Somero’s focus has always been on innovation and technology in the commercial concrete business. This company is the pioneering spirit behind high production, high quality concrete flooring, and it continues to set the trends going forward. We spoke with its Vice President of North American and International Sales Lance Holbrook.
“Our core business is the innovation and assembly of Laser Screed® machines. There is not a Walmart Superstore, Target, Home Depot, Lowes or other big-box retail store that gets built currently without the floor being installed by a crew using a laser-controlled screeding machine,” says Lance.
Somero sells the machines to commercial concrete contractors and general contractors. Some are focused on just working with flooring and others are more comprehensive, installing walls, floors, footings, and foundations.
Somero’s customers range in size and diversity in terms of the types of work they perform. All of them are involved at least somewhat on the commercial flooring business. New factories, schools, agricultural facilities and large warehouses are all places where a Somero Laser Screed® machine may be used. A good example of this today is Amazon, as its warehouse floors are installed using Somero Laser Screed machines.
The company was founded in 1986 by Dave and Paul Somero. They were concrete contractors who knew there had to be a better way to put down and level concrete. They came up with the idea for the laser screed method. A prototype was built, and production models were introduced by the end of the 1980s.
“For several years they produced one product, the S-240 Laser Screed, which came to be known as the flagship of the industry for many years,” says Lance. This machine levels wet concrete for floor slabs, and when properly equipped, can also be used on concrete paving around buildings. The Somero machine does the leveling or contouring which in the past was performed by a crew of men with a straight edge.
There was no competition for a long time, and the S-240 set the standard. In the 1990s, the use of the Laser Screed machine expanded. Smaller contractors learned of the capabilities of the machine but did not have the size or volume of work to support the investment required to buy an S-240. A compact machine was needed for smaller jobs and lighter work volumes.
The S-160 Laser Screed machine was introduced in 1996, and the S-100 followed in 1998. This gave potential buyers three options for a small, medium, or large-sized machine and allowed the company to reach commercial contractors of all sizes, performing all kinds of projects.
“In 1999, the Somero’s sold the company to Dover Industries, a conglomerate company that had over 50 different companies within its portfolio. With the purchase came new management and new approaches to the business, with a heavy focus on international growth,” says Lance.
At this point, the company delved into product development and innovation to expand. There was an annual or semi-annual push to introduce new products and expand operations, and that brought about the smaller machines that are now used to work on slabs above ground as well as machines to place concrete.
Customer support is available via telephone whenever needed. “This comes with the price of purchase for our machines and is not something we charge for annually. We have field support professionals that are trained and experts on operating the equipment. They can go out and perform training on-site with the customer if necessary,” says Lance. Customer support technicians tackle the more technical aspects of the machines and are dispatched in the event there is a problem with the machine that the customer cannot figure out.
The company wholeheartedly believes in not only training on its equipment, but also in providing training, education, and value to the entire industry. Its world headquarters is in Fort Myers, Florida and is home to the Somero Concrete Institute. Customers from all over the world come to this facility to work with the machines in a controlled environment where the company offers a wide variety of skilled training on the machines.
Periodically, Somero holds American Concrete Institute classes that are more focused on finisher or technician or industry training. This is not about laser screeding, but learning the best practices of a concrete finisher. All of that is available at Fort Myers and at the training facility at its offices in Shanghai, China.
“In recent years, we have developed a series of video training modules for most models of our equipment. With the advent of smartphones and iPads, customers are very attuned to using these devices in a very efficient manner,” says Lance. If a client wants to know how to operate a specific function on the machines, they can look at the videos which, of course, are always at the ready.
The company is completely committed to its customers’ success. Through customer support lines, it gains a great deal of feedback from clients about the performance of the equipment. It tracks every call and can identify whether there are trends developing with the machines and quickly identifies issues.
“That is one form of feedback we get daily. The other comes from personal interaction from the customer support side or our sales force. We collect information, suggestions, or ideas from customers on what they would like to see done differently with our products, and this helps with the next innovations, like the brand-new Sky Screed® machine we just launched at the World Of Concrete,” says Lance.
There are components of the machines that have been patented for many years, which limits competition. However, in recent years, a few competitors have popped up. Working to expand through invention has kept Somero from resting on its laurels.
“Our customers are playing a high-stakes game every day as concrete is a perishable product. It lasts forever once it cures, but the contractor has limited time to work with it in a plastic state. It will set up and get hard in a certain amount of time, so our products must perform. That kind of obligation to the customer base helps us to be non-complacent,” says Lance.
Customers reap the benefits of the company’s technology. Every year, The Golden Trowel Awards are presented by The Face® Companies of Norfolk, Virginia. The awards are given to concrete contractors that create the flattest and most level concrete floor slabs in several categories. Somero’s clients frequently win this award. Anywhere from five to ten winners every year use its equipment. The machines are just one component of the process, but it is a key component.
“The company itself frequently wins awards for the most innovative product in its category at the World Of Concrete. We won a few of them over the years for innovative products that have been introduced in the industry,” says Lance. In 2005, the company’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Cooney was named one of the most influential people in the concrete industry across the U.S by Concrete Construction magazine.
Somero Enterprises wants to build the best laser-controlled screed machines in the world. It strives to invent and add to the product line, making lives easier and more profitable for its customers. Quality of life is a huge consideration as concrete work is a back-breaking endeavor.
“Anything we can do to add to the quality of life for the crews that use our equipment is even more of a benefit. We all want to make money and have a profitable bottom line, but when you have a passion for success across the board, it is that much more fulfilling. Somero is focused on that not just for its customers, but its employees as well,” says Lance.