Contractor leverages design-build capability to serve residential market.
In the hill country north of San Antonio, crews from Elite Landscaping move limestone boulders into place as they create an entryway to a new subdivision. Another crew digs a trench using a Cat® 262C Skid Steer Loader outfitted with a trencher attachment that cuts through dirt and rock.
For Elite, the multi-million dollar job represents the sweet spot of its design-build landscape business. With Texas in an extended drought, building landscapes takes on added importance over landscape maintenance, which tends to lessen when there is little rain.
And, with residential development superseding commercial landscape work in the wake of the recession, this is where Elite owners, Brian Moczygemba and Robbie McMahon’s crews want to be, building subdivision entryways and landscapes in the high-growth corridor just north of San Antonio.
“Before the recession hit, we did a lot of commercial installations like retail shopping centers and some movie theatres,” says McMahon, a South Dakota native who co-founded the company in 1997. “We saw the economic downturn on the horizon. So, when it hit and that side of the business started to slow down, we became more focused on homeowners association work, doing master design and entryway work. And that’s what we do now—we basically put entranceways into subdivisions on a larger scale.”
Recognized for its landscape design and installation, Elite’s two owners are leveraging their experience in the landscape business to find new markets. Their hands-on approach to checking jobs and supervising crews while developing new opportunities has contributed to their success.
“We make an honest effort to do right by everyone all the time, both our customers and employees,” McMahon says. “And when people come to work for us, they stay. People like working here, and they take a great deal of pride in their work.
“Finding new opportunities and successfully bidding helps us retain quality people.”
A Universal Machine
At the Johnson Ranch development— a master-planned community with over a thousand homes—Elite crews use three Cat 262 Skid Steer Loaders (two D models and one C) to move large limestone boulders, which are a byproduct of milling and sawing to build roads as part of the subdivision development. The boulders help to retain soil, while also creating a natural-looking landscape at the subdivision entrance.
Elite crews use fork attachments to carry and place the boulders—some of which weigh 2,000 pounds. A rock saw attachment cuts through embedded rock and helps dig a trench for underground irrigation and electrical lines that will illuminate LED lights placed in the trees.
“For our line of work on larger landscapes, the 262D is the most universal machine,” McMahon says. “It can lift hardscape pallets, from cut stone to palletized pavers, and carry 2,000-pound boulders without any issues at all, or tilt.”
“As far as the trenching attachment goes on the Cat machine, it’s as good as we have,” he
continues. “The guys end up using the Cat trencher more often, as it’s obviously more comfortable than the ride-ons. It trenches fast, and its design enables great operator visibility from the cab to the trench cut.”
Elite Landscaping also utilizes hammers and a brush cutter that add versatility to the Skid Steer Loaders, enabling them to perform multiple tasks.
“The attachments help us do many aspects of our work much more effectively, and with just one type of machine,” McMahon says.
For the occasional job that requires a Mini Excavator, Elite leases machines from The Cat Rental Store.
“Holt Cat is very user-friendly, and we can either pick it up or they will drop it off,” McMahon says. “If we need a bigger machine, we will rent loaders or backhoes from them. It has been very convenient, and I don’t have the fiscal exposure of owning another machine.”
McMahon says he finds that dealing with Cat Financial is a quick and easy proposition.
“It’s three pieces of paper,” he says. “While Cat Financial is good, it’s also the insurance availability while the equipment is being financed that I like. Sometimes, we are in remote places, and it provides peace of mind knowing that you have Caterpillar behind you to protect your investment while you are on these jobsites.”
“Usually, we will have one machine loading trucks at the yard, and three out in the field on individual projects,” he says. “Or, if it’s a bigger project like the one here, we will have three machines on one job.
“It’s a very reliable piece of equipment—and we run these machines all the time,” McMahon says of the 262D. “I didn’t even shop around this time when it came time to buy a new machine. There’s not a design flaw that I can see. In my opinion, it’s the best machine.”
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT CAT EQUIPMENT
Matt Hernandez, a lead foreman with Elite Landscaping, says hauling heavy boulders with a Skid Steer Loader requires some know-how. “I think the Cat machines are better,” he says. “I have always worked with them, and they steer easy, they move faster and quicker, and they lift faster. And it’s easier for our new operators to learn on the Cat machines.”
Adds McMahon: “The ease of use for a new or entry-level operator is second to none. You go from a novice to a skilled operator in two or three days. It’s hop in and learn, basically. It’s that easy.”
On the new D Series, McMahon calls the enclosed hydraulic lines a huge improvement. “When you’re working in these native areas, the enclosed hydraulic hoses are not in danger—they don’t get bumped by anything.
WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT THEIR CAT DEALER
“We almost never wait on parts,” says Robbie McMahon, co-owner of Elite Landscaping. “When we needed a hose, they overnighted it. We called it in at 5 in the afternoon, and it was delivered at 5 a.m. the next day.”
Minimizing downtime: “My Holt salesman is very knowledgeable about the equipment that he is selling, so he tries to troubleshoot it first when we have an issue,” McMahon says. “He will talk directly to the foreman in the field. If that doesn’t work, then they will send one of their technicians, and their response time is pretty fast.”