116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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Few people notice the surface of a concrete parking lot or patio. But Jeff McCaughey does.
'When they're finishing the concrete, that's the last step,” McCaughey said. 'If they do a poor job at that, it's frozen in time. It's going to be there for all to see, so finishing well is important.”
The Marion Brush Manufacturing Co. has helped contractors finish well almost since McCaughey's grandparents R.J. and Naomi Bolden started the company in 1954.
'That was the year after my dad was born,” McCaughey, 42, said one recent morning in the office shared with his wife, Rachael. The building is on the site where his grandparents both lived and started the business.
'They moved here, built a house on the property to live here,” he said.
'Built a little shop out back and made brushes for residential and commercial (use), factories and things like that. My dad would work for the company when he was in high school.”
R.J. Bolden's business included janitorial supplies, but he soon took the first step toward what became its specialty niche. Freshly poured wet cement for projects such as driveways, patios or sidewalks must be finished - smooth for a patio or driveway, often a bit rougher for the floor of a parking garage.
For decades, that final pass was done with heavy long-handled push brooms that are unwieldy to manage, leading to fatigued workers. So R.J. developed a lighter finishing broom.
'He was always really big on quality and big on innovation, and that's always something we've carried on, from R.J. to my dad to us,” McCaughey said.
While the broom found steady customers in the concrete industry, the next big advance was left for Gary Bolden, R.J.'s son.
'He was a tinkerer, just like his dad was,” McCaughey said of his father.
Listening to customers and watching them work led Gary to develop an aluminum frame mounted with bristles.
Workers at each end of a long rope 'walked” the device across a wide surface of wet cement, the bristles at a consistent angle.
'The guys just loved it,” McCaughey said. 'He got it patented, and that became the game-changer.”
The first Chameleon Trac II System was unveiled at the industry's annual World of Concrete trade show in 1994 and was patented two years later.
In widths up to eight feet, the device applies a consistent surface in up to 75 percent less time, freeing workers for other duties on the job site.
The company also makes 'bull floats” - the smoothing tools used to level poured concrete before it's finished with a brush.
Like his father, McCaughey started working at Marion Brush when he was in high school.
'It was a natural when I needed some cash,” he said. 'I would come in here after school and make those parts.”
But he didn't immediately join the company full-time. After high school he went to trade school to learn glass blowing, then worked as a youth pastor and associate pastor at a couple churches before rejoining the company. Janitorial supplies were still a big part of the business, which Gary Bolden had purchased from R.J in 2002.
'He and myself and another employee decided to venture off and just focus on the Chameleon and concrete brooms,” McCaughey said. 'That was really kind of a risk because the janitorial business was tried and true.
'Although the brush business was taking off, it was a kind of a question whether this can support us. But it's been a great decision.”
Jeff and Rachael McCaughey became the company's third-generation family owners in 2016. Gary Bolden died of cancer in 2019.
Carrying on the tinkering tradition, McCaughey developed his own refinements to the company's products.
The McCaugheys' son Jesse, 15, and daughter Kylie, 18, now work at the family business.
The newest addition to the Marion Brush catalog, the M-Series Power Unit, went on sale in 2018. A small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery does most of the work of moving the brushes across a new floor.
'After a while pulling those systems, your arms get tired, your accuracy goes down,” McCaughey said. 'With the motorized version, all the guys do is pull the ropes tight and it follows along.”
The company still makes R.J.'s improved maple finishing brush, but its eight employees mostly keep busy assembling extruded aluminum forms and nylon resin bristles - and sometimes electric motors - into various Chameleon models.
They're shipped worldwide, often to contactors who have been customers for years.
'There's always people that want cheap products,” McCaughey said. 'Our brushes are more expensive, but they last way longer than the cheap throwaway brushes.
'I like it when customers call and say, ‘I have your orange brush, what do you have that's equivalent?' I can still say ‘It's the same orange brush, we still have it.'”
And McCaughey still attends the trade shows and visits customers' job sites to stay current.
'I learned this from my dad,” he said. 'A lot of it's just going out and talking to the guys, go out on the slab, get your hands dirty and see how it all works.”
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At a glance
' Owner: Jeff McCaughey
' Business: Marion Brush Manufacturing Co.
' Address: 1685 Seventh Ave., Marion
' Phone: (800) 930-9062
' Website: marionbrush.com