In highly competitive industries, successful companies find ways to stay busy. Thanks to Airy’s Inc.’s “unparalleled service and quality work” motto, the company has enjoyed success and staying power for the past 40 years.
Based in Tinley Park, IL, Airy’s Inc. is an underground contractor specializing in heavy highway construction, sanitary/storm sewer installation and repair, and water main installation and repair.
The company was founded in 1965 by Arie Hill, who worked as a residential plumbing contractor. His wife Estelene took care of the bookwork. Marvin Hill, a member of the second generation, joined them in 1966, and in 1984 became president.
At that time, the company employed 12 people who concentrated on residential plumbing work, branching occasionally into industrial plumbing and site-development work. Under Marvin’s leadership, the company grew to 55 people working strictly on large site utility development projects during the construction season.
“When my father retired in 1986, we started doing more site work, which I personally enjoyed,” recalled Marvin. “We put on a second crew and have just grown from there. It’s been a slow, steady growth. And we really don’t do plumbing work anymore.”
Today, Airy’s Inc. uses five crews and a utility crew on its projects. Jobs are usually located within 25 miles of Tinley Park, although the company has gone into Indiana and Kentucky in the past.
Ryan Hill, a member of the third generation, joined the company in 1995 and is vice president, overseeing all “inside” work. Tom Land, also a vice president, is in charge of all “outside” work.
Other key staff and longtime employees include Jim Welling, chief estimator; Paul West, superintendent; and Danny Doogan, a loader operator who has been with the company for almost 20 years.
A number of other employees also have worked for Airy’s for more than 10 years.
Emphasis on High-Quality Work
Throughout their years in business, Ryan Hill, Tom Land and Marvin Hill all say the emphasis has been on high-quality work done swiftly for their customers.
“We like to put multiple crews on a job site and get the work done quickly,” confirmed Ryan. “We have three large clients who use us exclusively because of how fast we can get the work done. They’ll tell us they want something done in two months, and we’ll put the people on the site to make it happen. We would rather work for a smaller client base than work for 100 clients and be spread out and not able to service them.”
From Sewer Pipes to Manholes
A typical site job involves coming in after the excavating has been done to install the sanitary sewer pipe, coming back to install the water main, then installing storm sewer pipe and prepping the area for road construction.
“We make sure all adjustments are done and everything is out of the roadway and ready for the paving contractor,” said Ryan. “We get all the testing done and everything squared away.”
Airy’s Inc. also works for municipalities doing manhole rehabilitation, emergency sewer repair and water-line emergency work. A utility crew handles the paving, whether it’s asphalt or concrete, as well as curb and gutter work. One job in late 2003 involved installing a fiberglass manhole liner 40 ft. deep at a site in Tinley Park.
“Corrosive gas in the sewer line had started crumbling the concrete, so we put a fiberglass liner in the existing manhole,” said Land. “The job involved craning the 40-foot-by-eight-foot shaft of fiberglass and lowering it into place, setting it and cutting the holes where all the other lines were feeding into it.”
A big job last year was at Cardinal Creek, a 900-home subdivision in Beecher. It involved more than 11 miles of sewer and water pipe, some of it at depths greater than 30 feet. One lift station was 42 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter. The job was started July 1 and completed by November 2004.
Crews are currently working on another job in Joliet at the Neu Fairfield subdivision where they are laying 10,000 feet of directional pipe. Work started in April on the fourth of five phases planned for the housing development.
The Right Equipment
Working on jobs that have to be completed quickly requires the right equipment. And for much of its equipment, the management team at Airy’s relies on Volvo loaders and excavators from McAllister Equipment Co.
“We’ve worked with McAllister since 1984,” said Marvin. “The driving factors in buying equipment today are serviceability, parts and having a vendor such as McAllister to give us the backup we need. The cost of fuel is also playing a bigger role today, and we’ve been very pleased with the fuel consumption of the Volvos.”
“We also choose our equipment for quality and price,” added Ryan. “We’re looking at depth and digging capacity and we feel our Volvos are top-of-the-line.”
