Contractor uses compact machines to do more with less.
During the peak years of new home construction in Central Florida, Gary’s Grading & Landscaping employed 23 crews engaged in excavating, residential grading and dirt hauling.
But after the 2008 downturn, the St. Cloud, Fla.-based company saw its workforce shrink by nearly 90 percent, from 128 to 13 employees.
“We kind of saw it coming,” recalled Lamar Chisholm, vice president of the company started in 1984 by his brother-in-law, Gary Killette. “That’s why we grew as big as we did. We tackled as much work as we could before the crash.”
As the company auctioned off equipment and pared its workforce to cope with the shrinking market, Chisholm came up with a new strategy that works well with the smaller residential lots that are more common in the wake of the recession.
A single compact machine has supplanted a small tractor and wheel loader to handle the work of two machines. The company has rebounded to 30 employees and 14 pieces of Cat® equipment.
“The compact track loaders and the multi terrain loaders are such versatile machines that either one takes the place of two machines,” Chisholm said. “The smaller that developers make the lots, the less room we have to maneuver. With the smaller machines, we can quickly access the lot and perform the most labor intensive work— it’s a more cost-effective approach for us.”
Crews strip the turf from the lots and haul it away. Then, after some additional surface grading work, a house pad is built. Once the foundation for the house is poured, Gary’s Grading crews come back and perform a safety grade, as they make the cut for a driveway and finish grade in preparation for the placement of sod and landscaping.
In addition to buckets, Cat attachments are an essential part of Gary’s equipment fleet, and include rollers, a landscape tiller and a power box rake. Crews utilize the power rake to clear a residential lot of grass and roots, then use a tiller to break larger clumps of dirt into finer material.
“Then we re-grade the surface so that plumbers, electricians and concrete workers can come in and perform their jobs,” Chisholm said.
The power rake was purchased during the company’s peak years, and remains a highly effective tool for stripping lots.
“When the economy went down, prices came down too, so we had to be more cost efficient with our work,” Chisholm said. “If you take a bucket and just strip the lot, of course you’re going to have much more excess material, and not just the top strippings. Before, we would typically haul two to three loads off—with the power rake, we only haul one load away. So it’s a big-time cost savings in terms of equipment and man hours.”
The power rake also comes in handy for re-grading baseball fields and use in other non-residential settings, Chisholm said.
Gary’s Grading also utilizes a Cat 301.8 Mini Excavator for working in tight spaces. It came in handy in a subdivision where the company was required to create foot-wide drainage fields.
“With zero lot lines, we sometimes have 40 inches to work with, and that tight swing radius means we can work between houses with ease,” Chisholm said.
The company typically trades a machine every two or two and one-half years, when the machines reach 2,500 to 3,000 hours. Gary’s Grading knows it can count on high resale value for its Cat compact machines, and high uptime when they are in use.
“Our whole business model is based on production, and when our equipment is down, we don’t make any money,” Chisholm said. “The profit margins are slim, so we have to constantly be up and running.”
Gary’s Grading utilizes Cat Financial for equipment purchases—it recently bought a machine with zero percent interest for the first 60 months—and also has a Cat Commercial account, which is a finance tool the company utilizes to buy attachments, parts and service.
Nearly all of the company’s fleet consists of Cat equipment, including two CT660 On-Highway Trucks for hauling dirt.
“We like the Cat machines because they are durable and dependable,” Chisolm said. “And the best part is the service that we get from Ring Power—they really help keep us running.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT CAT EQUIPMENT
Equipment operators at Gary’s Grading like the power and operating ease of the compact machines for moving dirt.
“They have more power than some of the other machines that we used to run, so our operators do like that,” said Lamar Chisholm, vice president of Gary’s Grading & Landscaping. “They want to run them more like a bulldozer than a compact machine at times. They fill up the bucket and keep rolling, and they like having that capability. When they have a lot of dirt to move, it helps.
“The guys really like the two-speed machine,” he added. “It’s a lot faster, especially when they’re moving a lot of material.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT THEIR CAT DEALER
“We’ve never had an issue with trading our machines in,” said Chisholm. “We always figured that Cat equipment is made to work, and Ring Power helps keep us going and keeps the machines rolling.”