Concrete doesn’t have to look like just concrete. Visitors to Target Field, the TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, and the Target Center might notice that the corridors of all three buildings share a common feature—block walls made of what looks like Kasota stone, a limestone found in southern Minnesota. In truth, the warm, cream-colored blocks are made of concrete engineered and colored by Minnetonka-based Anchor Block Company to look like natural stone.
Anchor’s ability to move beyond the concrete blocks it became known for shortly after opening and earn a reputation for new product development is a big reason why the company celebrated its 100-year anniversary last fall, CEO Glenn Bolles says.
Anchor, which manufactures concrete construction and landscape materials, still tops the list of vendors called for high-profile projects. “Our block is behind [the TCF Bank Stadium’s] veneer,” Bolles says, adding that painted block in the lower corridors was also made by Anchor.
Bolles, who is the CEO of two other concrete-products companies—Anchor Wall Systems and Zenith Products Company—devotes much of his time to coming up with new product ideas. Forty years ago, he would never have imagined himself being fascinated by concrete and masonry. Bolles had been running his own silkscreening business for years when he offered to help his wife’s father sell his company. But with interest rates at 18 percent in the late ’70s, the construction industry was in a slump, so after two years with no buyers, Bolles decided to buy the company himself.
By 1988, Oscar Roberts Concrete was doing well enough that Bolles was able to buy another Twin Cities concrete products firm—Anchor Block, which was founded in 1909, but had kept up with changes in design and consumer demand.
“They had some uniquely talented people and technology, and I didn’t think we could ever beat them in the commercial business,” says Bolles, who merged the companies two years later under the Anchor name. He bought another concrete block maker to increase capacity, and later built an additional plant as colored concrete pavers became increasingly popular for walls, paths, and driveways.
The construction industry’s recent troubles reduced Anchor’s staff from around 300 employees two years ago to about 100 now. But Bolles is optimistic.
“We’ve already started to grow again,” he says. “Customers are asking for new products, particularly ones that look more natural, and we’re investing in our facilities and technology to meet that need. That’s what we’ve always done.”