Baltz and Sons
Photos curtesy of Baltz & Sons
Concrete. It’s utilitarian, a necessity. We tend to think of it as foundation if we think of it at all. For one Memphis family, that’s just what it is, the foundation of a business – Baltz & Sons Concrete Services – that has endured for nearly seven decades.
And it all began out of necessity. Antone Baltz returned home to rural Pocahontas, Ark., in 1946, after a stint in the military. It was a tough time in Arkansas and the family farm was in poor shape. To make ends meet for his large German Catholic family, Antone turned to the trade.
“The truth is, we’re not really sure how he knew to do concrete work,” says Kevin Baltz, grandson of Antone, and president of Baltz & Sons.
Post-World War II was a fortuitous time for this alchemy of sand and water as the country began to be criss-crossed with highways thanks to President Eisenhower’s Federal-Aid Highway Act, authorizing the construction of more than 40,000 miles of interstate. Those roads would connect an untold number of homes being build to accommodate the returning GIs and their ever-growing families.
Antone’s son Richard moved to Memphis in the 1950s and was followed soon after by his brother, Antone Jr. (Kevin’s father), who came to attend Christian Brothers University. When the family ran out of money for tuition, Antone Jr. joined his brother in working on the crew that built the Union Ave. overpass at Walnut Grove and Poplar Ave.
The brothers worked side by side on a slurry sled – scaffolding – rubbing out the concrete faces with carbide bricks after they’d been formed along the bridge. “They made a bet with one another that whoever finished their length of it first, the other would have to buy beers that night at the bar,” Kevin says. “Little did they know there was a supervisor higher up on the bridge watching them and said, ‘Man, look at those two brothers go.’ He was so impressed with their work ethic that they each got a promotion and that kind of put them on their way in the concrete business.”
Antone Jr. would eventually find a career with the Memphis Fire Department, retiring as a Division Chief in 1991 after 31 years. Firemen are notoriously hard workers, many with a trade and side business to work in their off time. “The old joke is that you can build a house with firemen,” Kevin says.
For Antone Jr., naturally, that moonlighting work was in the field of concrete. His team was made up of Baltzes – Kevin, his brothers and a crew of cousins. It was a sole proprietorship at the time known as Tony Baltz Concrete.
“I started in 1982 when I was 11 eyars old,” Kevin says. “I just worked for room and board, basically. That continued through high school and college, I would get one day off and then I would immediately go back to work for my dad in the summer.”
Kevin helped put himself through Christian Brothers University with the pay, graduating in 1992 with a degree in Management and Marketing, and a minor in Psychology. “I swore I would never ever do concrete work again.”
He moved to Colorado but, six months later, got a call from his father saying that “some developer had contacted him.” He asked Kevin to come home and help with the business side of the operation. He moved home with the caveat that it would be temporary.
That developer was Henry Turley and the work turned into contracts for the Harbor Town and South Bluffs projects. Within a year, Kevin had partnered with his father, becoming Baltz & Sons in 1993, and took over the business in 1994 when his father retired. “We have grown anywhere from 7- to 20-percent every year since.”
The 3-generation business is now run by Kevin and his brother Ted, partner and construction manager. They have cousins working elsewhere in the concrete industry as well.
In 2003, the company embraced the decorative concrete industry, specializing in stamped concrete, faux finishes, acid stains and other specialized techniques. The outdoor rooms, pool decks and outdoor kitchens they create now are unique – no two are exactly alike – and help their clients to take their living out of the house and into the yard.
“That’s really what made our company blossom in a totally different direction and a different segment,” Kevin says.
More than just rapid growth, the decorative concrete industry helped sustain them through the recession as clients opted to upgrade their living space for “staycations” as opposed to taking trips.
“I think that what made us so good at what we do with decorative concrete is that we already had a very firm foundation rooted in just normal concrete work. No pun intended, but I think having that foundation is what made us good at the decorative aspect. It’s like, we know how to make this work from a utilitarian and structural standpoint, now how do we make it beautiful? When we started pushing in that direction and really pushing the gauntlet on trying to educate ourselves on what can be done with concrete and, in turn, try to educate our market, it’s worked very well for us.”
Baltz & Sons clients are 80-percent residential, over half of which come through their established working relationships with landscapers, pool builders and contractors. The other 20-percent is commercial work, including civic projects that Kevin takes great pride in such as the concrete work around the new Bike Arch entryway on the east side of Overton Park, and pathways and patios at Memphis Botanic Garden.
“I think there is virtue in developing civic pride in the projects that you’re involved in and it’s appealing to us because we enjoy making what we feel are permanent creations in the Memphis landscape.”
The company began in an atmosphere of chaos as family members scrambled to complete work during a fireman’s time off. Now, with employees numbering over 20 and three separate crews working on install, a sense of calm prevails beside pools and within lush gardens. This team has won 24 first place awards from the Tennessee Concrete Association, including seven years in a row as Best Concrete Artisan. Antone Baltz Jr. passed away in March of last year, yet Kevin says his father was proud of what the company had become. Antone made his way in the trade with his commitment to a job and his extraordinary speed, his family has carried the name forward with attention to detail and creativity. It has become a foundation for that family.
In the end, Baltz & Sons strives to give each customer something unique. Though a design might be similar, Kevin says, no two will be identical. “By making that, not only our strategy but something of our policy, it challenges us to continue to create. We like that the burden is on us to come up with something new for every job that we do.”