Artisan in Concrete
Artisan in Concrete
CSolutions, Atlanta, Ga.
Concrete laborer, labor foreman, finisher, laser screed operator, assistant superintendent, shop foreman, purchasing agent, estimator, project manager, architectural concrete division manager, operations manager.
Tim Blankenship has held all these jobs in his 23 years of pouring concrete. Each position has contributed to his enthusiasm for decorative applications and his commitment to continuous learning. His keen attention to detail can be seen in the field or behind a desk at CSolutions in Atlanta, where he oversees sales, estimating and project costs.
CSolutions specializes in decorative concrete, such as stained and polished concrete, exposed aggregate, stamped concrete and pavers, and is a licensed Lithocrete installer. It's a relatively young company, but CEO Scott Truax, who recruited Blankenship to join him, is proud of the projects CSolutions has completed and the strong relationships it has forged with distributors and the Atlanta design community.
Architects and designers are accustomed to contractors trying to sell a particular line of products, Truax says. CSolutions goes further - it educates them about the wide range of possibilities decorative concrete can offer. "It's unique for a contractor to promote an array of products and finishes," he says. "It's like eye candy to clients."
Truax's wife Caroline originally founded CSolutions as an amenity distributor in Atlanta in 2000 and continued to operate the company when the couple moved to Vail, Colo., for a couple of years. After they decided to move back to Atlanta, Scott, who believed the area needed a leader in decorative concrete solutions, shifted the emphasis of the company from distribution to decorative work.
He called an old friend in the business, Paul Mandall, who had started Middle Georgia Concrete Constructors Inc., for some advice on starting a new business. "I looked him up just to have a cup of coffee and see what mistakes he made so I wouldn't make the same ones," he says. Instead, he ended up getting an offer to buy out Mandall's partner.
Now, co-owners Truax and Mandall focus MGCC on work for schools, jails, hospitals and churches. Truax is CEO and Mandall is president. CSolutions is a division of MGCC.
Blankenship, who had known and worked with Truax for years, joined him in 2005, with the intention of growing and developing CSolutions. ("I started beating on him to come join me and he gave in," Truax explains.)
Blankenship says he came into decorative concrete "backward" - from the front office to the project site, not the other way around. An accident gave Blankenship a fuller exposure to the "business" side of the concrete business. In 2000, he crushed his foot and was out of work for a year and a half recovering from three surgeries. He was with Precision Concrete Construction of Alpharetta, Ga., at the time. The company's services were vast, from restoration and demolition to concrete frame fabrication for high-rise buildings to a huge range of decorative applications. At one point, Blankenship was one of the Southeast's largest installer of architectural concrete.
Blankenship eased back into work by doing some estimating for Precision's new decorative division, which was headed by none other than pre-CSolutions Scott Truax.
As Blankenship's foot healed, he began experimenting with various decorative techniques. By the end of his 14-year tenure at Precision Concrete, he was architectural concrete division manager. The division employed 50 people in six crews on projects around the country.
Blankenship missed the feel of a more personal business, so when Truax invited him to join CSolutions, he did. Although he calls it one of the hardest decisions he's ever made, he does not regret it. Blankenship figures he spends about half his time in the field, about 30 percent meeting clients and 20 percent estimating. "When I came into the office I learned a lot more about the details of specifications," he says. "I got more into sales too, and started learning and dealing with customer expectations."
According to Truax, Blankenship's passion is making educational presentations. He hosts "lunch-and-learns" a few times a month. His constant striving for better quality and new challenges and his ability to work well with architects and designers has served CSolutions well.
"Fifty percent of our leads come through the design community," Truax says, adding that it sometimes takes just a few weeks for a presentation to translate into new work for CSolutions.
One of Blankenship's favorite projects is a 1,200-square-foot stained concrete patio he created in 2007 for homeowners in central Georgia. It features a 26-inch diagonal grid pattern with 6-inch black diamonds, which Blankenship says were scored by hand over the Fourth of July weekend. "We did the whole thing in three days," he says. "We had fun doing it."
Blankenship and a crew of three used L.M. Scofield Co.'s Lithochrome Ash White color hardener for the overall tint, along with Scofield's Tintura water-based stains (Beige, Steadman Buff and Deep Charcoal). The homeowners picked exterior paint color to match the patio. "They were ecstatic," Blankenship says.
The company has also enjoyed positive reactions for its work on the Cherry Street restoration in Macon, Ga. CSolutions was called in when the original contractor could not meet the budget. The project features a large fountain with a base of Lithocrete, which allowed the crew to surface-seed multiple colors of glass to give it a glittering effect. Two city blocks were torn up, the existing cobblestones were set aside, and the area was transformed. The cobblestones were used for the parking lines, decorative brickwork was installed throughout, and two new crosswalks mark each end of the project.
What's next for CSolutions? One of the biggest projects on Blankenship's to-do list is an open-air mall in Kansas City that will involve 180,000 feet of flatwork, including stamped concrete, broomed finishes, pavers and flagstones.
The company is also building a new office that will include a 1,000-square-foot lab showing samples of colored aggregates, glass and more. Truax has hired a full-time marketing professional to promote CSolutions' work. As the big projects of GMCC have slowed with the economy, more time and energy is being poured into the CSolutions decorative division. Truax hopes to increase CSolutions' percentage of overall GMCC revenues from 10 to 15 percent to 25 to 40 percent.
Truax and Blankenship don't believe in keeping their skills to themselves. They are happy to share what they know with fellow contractors, architects and designers and are more than willing to work collaboratively. Both are very active in trade associations, and they have nurtured and maintained strong relationships with distributors. Truax credits the networking of trade associations with a new opportunity to become a Sundek installer in the area.
"No matter what I've done, it's been a challenge and I've loved it," Blankenship says. "I'm just up for the next challenge, I guess."
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