Paving the way: Precast concrete construction company still breaking the mold

Betty Dillard

Todd Sternfeld blazed a trail in precast manufacturing more than three decades ago and is setting the trend for the leaner, greener precast industry that is now emerging. The 52-year-old founder and owner of Euless-based Superior Concrete Products Inc. has pioneered and perfected modular precast concrete manufacturing and construction methods to create cost-effective, sustainable building systems. He’s built his business into an industry leader in the Southwest and across the United States.

Superior Concrete engineers, manufactures and installs customized precast concrete walls, fences and structures for the substation, residential and ranching industries. Manufactured in Cleburne, these precast concrete systems are made using patented molding equipment and proprietary techniques. The products are then shipped to a building site for installation. Sternfeld is now licensing his manufacturing processes and business systems with international entrepreneurs, organizations and companies who want to innovate building in their countries. Structures made from the Superior Product line are popping up around the globe, including Bolivia, Canada, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, the Netherlands, Thailand and Venezuela.

“We’ve always been a leader. I’m a pioneer in the industry. Our marketing and selling and our products all set us apart,” Sternfeld said. “We’re winning bids all over the world now because, like our customers here, our international customers are continually discovering [that] the applications for our products are endless. We’ve just launched a new website that communicates the benefits of our products, which are strong, long-lasting, beautifully designed and different from everything else in the marketplace today. Some of these countries, they’re actually building houses with our products.” Superior became a leader in the precast industry through planned, strategic growth, its founder said. A native of Los Angeles, Sternfeld was working in the landscaping business in the early 1980s when he met some people from overseas who were trying to bring the concept of precast concrete to the United States.

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“It was new at the time,” Sternfeld said. “The overseas version was molded with a texture only on one side. We got some venture capital and invested in some molds and that’s how I got involved.” Sternfeld and a partner found another overseas company making precast concrete molds with textures on both sides and struck out on their own, forming Superior Concrete Products. They started with a product that looks like wood. In 1983, Sternfeld and his partner introduced their design at the International Builders’ Show in Houston. They brought it a year later to the show in Dallas. It became an instant hit. “People in Texas responded so positively to the product because it has the look of wood and people in Texas use a lot of wood fencing. Our product was a welcomed alternative because it was precast and less expensive. There’s no maintenance to it. You didn’t need the extra labor to install a masonry wall. Even though it was a difficult time to start a business – in 1986 the housing market and the savings and loan went in the you-know-what – it was a good opportunity to get our product introduced into the marketplace. “The really overwhelming response is what got us going and what brought me here,” he said. Superior landed its first project building masonry walls for an Irving residential subdivision, and the company rapidly expanded across the country. A big break came in 1990 when Superior won the bid to build masonry walls for the Food Lion grocery chain in Texas. In 1996, Sternfeld bought out his partner and two years later moved the company’s corporate offices to Euless. At the same time he bought the property in Cleburne for a manufacturing facility. The plant is certified by the National Precast Concrete Association. “I had no idea about the Chisholm Trail Parkway at the time I purchased the property,” he said. “Strategically, it’s turned out to be a great location.”

Today, the company turns out nine patented precast products designed to blend in with almost any structure and that can mimic nearly any building material. The products can be fabricated to replicate natural stone, wood or brick and can be produced in a multitude of colors and finishes. Serving a niche market within the precast concrete industry, the company’s modular building systems use interlocking panels and posts made of high-performance fiber and steel-reinforced pre-colored concrete. Building applications run the gamut: sound walls, retaining walls, fencing, enclosures, general utility and equipment, residential housing, storage and municipal buildings, classrooms, barns, offices and garages. Superior Concrete recently donated fencing to protect 30 horses and dozens of acres, as well as enough concrete paneling to build stables for a dozen horses, at Victory Therapy Center in Flower Mound. Sternfeld is chairman of the board of directors for the nonprofit, which blends equine therapy and counseling for people of all ages. “One of the things I love about this business is that the technology we have is unlimited,” Sternfeld said. “The ability to always create new products will always be there. There’s so much potential. Anything’s possible. If one can think it, one can do it.”

Building for the future From 1990 until about 2008 when the recession began, Superior enjoyed robust growth, Sternfeld said. The company escalated its involvement in the commercial and residential construction and substation sectors and added new customers. When activity in the Barnett Shale started, Superior contracted with local oil and gas companies to build sound walls around gas well sites. During the recession, the precast concrete industry dwindled, stalling at the bottom from 2009 through 2011. The National Precast Concrete Association’s Benchmarking Report, which tracks the industry through an annual survey, showed the industry at its lowest level in 2011, down nearly 45 percent from the peak in 2007. An improved housing market beginning in 2012 heralded a recovery trend. Precasters recorded a modest 2.5 percent increase that year, followed by a 3 percent increase in 2013. Demand continues to increase for cost-efficient and sustainable construction options, the NPCA says. Revenue is expected to accelerate in 2014, with the precast sector adding 6 percent in sales, to $16.31 billion in total sales, according to NPCA data. “When the economy got difficult in 2008, it was challenging for everybody in the construction business but we were able to hold on,” Sternfeld said. “Now we’re seeing another upswing. It’s moving again. I’ve been in the business long enough to know there are cycles in this business and there are cycles in the economy. Things are picking up again.” Superior Concrete currently employs 40 to 45 full-time people and another 40 to 45 subcontractors. The company is working long-term on Trinity Falls, a 1,700-acre master-planned development in McKinney, and has projects for D.R. Horton in Kennedale and Austin. Other projects include a Sam’s Club in Richmond and Wal-Marts in Denton, Mission, McAllen and Lubbock. “Business is up this year, about 20 to 30 percent over last year,” Sternfeld said. He attributes the bump in revenue to a revamped website, increased presence in social media and the company’s growing international business. Superior Concrete recently exhibited at the World Concrete Show in Las Vegas, where the company discussed the licensing of its molds, equipment, business processes and systems. Forty percent of the leads generated from the show were international, Sternfeld said. “I’m trying to build upon what I’ve built and developed over the last 32 years and expand on it,” he said. “We’re striving to strengthen the credibility of our company through social media, the website and showing people what we can do with the product.”