Market Niches: Rip Rap

Brooke Wisdom

July 1, 2010

Stepping up to the rip rap market

Once Gulf Coast Limestone began producing its own high-quality rip rap, no job was off limits

By Kerry Clines, Senior Editor


When Texas-based Gulf Coast Limestone Inc. (GCLI) first began selling rip rap, it didn’t own or operate a quarry. It bought rip rap, along with an assortment of other aggregate products, from producers and then sold it to individuals and governing agencies for their projects.

“When those producers stopped making rip rap to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifications, we were in the middle of a couple of jobs and immediately had to find another source” says Bobby Walker, vice president and operations manager at GCLI. “That’s when we discovered that none of the Texas quarries were interested in making rip rap. We approached a quarry in Central Texas with the idea that, if they would supply us with the raw material, we would produce our own finished product in their quarry. They were a little anxious about having us in their quarry, but finally agreed to it, and we started producing rip rap.”

Rather than try to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or other governing bodies to accept ‘off the shelf’ specifications, GCLI met the government requirements by producing a high-quality rip rap material to the agencies’ specifications.

Each job has its own set of specifications, and the product is custom produced based on the job. And no rip rap job is off limits. Walker says GCLI knows, geographically, where it will be competitive and pursues nearly every job in that area. The company produces and supplies rip rap to all parts of Texas — North Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and the coastal regions — and would even consider supplying rip rap outside of Texas.

“We’ve got really good marketing and sales people here that have multiple resources,” Walker says. “They network through all the trade associations — AGC, Houston Contractors Association, and others. You get to know the engineers who write the specifications. You get to know the contractors who place the rip rap. And you get to know the people and governing bodies who are the actual owners of the jobs.”

“We’re a small company and that’s an advantage in some ways. We’re able to stay flexible and meet the demands of our customers,” says Bobby Walker, vice president and operations manager at GCLI.

Walker says he likes it when the specifications are tough. “The tougher the better, because most people can’t do it,” he says. “It’s our niche. We’re experts at making rip rap. Rip rap production is a very labor-intensive, low-production type of operation. Quarry operations don’t really want to fool with it for that reason. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifications are tough to meet, and the material is tough to keep in spec. It’s big, it’s rough, it takes specialized equipment, it tears up everything it touches — it’s just not something everyone wants to do.”

Rip rap is an art, as well as a science, according to Walker. It takes highly trained individuals to look at the stones and size them by sight. The company tests the rip rap and does weighted gradations to make sure everything’s to spec, but sizing the material is mostly visual.

Generally, GCLI doesn’t have to invest in any additional equipment for new jobs, but the recently completed Galveston Seawall project was an exception. Granite was the rock specified for the project, and the company had to purchase additional, larger equipment to handle it.

Rip rap production is a very labor-intensive, low-production type of operation.

“We’re a small company and that’s an advantage in some ways,” Walker says. “We’re able to stay flexible and meet the demands of our customers. If we need more equipment, we don’t have a big approval process to go through. We can make a decision and go out and get the equipment quickly. If we can justify it, we can ramp up to whatever production we need. That flexibility allows us to keep up with all our customers’ demands.”

Unlike the negative impact felt by most aggregate producers, the economic downturn brought an unexpected boost to the rip rap business. Walker credits the increase in business to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which funded projects that governing bodies already had on the drawing board but didn’t have the funds to do the work. He also says Hurricane Ike, though it had a negative impact on many people, was a boost for the rip rap business — rebuilding seawalls and levees has kept the company busy.

“So far, all of our new markets have been successful,” Walker says. “There aren’t many rip rap producers in the area, so it’s not like everyone can do it. We’ve been pretty successful. We just keep our nose to the ground.” AM

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