” she laughed, “Otherwise, I’d lose my mind.”
As a ready-made concrete business, workers combine sand, water, rocks and cement in conveyor belts on the backs of trucks, which rotate and mix the concoction as the trucks drive to sites where the concrete is poured. This requires a team of dedicated drivers, and just as ownership hasn’t changed over the years, the majority of the company’s 19 employees are either long-time or second-generation members of the staff. By “long-time,” Pat clarified that most of their truck drivers have been with Quality Concrete for over 15 years and she attributed this high number to employees’ treatment.
“Our employees are like our family,” said Pat, “We know their spouses, their kids. We care about them.” Gene added, “They’re so loyal. They have stayed with us a long time.”
In a business where wet weather dictates whether or not work can be done, rain, snow and sleet ruin the concrete and mean it can’t be poured. Quality pays their drivers for 40 hours of work per week, as long as they show up ready to work. “They have to pay their bills, even if the weather is bad,” said Pat.
Another factor in their fifty years of success in a competitive, niche market is their standing customer base. “We’ve been blessed with some long-time, loyal customers — both commercial and residential,” maintained Pat, “A number have been with us for over ten years, and some for over 25 years.”
By choice they do not work in the military sector, simply because those contractors fluctuate and the Howells prefer maintaining the relationships they’ve established with clients in town- many of whom have standing orders.
Though the family has owned the company for 48 years, this March marked 50 years that it’s been in business. To celebrate 50 years, the staff planned to visit each customer and say “thank you.”
“The reason we’re successful is that we’re honest, do quality service, work hard and are always available. Most of our customers have our cell phone numbers and know they can call us day or night. It’s great to work with people who trust you so much they don’t even ask what you’re charging them, but just know they can count on getting great service.”
Quality Concrete was recognized for their efforts in 1990 when Methodist University awarded them the American Business Ethics Award for service to customers, employees and the community.
In addition to their dedication to the business, the Howells also give back to their hometown. Gene is on the advisory boards of the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society as well as Communicare. Pat serves on the boards of the Methodist University Foundation and ReStore. The couple also supports and regularly contributes to Fayetteville Urban Ministry.
Pat and Gene have two “wonderful” kids who helped out with the business growing up. Nonetheless, Pat acknowledged she isn’t sure who will be running the show in the future. “We’re ready to retire,” she laughed, adding, “but I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for our employees or our customers,” said Pat, “We love being a hometown, family company.”