This is the story of how two enterprising co-workers and buddies started their own company, shaking hands over the promise never to allow money to come between them (first smart move); purchased an electronic job clock system early on (smart move again) and invested in Trimble positioning technology, quickly differentiating themselves from other contractors in their region (the smart move tradition continues).
Ten years ago, when Don Nusbaum and Scott Duso started D/N Excavating, there were a few things they knew for sure; they shared the same work ethic, they both “loved packing dirt,” “had always liked Cat products,” and agreed that during the early days of the company, they would leave home early in the morning with their packed lunches and meet some place away from town so nobody would know that business was slow.
But that was then. Business is much better these days for D/N, and neither partner has much time for driving around.
“We run two crews, each headed by one of us, because we know that things go a lot smoother when the boss is there,” said Nusbaum, and Duso agreed, saying that their customers trust them because they know they are both “obsessed with quality.”
Their first job was digging a pond; they finished it quickly and went back to driving around eight hours a day for a while. The first machine was a Cat, a 315C demo with 300 hours on it, which they still own; their first employee was a driver for their dump truck, hired late in their first year; their gross sales that year were $135,000.
Their first office; a bedroom in Dusa's house. Their first really big job — in December 2011 they were awarded a 2.5 million dollar job with a tight 10-month time period. It was a site development for rental condominiums, including all utilities, roads, etc., and the owners wanted it to be ready for the rental season so they could start making back some of their investment.
Nusbaum is straightforward — “We weren't 100 percent sure that we could do the job as we were structured at the time, we either needed more people or we needed the right technology.”
The partners knew that they had to act fast and they heard through their Milton CAT salesperson, Russ Pugh, that there was going to be a SITECH Northeast machine control and guidance demo in Milford, Mass., showcasing the full line-up of Trimble products. That was precisely the kind of technology that could help them get the competitive edge they needed, so they went to Milford and from that point on things started to move pretty fast.
“We also went to Las Vegas last fall to the Trimble Dimensions event,” said Duso, “and we heard from customers who were using the technology and had great comments to share about their experiences.”
Nusbaum said that they already owned a Cat D5K, which was ready-equipped for the technology, and they bought a base station and a rover. How long did it take to learn how to operate?
“The system was intuitive — we just got in there and got going, and with all of our experience at the controls, we could tell that it was working correctly.”
How about results?
“We saved at least 30 percent of our time on that job, maybe more,” said Duso, and Nusbaum added, “We just needed one operator, no one had to stay with him; we were able to complete the job on time and on budget even though we were a small company.”
“I was able to grade 1,000 feet of dirt in a day with the system; before, it would have taken four people helping me and I couldn't get ½ of that done,” Duso added
As skilled operators and savvy businessmen, the D/N partners have discovered additional ways to put the technology to work.
“We use the rovers to measure elevations when laying pipe,” said Duso, “We stand right in the ditch with the rover and we know that we are good; we can also use the rover to know exactly where the valve should be.”
Another time, a blasting subcontractor presented them with an invoice that Duso considered too high; using the rover he went around the perimeter with the blasting guy by his side and the rover calculated that the amount had been figured improperly, bringing the bill down to what it should have been, almost $10,000 less. And last but not least, as Nusbaum said — “We don't have to wait on a surveyor anymore, we just don't need them as much as we used to.”
And he added that one way that D/N makes themselves more attractive with customers is that the technology makes D/N less dependent on subcontractors and support services and that saves them a lot of time, money and waiting.
“Our friendships with surveyors have been strained,” said Duso.
This past December D/N bought another rover and base station.
“We are a two-crew operation and whoever didn't have the automation asked for it and complained until they got it,” said Nusbaum. “It was funny, the guys who made the most noise about not having the technology, were some of the older members of the crew who had worked with stakes all their lives and were initially pretty skeptical about the change at first.”
In addition, D/N recently took delivery of a Cat D6K2 that is automation-ready.
What are their plans for the future?
“We look at ourselves as being the biggest of the little guys and Machine Control and Guidance has allowed us to stay there,” said Duso.
“If we did not jump on machine control and guidance technology when we did, we were going to be left behind. Next up for us is an automated excavator. With the economy being in tough shape, bigger players have come down into the bidding of smaller jobs and we are coming up against them; technology has helped us hold our own against these much bigger companies.”