Morse’s stepfather, Albert C. Jandris, was part of the second generation to operate this New England concrete block manufacturing plant and a master at finding ways to repurpose salvaged beams and trusses to expand the footprint of the family business.
It’s no wonder Jandris and his two brothers knew their way around a junkyard: his father Adolf established Jandris & Sons as a building demolition company in 1920. By the end of the Great Depression, the family found themselves in the concrete products business turning out an old unit known as a “Dunbrik.”
Today, the company approaches its 100th anniversary with Morse and sister Heidi serving as the third generation to helm the Gardner, Massachusetts operation. The business, which started in a basement, now spans 25 acres and includes two interconnected production plants, a series of covered product storage yards, a high capacity grinding and polishing facility and a free-standing retail outlet.
A. Jandris & Sons has been a vocal supporter of the checkoff effort since the outset. Company co-owner Heidi Jandris even serves as a regional captain and advocates for the proposed program across New England.
“We have always supported the checkoff program,” says Morse. “To me, it’s necessary. Our industry has not always done a good enough job over the years of banding together and raising money for promotion and we are very much behind our competitive products.”
“Most people know the wood industry, steel, glass, all those industries have a much stronger cohesion of their producers and they put their money in to get out in front of trends and keep their product in front. We, as an industry are a little bit on the tail end of that and we need to gain some market share back. That, to me, is about the only way we’re going to get there; by getting a pool of money that we can spend on raising awareness of the benefits of our products.”
For those producers still on the fence about the program, Morse offers this observation: “I guess the only thing I could try and bring across is that we just need to promote our product and get some of the market share back that we have lost. It’s only going to benefit ourselves if we can turn the numbers back up. The numbers have been dwindling pretty steadily for a number of years and if we don't want to see more erosion in demand here, we need to turn some things around.”
Later that same morning, Heidi Jandris pulls up to the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, campus of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School known locally as “Monty Tech.” She’s here to meet with the high school students and former customer Richard Demers, who now leads the school’s masonry program.
“I was in business at the time and Dana called me, asked me if I would join the advisory committee,” says Demers. “I became chairman of the committee, then we went to the school to sell the program to them. They approved it. The program got started in a little classroom on the other side of the school. And then the people from Jandris donated all the block, the mortar, everything and that's why the building is dedicated to Albert Jandris.”
Demers says in the late 1990s, architects in the state began to forgo brick and concrete products in their designs primarily due a lack of qualified masons. Massachusetts block producers, along with other industry partners and organizations, worked to add the masonry program to the school’s career and technical education (CTE) offerings around 2000.
“I think by having this program, we put people out there,” he says. “Two former students have a very successful masonry business going right now. And they're telling me to stop recommending them, because they're so busy they can't keep up.”
This kind of program is a good model for how checkoff funds could support educational programs at the regional level.
Jandris & Sons is well known in the Boston area for producing high-quality gray and architectural concrete masonry units, a reputation that took years to hone. “We have always been known for making a strong block, a dense block,” says Morse. “We put the extra cement in it. We don't try to speed up production with short cycle times. We make sure we have the finish time to get extra compressive strength out of units. It shows up in the unit. Not only from the crisp, sharp edges, but chippage and all the handling aspects. That’s what those guys on the job appreciate.”
Members of the Jandris crew find themselves busy primarily serving commercial and municipal projects across Central Massachusetts and as far away as a New York and Pennsylvania. “A lot of schools, federal buildings, public safety buildings, strip malls, things of that nature,” he says.
Morse says while very few New England residences utilize block for basements, there is a market for CMU in multi-family high-rises; but currently only in the stairwells and elevator shafts. “We get a good variety of commercial and institutional projects,” he says.
Like most block producers, he views wood and steel stud as the two primary products draining the company’s share of the building market. “There are a lot of things masonry can do that don’t seem to get recognized. I think another thing that's blown out of proportion is the cost. There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there that masonry costs so much more than these other systems and I think we need to get the word out [that it doesn’t] and prove it.”
Back at plant number one, Morse, now standing outside high atop an open catwalk, looks out over the entire operation tucked neatly along historic High Street, the same spot where the company started. It’s where, as a nine-year old, his first job was weighing color. It’s where his stepfather, personally working on yet another plant expansion, died in a 2001 industrial accident. It’s where his own two sons, the fourth generation, now work.
Passing along his family’s long legacy of innovation and ingenuity is another very personal reason Morse supports the checkoff. “The industry vote is coming up soon and I just urge everybody to get out there and vote, whether you are for it or against it. Like any vote, at least say your piece and we will see what the result is. I thoroughly believe that if the block plant does not make it another generation it will not be the fault of the people trying to run the business. It will be the outlying forces against them.”