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Concrete manufacturer thrives despite housing downturn

Craig Ausen takes notes on the concrete catch basins being manufactured at Dalmaray Concrete in Janesville recently. Despite a slow economy and the lack of an advertising campaign, the family owned business is thriving. (AP Photos/The Janesville Gazette, Lukas Keapproth)

The Janesville Gazette

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Rob Ausen and the two other generations of his family that run Dalmaray Precast Concrete Products are sincere in their subscription to the business theory that great products and great service sell themselves.

But only if the company has the flexibility to diversify and adapt to changing markets.

That’s exactly what’s happened at Dalmaray, which opened in Janesville in 1957 as a producer of precast concrete steps. Today, it’s one of the largest precast producers in Wisconsin.

Dalmaray still makes steps, but it’s branched out to produce utility pads and vaults, window wells, manholes and other custom structures.

Most of Dalmaray’s business involves making septic tanks that range from 600 gallons to 10,000 gallons. The company also makes panel walls for bunker and commodity storage, as well as retaining walls for the commercial, industrial and residential markets.

“We’ve picked up customers we didn’t have five years ago, and we don’t have a sales team,” Ausen said. “They came to us looking for a breath of fresh air.”

He started working at Dalmaray when he was 13 and eventually graduated from UW-Madison in 1983 with an industrial engineering degree.

These days, the company serves southern Wisconsin from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan from its facility on South Arch Street. Diversification became the mantra as residential building nosedived.

“Too many companies just did two or three things and didn’t want to spend money to diversify. Then the recession hit,” Ausen said.

Precast concrete is poured into a reusable form, cured in a controlled environment, transported to a construction site and put into place. In contrast, standard concrete is poured into site-specific forms and cured on site.

“We really pride ourselves on being able to pour things that most people shy away from,” said Aaron Ausen, one of Rob’s three sons involved in the business that his grandfather, Robert “Bob” Ausen, took over in 1971 and operated out of his Court Street home.

Dave Jelinek welds a reinforcing cage for concrete molds at Dalmaray Concrete.

The Court Street location became too small, so Rob and Bob in 1994 moved the operation to Arch Street. Growing production and sales forced an expansion and a change in strategy. The company was too reliant on ready-mix providers, so in 2003 it added a batch plant to produce its own concrete to its own specifications and on its own schedule.

“With the batch plant, we can control everything — our mix, our reinforcing, our pouring and curing — and we know where our aggregate comes from,” Aaron said.

Aaron — like his brother Craig — graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in civil engineering. The other brother, Kyle, is a high school senior who likely will pursue a business management degree.

“We’ve got enough engineers here,” Aaron quipped.

The family works well together, he said.

“We have our days, but it’s pretty neat to be able to go to work with your father, grandfather and brothers and enjoy it.”

Education and hard work are important in the family business. There are no free rides.

“Family business or not, the bottom line is still to make a profit,” Rob said. “These guys have produced for us and as civil engineers brought business to us.”

Dalmaray, which employs 10 to 15 people, recently landed its largest agriculture contract, an order from a farm near Browntown.

“People want to spend money right now, and we have to be able to react,” Rob said. “And we may need to expand at the drop of a hat when the economy comes back.”

Rocked by the closing of the General Motors plant in their backyard and a tanking housing market, the Ausens kept an open mind.

“We learned how to use our products in different ways to create more jobs,” Aaron said. “This is where the custom work really came into play.

“We really did an excellent job in precasting products that weren’t necessarily supposed to be precast.”

The family knows a full recovery is years away, but it predicts another profitable year, thanks in large part to how it positioned itself during the recession.

“We took a good look at what we needed to do better, and we improved,” Aaron said. “We also took a good look at what we do well, and we perfected it .

“I think, for the most part, the recession has taught us a lot about ourselves. We learned how much work we can physically do, and we learned how do it at the best of our ability.”

Information from: The Janesville Gazette,

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