Case Studies

Virginia Carolina Refractory (VCR)

Providing high-temperature expertise to clients across the Southeast

With temperatures climbing as high as 3,000 degrees, industrial clients can’t trust just anyone to work in their boilers, incinerators, kilns or crematories. Such high-temperature work requires an experienced team well-versed in the gritty, sweaty world of refractory installation, repair and maintenance and at Virginia Carolina Refractory (VCR), the team has been honing those skills for the past 27 years.

“Refractories are basically a high-temperature material that withstand destructive forces and chemicals; they’re basically firebricks, but on a way higher scale than what you would see in your fireplace,” says Randy Basinger, owner of VCR. “It’s dirty, nasty, hot work, but it’s what we do.”

Founded in 1989 by Basinger and two former partners, VCR serves clients throughout the Southeast from its headquarters in Salisbury, North Carolina. VCR boasts a roster of 20 masons and other qualified craftsmen and the company offers a full line of refractory services including bricklaying, ramming plastics, forming, pouring as well as or gunnite and shotcrete.

Virginia Carolina Refractory (VCR)

Originally located in Denver, North Carolina, VCR moved the operation some 40 miles east in recent years. “It’s a larger facility and it’s closer for a lot of the folks who work in the office,” says Basinger.

While the company now has a 10,000-square-foot warehouse facility in Salisbury where it can store materials and complete some pre-cast, pre-fired work, steel fabrication and shop linings, a majority of VCR’s work is done on-site at various industrial concerns throughout the region.

High temps and high stakes

VCR has carved out a niche in the region’s aluminum industry, where high temperatures and tricky fluid dynamics require a steady, experienced hand. “That’s probably one of the most dangerous industries we get into,” says Basinger. “Aluminum will run where water won’t because of the fluidity and force and heat of it, so everything has to be almost perfect; you can’t let any contaminates get into it because it can cause a big explosion of molten aluminum, which is no fun at all.”

The company has also seen growth in the crematory industry lately as traditional burials have become expensive and impractical. “That industry is really growing because people don’t have land anymore to put cemeteries on. It’s just going to become bigger and bigger every day,” he says.

VCR completes a number of refractory-related projects for crematoriums, including maintenance on door seals as well as addressing roof failures and hearth erosion. The company is able to replace or repair refractory materials in these areas, eliminating the need for a costly rebuild. In addition to refractory work, VCR can offer crematory clients a full line of burner and control service, annual inspections and preventative maintenance programs. “Those are really interesting jobs, but they deal with certain things people don’t like to think about,” Basinger says.

Given the high-stress nature of most refractory processes, maintenance projects make up nearly 80 percent of the projects at VCR. “That process is very destructive and there’s yearly maintenance that has to be done on all of these units,” Basinger says.

“It takes an expertise, a craftsman; it’s basically a bricklaying trade, but the conditions we work in make it so tough.”

– Randy Basinger, owner of Virginia Carlonia Refractory

Success in the hot and dangerous refractory industry often comes down to the performance of individual employees, and Basinger says he’s got some of the best around. “It takes an expertise, a craftsman; it’s basically a bricklaying trade, but the conditions we work in make it so tough,” he says.

VCR has a number of employees who have been with the company for 20-plus years and boasts a turnover rate of almost zero. “I’ve had trouble finding people in the past, but I’ve found it’s about as easy to train from within, bring them up and train them over the years,” notes Basinger.

Building a company brick-by-brick

After graduating high school, Basinger followed his father into the masonry trade. A red brick mason before entering into the refractory trade, the elder Basinger gently prodded his son into the industry and the two worked alongside one another for years at a national refractory company before it decided to shut down its construction division. “That sort of forced us into opening our own company,” says Basinger. “And now 27 year later, the legacy lives on with my two sons working alongside me in the business.”

VCR performs a majority of its own work in-house, including mechanical and welding duties, but will sub out most electrical and design work. The company subs out demolition work to a nearby robotics company, which provides an automated demolition system that can be mounted with a 1,500-pound jackhammer, chipping away at a furnace or kiln’s interior much faster than traditional demolition methods.

Basinger has seen the company through two recessions during his time at the helm of VCR and credits a strong relationship with his financial partners as a big part of its ability to survive those lean times. “It pays to have a good banker; somebody that knows you’re going to come through in the end and trusts you,” says Basinger.

With so much of the business focused on ongoing maintenance projects with established clients, customer retention is one of the most critical measures of success at VCR. Basinger would like to see the company grow by 10 percent in the next year or two, and 50 percent over five years and is currently eyeing an expansion that would allow that to happen.

“There’s no lack of competition, but I think there’s an opportunity,” he says. “I don’t see the economy getting back to where it was in the early 80s and late 70s, but I think it’ll be growing.”

Basinger gets out into the field often, overseeing jobs and keeping a hand in the day-to-day side of the business, but on his days off, you’ll find him skiing, hiking or spending time on the lake with his two grandkids.

Over 20 years of experience and a willingness to take on the hottest, grittiest projects has set Virginia Carolina Refractory apart in the Southeast’s refractory services market.

Published on: August 2, 2016

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