A.H. Harris & Sons

Construction managers, general contractors, subcontractors – they all have a lot to juggle to ensure projects are completed on time and delivered as promised. They rely on numerous vendors and partners to complete their jobs successfully, something that A.H. Harris & Sons understands well. Having been a partner to the construction industry since 1916, A.H. Harris is dedicated to providing “the highest-quality products and services,” according to its mission.

In 1916, A.H. Harris got started as a small, family owned and operated trucking company. The company’s focus has been on high-quality products and services since its inception. Over the years it has grown to distribute products to the heavy, highway, commercial, industrial and residential markets. A.H. Harris has 39 locations from Bangor, Maine to Charlotte, North Carolina, and it has a special focus on forming, rebar, sitework and concrete repair and restoration. 

“We are like a three-legged stool,” Vice President of Operations Alex Rapp explains. “We provide forms for concrete, chemical additives and rebar fabrications from our 39 branches. Some locations are exclusively rental, some only do rebar fabrication and some are a mix. We focus on four major geographic areas, and the operation is decentralized with central support.”

A.H. Harris takes pride in the fact that its history has been marked by steady growth, expansion and development, and much of the company’s recent growth has been assisted by its improved distribution system. “I started in 2010, and we still had a central distribution center at that time,” Rapp says. “About 26 percent of our goods were sent from the central center to other branches, and we just outgrew that model.”

It made more sense for the company to build smaller, regional distribution centers and establish “hubs and mini hubs,” he explains. “We can combine the hubs to get scale, and we can change and evolve the system as need be. It was a very fluid process and implemented successfully.”  

A Local Focus

A.H. Harris’s hub-and-spoke distribution model has benefitted the company in a number of ways. “It allows us to turn on a dime at the regional and local level,” explains Nick May, director of sourcing and supply chain. “If the guys in New York want something different than the guys in Virginia – which is often the case – we can hone in on that. The system is much more decentralized, and we added a little extra support, as well. Our buyers physically sit in the regions, making them much more in tune with the area’s sales, and our people can make large decisions on a local level.”

The company serves four different geographic regions in the Northeast and Southeast, and each vendor works with four buyers – one in each region. May stresses the new system is better for its customers and its own employees who are based in the different regions. 

“Now, the branches have what they need, and the communication between the branches and buyers is great,” he says. “Everything happens very quickly, and that is really where we see the best benefit. If the price goes up or lead-time is increased, vendors can communicate that quickly to our offices. With this system, there are more local conversations, which immediately improves the supply chain with specific regions. If customers have questions, there are local people that they can go see, and this allows us to drill down locally on each market’s need.”

Remaining Responsive

With the hub-and-spoke distribution system working so well, A.H. Harris is enhancing its operation in other ways. Rapp explains the company is working on all of its facilities, improving them in different ways to take advantage of market trends. 

“We typically lease facilities and then expand and contract as the markets change,” Rapp says. “We’ll beef up some facilities depending on the market, but we might also exit some markets if they aren’t performing as well. We also changed our stocking programs and partnered with vendors by geographic area. That flexibility has really allowed us to grow.”

Even so, A.H. Harris must remain cognizant of market trends to ensure it is doing right by each geographic area. Transportation costs are a major focus, and it must balance these costs with its goal of maintaining a high level of service. A.H. Harris has a large fleet with a lot of material coming in-bound, but it also uses some third-party logistics carriers to support its internal drivers. 

“Customers change and material requirements change, so we have a large salesforce on the street to ensure we are responsive,” Rapp says. “We’re battling it. We’ve beefed up our fleet to get flexibility from the carriers due to recent rate hikes. But the rates change on a daily basis, so we really have to make quick decisions. We have strategic relationships with carriers and use some brokers, but we also own a large fleet. We try not to put all of our eggs into one basket because we want to stay flexible and responsive.”

May agrees, noting A.H. Harris had to “dig in” and make some big decisions on how to manage rising transportation costs. “We have a great fleet of our own, but we leave some of those decisions to the regions because they have to be responsive, too,” he says. “Flatbeds are harder to come by and good drivers are scarce, so it’s a constant balancing act.

“We have our own staff for the fleet and our own freight managers, but we also partner with some freight operators and brokers to meet our customers’ needs,” he adds. “We always make decisions that translate to better customer service. We understand that we have to have our product on the shelves when our customers need it.”

On the site

One of A.H. Harris’s strengths is its in-house Forming and Shoring division. The Forming and Shoring team is on site and in tune with the customers’ needs. On-time and accurate deliveries ensure concrete pours go off without issue, which is critical to contractor productivity. Early this year, A.H. Harris began working on a major forming and shoring project: the Woodrow W. McGlothlin Center for the Arts at Emory & Henry (E&H) College in Emory, Va. 

In fact, this project represented three firsts for the company’s Southeastern region in formwork: the use of Meva Imperial formwork system, KLK Climbing Scaffolding and Meva Imperial one-sided wall with A-frame STB 450 supports. “The use of these systems has greatly helped to improve quality, efficiency and safety on each of the projects in which they are involved,” the company says.

The Woodrow W. McGlothlin Center for the Arts is a two-story brick Georgian Style new construction that involved a 40,000-square-foot, 450-seat performing arts theatre on the E&H College campus. A.H. Harris provided the Meva Imperial formwork system to complete the structure’s foundation walls. 

“The Meva system allowed Procon to quickly construct ganged-wall forms that produced a high-quality concrete wall finish, and also added the ability to pour in taller lifts due to Meva’s superior pressure rating of 2,024 pounds per square foot,” the company says.

A.H. Harris constructed the Meva KLK 230 Climbing Scaffold System for the second lift of pours. This allowed Procon to lift each ganged-form section vertically in place and attach it to the existing wall previously poured below it. 

A Strong Advantage

Having nearly reached its 100th anniversary, A.H. Harris believes its newly adopted distribution model will go far in allowing it to add even more years to its heritage. Rapp explains that the company’s comprehensive product offering helps to distinguish it in the market and ensure its ongoing growth. 

“We have a three-pronged product offering – building materials, forming and shoring, and rebar fabrication – and there are few out there that do all three,” Rapp says. “No one can keep up with us, and we can keep growing. This is a very forward-thinking, metric-driven and analytical company that really exhibits tradition, pride and experience.”

May adds that the culture of A.H. Harris will enable it to continue serving the construction industry well past its 100th anniversary. The company’s culture of ongoing improvement and dedication to customer satisfaction, he says, gives it a strong advantage in the marketplace.

“The company continues to invest in its facilities and operations,” May says. “That really speaks to who the company is – this company understands that we have to present a good face for our associates who come to work every day and our customers who we serve. In 2016, A.H. Harris will be 100 years old, and our line of values dates back 100 years. There is a lot of pride and integrity here with a 100 years of experience and the energy of tomorrow allowing us to compete in today’s changing market.”

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