BURRTON — Many customers who stop at Yoder's Ornamental Concrete remember first visiting the business located on the north side Highway 50 in Burrton when they were children.
"As a rule, we're a destination. People make a special trip to come here," laughed owner Don Yoder.
Yoder's Ornamental Concrete began operations in 1983 and this year marks it 35th year of creating concrete statuary.
Yoder said it all started when his parents decided to give up their TV repair business in Hutchinson.
"They could see the day coming where TVs would be like transistor radios – it's cheaper to buy a new one than it is to repair one that's broken," Yoder said.
Yoder's uncle started an ornamental concrete business in southeast Kansas in 1983, so his parents got involved and then decided to move the operation to their hometown of Burrton. In 1988, Yoder began his full-time work in the business. He and his brother, Carl, came to co-own the business for many years until Carl was killed in a car wreck on Feb. 27.
Yoder's Ornamental Concrete features a large selection of painted and unpainted concrete statuary with designs including gnomes, college mascots, animals, angels, fire hydrants and more. Larger pieces — fountains, bird baths, benches and planters — are also popular.
To create the statuary, cement is mixed with pebbles and sand grains.
"You need the rocks for strength, but the fines are in there, too," Yoder said.
For more delicate pieces like bird baths and fountain shells, inserting fiberglass mesh and rebar ensures they keep their shape and strength.
"We've been doing it for a few years, so we kind of have it figured out," Yoder said.
The mixture is poured into molds made from cast aluminum, fiberglass or latex rubber with a fiberglass outer mold.
"At one time, we made all of our own molds," Yoder said. "We don't do that anymore. There are quite a few mold makers out there and we needed the help in production because demand was real high back in the '90s."
Pieces cure in about 24 hours and then are moved to an area where any holes are grouted and the seams are sanded down.
Yoder's wife, Doris, paints the concrete pieces, finishing them off with a clear coat. Clear coating painted concrete every few years is the best way to ensure the colors stay bright.
"You want it to last. You don't want to have it repainted because the sun fades the colors out," Yoder said.
Moving heavy concrete pieces from production to the paint area to the showroom floor — and dealing with dust and fumes — makes the job physically demanding.
Yoder tries to anticipate what customers want, as an order can take a few weeks if he doesn't have a specific piece poured and ready.
Business often slows in the winter, Yoder noted, but picks up in the spring as customers look for planters, stepping stones and other items for landscaping.
"It's like the farmer; when the harvest time comes, you've got to do the work to make up for the rest of the season when there's no income," Yoder said.
Yoder's Ornamental Concrete also offers a selection of aluminum weathervanes, mailboxes, lampposts and sundials.
As more concrete makers came into the market and the economy slowed, demand for concrete products waned.
"It's been a struggle, but we're still keeping our nose above water and we're seeing strong signs that the economy's finally bouncing back a little bit," Yoder said. "...The other problem with our product is that it lasts. It's not like it's going to wear out in a couple or three or four years. I had a customer in last week who bought something from us 30 years ago who said it was just as good as when they first got it. You want your product to be good, but there's a catch-22 there."
Yoder's Ornamental Concrete is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
For more information about Yoder's Ornamental Concrete, visit https://www.yodersornamentalconcrete.com or call 620-463-2888.