Making a Great Impression

Custom Rock Formliner
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Custom Rock Formliner was established as a concrete contractor in 1971, specializing in both commercial and residential stamped concrete. Over the next decade, Custom Rock evolved and focused on theme-scapes, producing realistic-looking artificial landscapes across the country for zoos, casinos and retail stores such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.
Though Custom Rock enjoyed success in theming, it was not until the 1980s that it would find its ultimate niche – formliner. Today, the company remains an industry leader and has expanded over the decades through consistent delivery of quality formliner and customer service of the highest standard.

Formliner panels are made in a variety of designs and shapes and are attached inside the concrete formwork prior to concrete being poured. Formliner is used to add texture to bridges, retaining walls and sound barriers next to highways as well as many other construction projects. The resulting texture on the concrete make it more attractive than a plain wall and may be manufactured to resemble anything from abstract designs to incredibly realistic wood, stone or brick effects.

Custom Rock’s industry-leading reputation is based in large part on having the most realistic textures in the industry to such a degree that most people cannot tell if the walls are real or artificial. “Our textures, created from natural stone and wood, show all the pockets, crevices, and recessed areas that less detailed form liners do not,” according to the company.

The project that kickstarted the evolution of the company was the Minnesota Zoo. In 1977-78, Custom Rock created a themed environment for several of the zoo’s nature-inspired animal habitats.

“We went from doing the Minnesota Zoo to doing other zoos nationwide,” explained Custom Rock Formliner owner and Chief Executive Officer John Fallenstein. “We then expanded into a number of themed environments for casinos in Las Vegas and even Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, doing all of these rockscapes – theme-scapes if you want to call them that.”

“That really established Custom Rock as a faux rock artisan company. In 1986, as a result of our reputation in theming, Custom Rock was brought in as an advisor by an architect who was looking to create rock textures on concrete walls for a transportation project in Duluth, MN.” Fallenstein noted that it was a nascent industry at the time, but Custom Rock was able to see the potential.

Fallenstein purchased the company in 2008, and in late 2012, a new era of growth was ushered in. “I met with a couple of people who had extensive experience in thermoformed plastic formliner. Until then, we had only made urethane formliner. Not only were they great people, they knew how to run a plastic formliner operation.”

Custom Rock took full advantage of the opportunity, and within six months, its plastic facility was up and running in Texas. Those individuals remain employed with the company today and continue to provide their plastic expertise. “Our success has always been a direct result of our willingness to take calculated risks in order to innovate or grow,” said Fallenstein.

Custom Rock Formliner offers form liner of various types. Urethane and plastic form liners can be produced from similar but different molds. Urethane provides the most realistic textures while plastic captures upwards of eighty percent of the major details. They both serve their purposes, although the plastic liner produces a somewhat more muted look.

“The difference between the two materials is this: for urethane formliner, we pour liquid urethane into the mold, it hardens and cures, and as you can imagine, the liquid takes on every minute detail in the mold. For plastic formliners, the plastic sheet is heated almost to its melting point and then vacuumed onto the mold to create the form liner, but because the plastic sheet never leaves the solid state, it simply cannot pick up the same level of detail as urethane,” explained Fallenstein.

“When you look at a finished concrete surface created with a plastic form liner compared to concrete formed with a urethane formliner, the concrete surface texture from the urethane liner shows much more detail than the plastic,” he described.

In addition to manufacturing formliner, Custom Rock Formliner is also a painting/staining subcontractor. “Our crews travel across the country to stain stone textures, often at the request of architects who are familiar with our artisanal work.” Custom Rock has over 30 years of experience in staining multicolor surfaces and has won numerous awards for its realistic work in replicating natural stone colors.

A great example of Custom Rock’s custom texture expertise is its work on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Blue Ridge National Park. “The National Park Service was doing a fairly large transportation project within the Park, and they wanted a specific rock texture on the retaining walls,” explained Fallenstein. “Now, the National Park Service are known for having very exacting aesthetic standards. They said, ‘We want you to match our other Park bridges that were built by the WPA in the 1930s.” The WPA (Works Progress Administration) carried out a multitude of these public works projects during the Great Depression.

“We actually had our team go out to the Park and take castings off of the existing bridges that were out there,” Fallenstein explained. “We had to match exactly the rock shapes, the rock textures, stone sizes and all of that.” By doing so, Custom Rock created a pattern that was a perfect match.

Another high-profile job that exemplifies Custom Rock Formliner’s capabilities is the work that was completed on the Pentagon post-9/11. This project posed an interesting dilemma as Custom Rock was directed to match the original walls constructed in the 1930s. When the Pentagon was originally constructed, cedar planks were used as the formwork.

The tight grain, old-growth cedar used in the 1930s left a very specific texture on the concrete. Unfortunately such wood is no longer available so Custom Rock gained security clearance and actually went to the Pentagon to take castings of the building to replicate the original texture for the rebuild.

“We can make anything, as long as we have something to look at, better yet, if we can take a casting off of existing stone or rock,” said Fallenstein. Custom Rock Formliner has even found a way to replicate Kasota limestone, which is native to Minnesota and recognized for its tiny hole-like imperfections and texture.

The company works closely with both contractors and architects to ensure projects succeed. It is committed not only to creating the most realistic textures in the industry but to treating its customers with the highest level of service and engagement to ensure the result is exactly what was desired. Custom Rock has never missed a delivery date.

Key to the delivery of service and output of the highest quality is the team of long-standing employees who bring passion, experience and expertise to each project. Custom Rock Formliner is not just a service provider of choice; it is an employer of choice as well.

“We have people who know what they are supposed to do and do what they are supposed to do and actually have a passion for delivering value to our customers,” acknowledged Fallenstein. “Part of our mission statement is that integrity permeates every interaction internally and externally. Nothing is more sacrosanct than our word.”

Custom Rock Formliner is credited with creating some of the most realistic textures in the industry. “We have our own aesthetic standard to which we hold ourselves. It’s a self-imposed standard, but realism is as important to us as it is to the architect,” said Fallenstein. “Our entire history has been about making textured concrete look real.”

It is for all of these reasons that the company continues to secure high-profile projects. Custom Rock Formliner produces form liner of unmatched quality and aesthetic which has led it to becoming the leader in architectural form liners. It makes an impression on every project it undertakes.



Food for Thought

Read Our Current Issue


A Living Underwater Laboratory

May 2024

Achieving Equity Through Sustainability

April 2024

Hands-On Learning for Future Success

March 2024

More Past Editions

Cover Story

Featured Articles