Volvo loaders in the company’s fleet today include one L70 (1988 model), five L90s and one new L110E.
“Every year and a half we buy another L90,” said Land. “And we really like the fuel economy, production and power on the new L110. Our operators won’t run any other brand of loader. We’ve run some other brands but they don’t hold up. Our operators love the Volvos. You can put a guy in a Volvo loader for 12 hours and he’s not tired when he gets out of the machine.”
Airy’s Inc. bought its first Volvo excavator in 2003, an EC460BLC. At the time, the company had a job in Bolingbrook that involved laying 7,000 ft. of 3-in. pipe between November and the end of the asphalt season, so the excavator was running 10 to 11 hours a day.
“The machine was just outstanding on that job,” said Land. “We went right down the middle of a 35-year-old subdivision road to lay the pipe and had a crew right behind them grading for asphalt with the paving done right after them.”
The company recently added a second Volvo excavator, an EC360BLC.
“It’s working fine and the operators like it,” reported Ryan. “It performs well and is very durable.”
Crews recently completed another job in Bolingbrook using the EC460 that included 1,200 ft. of 60- and 72-in. concrete pipe in an existing ditch line on Route 53.
“We had a pipe damp on the excavator in order to be able to reach up and unload the pipe, swing it into the other side of the ditch and then install the pipe in the ditch line,” said Land. “At the same time we had to maintain the flow of the water in the ditch. The pipe was 16,400 lbs. a piece and had 11-in. thick walls. We were in a muddy, sloppy ditch and we were able to track around in it with no trouble at all.”
Airy’s tried the Volvo excavators because of their strong relationship with McAllister and veteran Alsip branch sales representative Kent Jager, according to Ryan. In addition, they liked the competitive pricing and availability.
“As our current excavators age and we auction them off, we’re switching all our excavators to Volvo,” he said. “We think they’re great.”
The company employs its own mechanic who handles most of the routine maintenance but Airy’s turns to McAllister for other work.
“McAllister has always been there for us when it comes to service, parts or anything we needed to deal with,” noted Land.
The Right Tools Plus Quality Service
Both Ryan Hill and Tom land believe a major reason for the company’s success and growth during the past 20 years is having the right tools for the job.
“That’s number one,” maintained Ryan. “We have a lot of money bed up in our equipment, but we need to. We have more loaders and excavators than we do crews, so the right machine is always available when we need it to do a job.”
Having that much equipment helps them complete their jobs quickly, Land pointed out.
“I think this company stands out because of our ability to get a job done and meet tight time frames,” he said. “The engineers for the job on Route 53 in Bolingbrook figured it was going to take two months to lay the pipe in and fill the ditch, but we actually completed it in a week and a half.”
Another job was estimated to take two years, said Land, but crews actually completed the work in five weeks, before winter shut everything down.
“We believe in getting the job done quickly and getting it done right” said Ryan. “We bombard the job with materials, people and machinery and get it done. We start in different spots, everybody meets in the middle and everybody goes home.”
“And I love challenges,” added Land. “I love it when someone tells me it can’t be done so we can prove him wrong.”
Marvin Hill also attributes the company’s success to the work of some longtime veterans in the company, and to his association with a number of industry groups where he has played an active role.
They include The Underground Contractors Association of Illinois and the National Utility Contractors Association. He was on the boards of both groups, president of the Illinois chapter for two years and regional vice president of NUCA.
“You spend time with your peers and gain a lot of knowledge through seminars and meetings,” he observed.
He added that the company has always been focused on doing quality work, spending long hours to get the jobs done.
“And we’re very safety-minded,” he said. “We have an active risk management program with a strong emphasis on safety for our employees.”
With the company at a comfortable size right now, Marvin Hill, Ryan Hill and Tom Land aren’t looking at much expansion in the future.
“We were bigger at one time, but I feel we’re the perfect size now,” said Ryan. “It’s manageable and we can give our clients quality work. The key is quality and service tour customers and we feel we’re at a size where we can do the best job.”
(This story appears courtesy of McAllister Equipment Co.)