Cat equipment provides winning edge for site prep contractor.
When it comes to custom home building, wasted time is wasted money. When builders in the lakes region west of Austin, Texas want a site cleared and prepped in short order, they turn to C. Staff Construction.
The firm is a performance-based excavation and utility contractor, providing services for more than 50 custom home builders in and around Austin and the Lake Travis area. The 11-employee company specializes in providing complete site solutions on what is often considered unworkable terrain around the lake and on hillsides.
“We have tremendous passion to take a raw piece of unbuildable land, and turn it into a functional site with proper drainage, making it accessible for contractors throughout the construction process,” said owner Chris Staff, who founded the company in 1999.
For Staff, greater machine uptime results in faster site work completion.
“Partnering with Holt Cat allows us to run our equipment harder and faster,” he said. “I have the confidence to push the work envelope without having to worry about equipment failure, or availability of replacement machines.”
Staff’s crews are able to get everything set up so that the concrete contractors, framing crews and other subs that come in have easy access to the site, said David Goll, a veteran sales representative for Holt Cat in Austin.
“He and his crews also have the ability to clear the home site, prepare erosion control and construct a driveway to pave the way for the landscapers. Because of his diversity, he is actually the first contractor on the job, and the last one to leave after performing their final cleanup work.”
After working around farm and oil field equipment in his native El Campo, Texas, Staff moved to Austin in 1998. He saw development booming throughout the city, and was intrigued by all of the machinery involved. One day, with just $500 to his name he rented a Cat Skid Steer Loader, made up some business cards and started driving around to construction trailers selling himself.
“We started out doing site cleaning, and then clearing trees also,” Staff recalled. “From there, we began doing excavating, and today we do full site services, providing everything from the ground up, including rough grading, construction cleanup, excavation, final grading and retaining walls.”
Skilled operators are able to finish jobs on time, even when working in very tight spaces. When needed, Staff puts multiple machines on a custom homesite to save time in meeting a builder’s schedule. That equipment includes a Cat 259B 3 Multi Terrain Loader, 416E Backhoe Loader and a D3K XL Dozer.
The value of finished homes typically ranges from $400,000 to $3 million.
Staff says most of his former competitors have moved on to commercial work—whereas he has elected to specialize in the custom home market.
“We really don’t have a whole lot of competition,” Staff said, “because most of the guys who get as big as us go into light applications in the commercial field. We are sought after on difficult and extreme-grade jobs that require heavy machinery to carve out a building pad and allow for adequate drainage. It’s niche work for sure.”
Staff credits Cat equipment with helping him carve out a successful niche.
“In addition to great employees, another key aspect that makes us successful is the machinery that we have at our disposal, and the dealer support that comes with it,” he said. “It sounds simple—some people scoff at that and say it’s you and your employees who are behind your success—but you’ve also got to have the fleet behind you to be able to commit to a job and complete it on schedule. So I really think a lot of it has to do with my Cat fleet being so reliable.
“And because I have a full-time mechanic who handles preventive maintenance at the proper intervals, we have very minimal downtime in the field,” he added.
Staff’s crews used to build retaining walls with a skid steer loader equipped with a fork attachment. But when he purchased a 416E Backhoe Loader with a thumb attachment, it rendered the former method obsolete. What previously took his crews three to four days to complete now takes only one or two to set the limestone blocks in place.
“Using the backhoe on our jobs has made our efficiency level so much greater,” Staff said. “The four-wheel drive capability makes a world of difference. When we are working up in the hills and we have a little bit of light rain, we are still able to work. We are able to work on slopes that a typical backhoe can’t handle. This machine is really equipped for good traction and working on all different types of terrain.”
Ready access to parts from his Cat dealer is another factor in Staff’s success. Parts are usually available same day off the shelf or early the next morning if they must be shipped in, which keeps machine uptime high.
“The availability of parts is crucial, and we always have parts available,” he said. “In the event we do have a breakdown, we can be back up and running the same day because our dealer is 10 minutes down the road and has the parts we need. We can call Holt at anytime and talk to someone about our issue. They have been great. ”
Another advantage Staff cites is the ability to operate his Cat machines at lower RPMs.
“Because the hydraulic pumps are designed so well, the same amount of flow is available at lower RPMs,” he said. “There is less wear and tear on the machine, and you don’t have a loss of power at lower RPMs. Those pumps are built to give you the same force as you would expect at a higher RPM.”
Staff recently bought a grapple bucket for his 259B 3 Multi Terrain Loader. As one who has used attachments from other manufacturers in the past, Staff says the durability of Cat attachments is superior.
“Excavation can be a challenge,” he said.
“We are excavating in dense rock here in central Texas, and everything is worn and torn. And simply put, the durability and reliability of the Cat attachments are phenomenal. If it’s not a Cat attachment, I will tear it apart in a year.”
Staff credits Holt Cat and Cat Financial for helping him through the recession, by enabling him to purchase machines at low interest rates.
“We were able to establish low payments, and not have many payments, so that when the recession came we weren’t hurt like everybody else that had all of these heavy payments, and who didn’t have the financial options that Cat Financial provided. I was able to survive.”
When tough times hit Austin in 2008-09, some of Staff’s competitors went out of business. Even though the volume of work was down from pre-recession numbers, Staff was buying machines during the economic downturn.
“What I like about Cat Financial is we are able to go online and check at anytime when the next payment is due, or what our total payoff is,” Staff said. “Our office is able to work efficiently with Cat Financial because of the tools that they provide.
The company’s reputation is built on the perception among home builders that “you call these guys, and they move in with their equipment, and move out and it’s done,” Staff said.
“When we first started, I used some other brands of equipment, and there is nothing that compares,” he added. “I learned early on that the Cat brand was going to put me where I need to be.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT CAT EQUIPMENT
Staff likes the ergonomic joystick controls, which increase operator comfort and productivity.
“Operator fatigue is pretty much eliminated because of the joystick controls,” said Chris Staff, owner of C. Staff Construction. “The guys are not wearing themselves out by the end of the day with all of the arm and leg movements that used to be required with other brands of equipment.
“And simply, it’s the power,” he continued. “I think the power that Caterpillar provides in their compact machines is superior, and it’s unmatched.”
Another subtle advantage is showing up on a jobsite with Cat equipment.
“Everybody knows that Cat yellow is superior, and when you show up on site with Cat machines, you already have an edge. And everyone else notices. The Caterpillar name has a credibility all its own, and I use that to my advantage on jobsites—just by having that yellow on site makes a big difference.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT THEIR CAT DEALER
“Holt Cat is a partner I can count on for the right advice at the right time,” said Staff. “When I am ready to upsize my fleet, I always call my Holt Cat rep, and David has so much knowledge from working with so many different clients, that he always keys in on what I need. He finds out the application I’m going to be using a machine for, and he gets me the right piece of equipment. We never buy anything that we don’t need.”