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WAUSEON - Wauseon Precast has gone underground.
The firm that in 1915 started building farm silos, which are typically the tallest structures in the countryside, now makes concrete septic tanks, grease traps, and manholes, all of which are buried.
Its newest product is a concrete storm shelter to be buried in backyards.
The fourth-generation family owners have never legally changed their business name from Wauseon Silo & Coal Inc. But agricultural related sales have fallen to 5 percent of total revenues, which owner Bart Frazier predicted at $1 million this year. As recently as the 1970s, agricultural sales accounted for half of the firm's annual revenues.
It's been about 25 years since the firm built a farm silo, Mr. Frazier said. The only remaining farm work it does is a few slatted floors for hog barns.
The company started calling itself Wauseon Precast in the early 1990s.
Most customers are contractors within 50 miles. Septic tanks typically don't travel far. Wauseon Precast models typically weigh 1,000 pounds to 8 tons and are delivered by trucks equipped with cranes.
The company supplies more than 90 percent of the septic tanks in Fulton County, said Kim Cupp, county environmental health director.
Stricter government regulations that call for installation of larger septic systems have been good for Wauseon Precast, Mr. Frazier said. Most of its septic tanks, which are its biggest seller, are priced $500 to $1,500.
Its new concrete storm shelters are $3,000. The shelters, which Mr. Frazier said can hold at least eight people, are built to be buried five feet, with a stairway up to ground level.
Most of its other products are required for new buildings. Grease traps, for instance, are needed for restaurants and repair shops so grease does not clog the sewers.
The firm was started by Mr. Frazier's grandfather Rollo Frazier and uncle Theron Kutzli. When Rollo died in 1949, his son Leon took over. Bart Frazier's son Brian, who is office manager, and Scott, who is sales manager, are the fourth generation of the family to work in the business.
That's not unusual in the industry, said Bob Whitmore, spokesman for the National Precast Concrete Association in Indianapolis. The vast majority of the 5,400 precast businesses in the United States are family owned, he said.
The local company's main products are the most popular in the industry as well; more than half of the country's precast businesses make septic tanks.
Most precast firms have weathered the recent economic downturn fairly well, with concrete planters and walls used for security barriers helping boost business in the past two years, Mr. Whitmore said.
"Those things were going crazy just as the economy was going into recession," he said.
Precast firms that have specialized in products for electrical utilities, which Mr. Whitmore said appear to be overbuilt, have had the slowest sales.
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