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VOL. 121 | NO. 44 | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Digging Ditches Has Its Advantages, Businessman Says

By Rosalind Guy

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DAY'S WORK: Diamond employees work at an apartment complex recently - one of several projects the small business does regularly around Memphis. -- Photograph Courtesy Of Diamond Hardscapes & Drainage

Tony Crowder, owner and project director of Diamond Hardscapes & Drainage, says the best part of what he does is that he loves it.

"It's fun to get up and go to work in the morning," he said.

He was first introduced to outdoor work by his father and grandfather, who were what he terms concrete, brick and block journeymen.

"I was introduced to it through my father, but we've taken it to a higher level and carved out our own little niche," Crowder said.

A niche and a half

The niche he's referring to is his business being one of the only African-American-owned retaining wall companies in the United States to receive segmental block retaining wall certification. The certification is awarded through the National Concrete Masonry Association and means Diamond Hardscapes has a system that controls erosion and water.

It's something Crowder says was no easy feat. The process of obtaining certification has taken him nearly three years.

Brian Thornton, regional manager with Minnesota-based Versa-Lok Retaining Wall Systems, said there aren't many companies that possess that certification - period.

Versa-Lok has been a vendor for Diamond Hardscapes since the business started in June 2003. Many of Diamond Hardscapes' jobs come through Versa-Lok.

Growing business

Now, Crowder is interested in branching out and seeking his own clients.

"Right now, 90 percent of our business is commercial and 10 percent is residential," Crowder said, adding that he'd like to acquire more residential work.

In an effort to draw in more residential customers, Crowder and his team are working to create a complete outdoor living room space for homeowners.

"It's fun to get up and go to work in the morning."
- Tony Crowder
owner and project director of Diamond Hardscapes and Drainage on South Cooper Street

Aside from a patio, such a space would include either a barbecue grill or fireplace made from materials such as decorative blocks. It also would come with a free-standing wall, which people could sit on while they're out on the patio.

For a project like that, hardscape or concrete work would be completed by Diamond, but some of the landscaping could be parceled out to subcontractors.

"That's the area that we've just started attacking because there's a big demand for that now, especially with the high-end homes that are being built in the county now," he said. "Some people have no idea how those little touches can add value to their homes."

Budding ideas

Crowder also said he plans to design a showcase to exhibit his outdoor designs for benches, columns, fire pits and concrete barbecue grills. Once completed, it will be housed at a showroom at 309 N. Montgomery Road apart from his office on 895 S. Cooper St. Potential clients will be able to stop by and check out some of the latest designs.

Some of the projects Diamond has completed recently include installing an eight-inch drainage system for storm water control, retaining walls, and doing other concrete work at the Hillview Apartments on Alcy Road. He also has done hardscape work for Kemmons Wilson Cos., which included installing a large retaining wall at the ranch-style condominiums at one of the company's subdivisions, The Oaks at Appling.

Crowder is working on designing a courtyard for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis Recovery Center at 300 N. Bellevue Blvd. as well.

"We've just completed the design work and right now we're working on completion of the project," Crowder said. "What they want to do is develop a courtyard for of one of their facilities that the clients can use and then also as a meeting place for the administration and things like that."

A family affair

Crowder, who co-owns the business with his wife Tonya, has six employees and is constantly trying to keep on top of industry trends.

"It's very detail-oriented, and that's why it takes continual education and development of our people and myself to stay competitive in the market," he said.

Along with the NCMA certification, Crowder and the other technicians have received certification through the International Concrete Pavers Association, as well as landscape design certification from the University of Georgia.

Whatever it takes to keep evolving and to keep abreast of what's hot in their field is what they plan to do.

"We're excited that we're able to meet the standards that the industry has set in place to be competitive, and right now, being successful at it," he said.

Crowder also is using a rolling advertisement to draw a wider consumer base. A truck drives around the city with a picture of a hardscape designed by Diamond with the appropriate contact information. He's also produced colorful brochures that highlight how Diamond's work has changed the appearance of homes and commercial buildings around town.

Through the use of before and after pictures, potential customers are able to see the drastic changes that have taken place.

To learn more, call Diamond Hardscapes and Drainage at 238-5296.

PROPERTY SALES 85 205 21,165
MORTGAGES 76 206 24,338
BUILDING PERMITS 183 321 43,755
BANKRUPTCIES 48 92 13,560