Barkman Concrete Ltd.: Where Everyone is a Part of the Family

Arnold, Edwin and Peter Barkman established Barkman Concrete Ltd. (barkman) in 1948, though its earliest years were spent as a plumbing and heating business. The operation eventually expanded into the concrete arena in response to growing demand for septic tanks, which led the eldest Barkman brother to devise his own concrete septic tank. Eventually the business expanded the range to include a wider variety of precast concrete products. Today, barkman numbers amongst the leading manufacturers of precast concrete products in North America, guided by the values of quality, integrity, loyalty and innovation.

“Our vision is to become the brand of choice in North America through innovative concrete products,” asserts Alan Barkman, president of barkman. Alan joined the family company in 1975 and worked his way up to his current position by 1996. As a result, Alan has seen the company navigate a wide range of economic climates and pursue growth through new products and innovative technologies. Alan witnessed barkman’s expansion into precast concrete paving products and landscaping products in the early 1970s, followed by an investment in German equipment to produce interlocking paving stones and residential steps in the latter half of the decade.

The 1990s saw barkman establish a secondary fabrication plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a third plant for manufacturing precast slat flooring systems in Crossfield, Alberta, and a fourth location in Minnesota. The company’s four manufacturing plants produce products that reach customers across North and Central America with the help of barkman’s sales professionals in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. In total the company employs roughly 250 employees with some seasonal fluctuation.

A Wealth of Innovative Products

Landscaping products remain as some of barkman’s most popular products, which are still produced in the company’s head offices and 100,000-square foot production facility in Steinbach, Manitoba. Over the years the company began producing precast concrete slat flooring products for livestock barns, retaining walls, precast concrete slabs, stone veneer products and even some precast concrete skate park components.

“In 2012 we celebrated the installation of 200 skate parks,” beams Alan. The large majority of barkman skate park components are sold for installation in the United States, and the components are often so large that only three or four components can fit in one shipment. The company’s in-house team of skate park design experts consults with leading skate park design firm Spohn Ranch to design all of the skate park products. Every barkman skate park is produced with specially formulated high-density concrete that yields a silky smooth surface and super durable finish. Precast concrete ensures proper curing and helps eliminate the risk of unsightly and dangerous cracks and chips that can contribute to serious injuries, while also reducing the amount of noise through natural sound absorption.

The company also produces a line of lightweight glass fiber reinforced concrete site furnishings to complement the company’s line of conventional concrete site furnishings. “It’s not a huge product line of ours, but it is popular because the lighter weight allows us to ship products much farther,” expands Alan. Both product lines include planters, benches and waste containers, but only the conventional precast concrete line offers signage, bollards, tree grates, bumper curbs, and the option of a pebbled stone finish.

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Innovations

The interlocking paver products continue to grow, and the barkman team sees no signs of slowing down any time soon. The company’s trenching products for fiber optic and electrical cables remain in high demand in Alberta’s oil sands. According to Alan, barkman’s new wire grid system has been put to use as an eco-friendly retaining wall, dubbed the Green Earth Wall System. The system is composed of a low-carbon impact mechanically stabilized earth secured in a wire grid wall system that can be outfitted with a smaller wire mesh for a vegetative facing.

“I’ve witnessed this company go through many transitions and bring back product ideas and technologies from all over the world,” says Alan. “I plan to pass this company on to the third generation of the Barkman family.”

To that end barkman has invested heavily in an internal leadership training program that is part and parcel of the company’s corporate emphasis on community involvement. The company underwent a significant management renewal beginning in 2009, as many of the company’s executives stepped down to retire.

At that point the new management team seized the opportunity to begin investing in the company’s future, implementing a company-wide leadership training program with as many job-specific programs as possible. “Culture is paramount to us and it’s our highest priority to create an environment and corporate cultures where our employees can grow, and help build a future for themselves and the company at the same time,” adds Alan.

Investing internally always poses the risk of “brain drain,” where highly skilled employees take training and pursue employment elsewhere, but the management team decided the risk was worth the return. As the team sees it, even if a newly trained employee decides to pursue a career elsewhere, it’s just one more way the barkman team can give back to the community.

In the next few years, the management team expects to ramp up leadership training programs within the company. As barkman continues to find innovative new uses for precast concrete, the team builds a future for each Barkman Concrete Ltd. employee and carries on a family legacy of community involvement and sustainable growth.