Woodbury Firm Builds On A New Kind Of Block

Posted: June 11, 1989

J. C. Henry 3d hopes that the paving-stone sidewalks in front of his firm's Woodbury headquarters at 201 Park Ave. help set a Philadelphia-area trend.

Not that it would be a first for the E. P. Henry Corp. to start a trend. In 1903, Henry's great-grandfather, Edward Henry, latched on to a newfangled idea - a building material known as a concrete block - and the firm began its existence as the first concrete-block manufacturer in the Philadelphia area.

For most of the years since, the building-block business was basic and E. P. Henry's sole product was the common concrete block. But in the last 15 years, the industry has changed, and the company now makes blocks in hundreds of shapes and styles. To keep pace, E. P. Henry is modernizing its facilities as well as its product lines. In October, the company opened its paving-stone plant, which uses the latest in European technology to make stones such as those in the walkways in front of the building.

The firm also is seeking a $2.6 million loan from the state Economic Development Authority for an expansion and modernization of its Vineland manufacturing plant. The loan would be used to build a 12,000-square-foot addition and to purchase equipment.

The fact that the old concrete block isn't what it used to be can be seen in the differences between the two plants behind the company offices. The older of the two has a stark industrial appearance, complete with unsightly booms and conveyor belts that rise above its roof to deliver raw materials to the machinery. The plant has produced the company's blocks for 50 years and is largely built with traditional concrete blocks that are painted white.

The new plant is made of a brown unpainted block with a textured surface. Made from a double-sized concrete block that is split into two pieces, the plant's exterior resembles that of a modern shopping or office center. The plant is built into a hill that is held in place by a concrete block retaining wall made from another E. P. Henry product. The retaining wall and hill make it possible for trucks to deliver directly to the top of the plant, eliminating the need for the booms and conveyors.

Though the company has broadened its range of products over the last 15 years, it is the paving stones that the firm is counting on for growth.

The paving material is more popular in Europe, where it is used for driveways and parking lots as well as walkways. And Henry is hoping it will catch on here. To some extent it already has, having been included in such projects as the Main Street development in Voorhees and the renovations of Market Street in Philadelphia and downtown Wildwood.

"The paving stone market is the largest growth market in the building- block business," Henry said. "The projections are that the market will grow to 10 million square feet in annual sales in the Philadelphia area, and we want to sell a large share of those. Our plant has the capacity to produce 2 million square feet."

A contracting subsidiary, E. P. Henry Paver Systems, has been formed to install the paving stones. And the firm has begun retail sales of the product.

The company has prospered with the booming construction industry of the last decade, but now it is beginning to feel the effect of construction slowdowns.

"Our business is closely tied to the economic cycles," Henry said. "The first thing that happens when the economy slows is that people stop building. Things are slower than we anticipated six months ago.

"Our fiscal year ends June 30. Hopefully, all of these will be sold," he said, while walking among the various rows and stacks of blocks between the two plants. "It would make it a whole lot easier to do the inventory."

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