Johnson Concrete has been manufacturing premium concrete products since 1947. What began as a single pipe plant in Salisbury, NC has earned a reputation for being an industry leader within the Southeast.
A native of Lexington, NC, Allen Starling Johnson, Jr. was an All-American starting guard on Wallace Wade’s legendary “Iron Duke” 1938 football team. In 1939 he returned as a senior captain and graduated in the spring with a degree in Economics. While at Duke, he became smitten with Frances “Billy” Johnson, the only female in his Economics classes. The two were married in 1941 and settled in Salisbury.
After college, Allen aspired to join the military as an airplane mechanic but was unable to pass the physical requirements due to having had elevated blood pressure his whole life. Instead, he began driving lumber trucks to Washington, DC for his father’s lumber business as part of the war effort. In the post-war construction boom, Allen noticed that people around Salisbury were using cinders to make their own blocks. He began thinking that he could mass-produce a lighter and cleaner block in a more efficient manner. After convincing his father, “Pop”, to become a business partner and purchasing land on Klumac Rd., he hired a salesman, an office manager, and a production crew and began making pipe and block in Salisbury.
Johnson Concrete’s initial blocks contained slag, a by product of smelting ore, from Alabama. Supply became unreliable, so Allen began researching how he could produce his own aggregates to use in block. He ultimately opened an expanded clay plant in Salisbury and named it Tufflite. A short time later, Allen was visiting Young Stone in Gold Hill and realized that the slate being mined there could be expanded, producing a lighter and higher strength aggregate for his blocks. Allen bought the adjacent property and in 1950 Carolina Stalite was born. Stalite is the world’s largest lightweight aggregate company and also its finest. Through thermal expansion of slate in rotary kilns, Stalite consistently produces the highest strength, least absorbent lightweight aggregate on the market today. As a testament to its commitment to quality, Johnson Concrete uses only Stalite for the lightweight aggregate in its block.
In 1965, Johnson Concrete acquired Treze Concrete in Kannapolis and renamed it Piedmont Block. Allen hired a second full-time salesman and established Johnson Concrete’s first dealer in an attempt to penetrate the Charlotte market. Allen was also approached by Charles Newsome, a Giant Cement salesman and manager of special projects, because Giant was interested in purchasing Tufflite and Stalite. Allen wasn’t willing to sell, but he was intrigued by Charles; Charles was hired in 1968 as General Manager of Tufflite and Stalite.
In those days, blocks were stocked on the yard by hand and unloaded from trucks by hand. Ever the pioneer, Johnson Concrete imported North Carolina’s first four truck-mounted forklifts from Ireland. This became a competitive advantage and Johnson Concrete slowly began to gain market share. Johnson Concrete provided the blocks for UNCC’s first two dorms, Philip Morris’s plant in Concord, and what is now Performance Fibers in Salisbury.
After Pop and Allen passed away in 1981 and 1982 respectively, Charles became Executive Vice President of Johnson Concrete and Allen’s wife, Billy, assumed the role of President. Business in the Piedmont was booming and the plants in Salisbury and Kannapolis couldn’t keep up. Charles located property in Concord along a rail line and decided to consolidate the two smaller block plants into a larger space. While the machinery has been upgraded, Piedmont Block’s Concord location still remains today. Likewise, the pipe plant remains on Klumac Rd. in Salisbury.
By the mid-80’s, Charles had become interested in the rapidly expanding eastern North Carolina market. In 1988, Johnson Concrete built a plant in Willow Spring to service the Triangle and in 1994 purchased a plant in Raeford to service the Fayetteville and Fort Bragg markets. Johnson Concrete also became an authorized manufacturer of Versa-Lok retaining walls. Although it supplied its first decorative concrete masonry job in the mid-80’s, Johnson Concrete’s product line became more diversified with the Raeford acquisition. The facility has expanded to include two block machines, a grinding and polishing plant, a shot blast machine and a tumbler, thus allowing Johnson Concrete to supply premium custom architectural block from Maryland to Florida.
Both Johnson Concrete and Carolina Stalite expanded in 2004 when Johnson Concrete purchased Giant Cement’s block plant in Lexington and Stalite purchased its lightweight aggregate plant, formally known as Solite, in Aquadale. With the addition of the Lexington plant, Johnson Concrete could cost effectively supply gray block to most any job in North Carolina. Additionally, a second block machine was added to the Willow Spring location in 2005.
In 2009, Johnson Concrete further diversified by building a stronger network of dealers, acquiring the Eagle Bay paver line, and developing new, variegated colors for its Versa-Lok retaining wall products. As part of its new emphasis on outdoor living, Johnson Concrete constructed design centers in Lexington, Willow Spring, and Raeford that allow customers to see product installed, and thus better envision it in their own backyards. Both beautiful and functional, Johnson Concrete’s design centers are regularly used for employee cookouts, customer appreciation events, and DIY training sessions. Johnson Concrete also began renting equipment at each of its design centers.
Johnson Concrete has a proven history as an industry leader. Early to embrace lightweight aggregates, it was one of the first block plants in the southeast to produce premium lightweight block using expanded slate. In the forefront of promoting masonry-framed homes as a low-maintenance and energy efficient alternative to traditional wood framing, Johnson Concrete has supplied blocks and labor in the construction of masonry-framed Habitat for Humanity homes. In 2010, Johnson Concrete launched a multidiscipline, collaborative seminar series entitled “Thinking Outside the Block” to discuss ways to make concrete block larger, lighter, and stronger to more effectively compete against increasingly popular alternative wall systems. Most recently, it has centralized dispatch across manufacturing locations to conserve resources and better serve its customers’ delivery requirements.
Having been in the concrete products business for over 50 years, Johnson Concrete has been integrally linked to the industry’s growth and transformation. Its core principles, however, have remained unchanged. Johnson Concrete’s leaders are committed to the company remaining family-owned and locally operated, providing employment and stewardship to their communities. They also take pride in the company’s greatest asset: its employees. Johnson Concrete’s culture is one of high expectations for integrity, excellence, and teamwork, and only the best assimilate. Employee bios demonstrate that most love what they do and bring that passion and dedication to their customers.