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Champlain Succeeds by Adapting to Ever-Changing Market

One NY quarry company learns that the only constant in the industry is change.

Wed February 26, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Alicia Laguarda

Champlain Stone’s founder, Michael Morey, quotes Darwin’s words — adapt, or face extinction — and explains that according to the famous English naturalist and geologist, survival does not belong to the fastest, to the biggest, nor even to the smartest, but to those who know how to adapt.

Morey started the Warrensburg, N.Y., quarrying company in 1982, and he has endeavored to keep his enterprise nimble and ready to change to meet the demands of the market, and the ups and downs of the economic climate. His philosophy aligns well with Darwin’s beliefs, and the results speak for themselves — Champlain Stone has not only survived but is one of the biggest players in the large stone quarry business.

Analyzing Revenue Streams

Morey’s philosophy has always been to keep an eye on the marketplace to make sure he was aware of business trends. His other tenet — “It’s a matter of balance.”

Morey believes it’s key to continuously analyze your company’s different revenue streams and make sure there are no major disparities, such as “Too much reliance on one particular side of the business, and not paying attention to starting or growing others.” Along those lines, one of his latest moves has been to develop an architectural division.

Without neglecting its distributor network, Champlain Stone Ltd. went from primarily providing smaller dimensional stone to landscapers, nurseries and stone yards, to selling bigger blocks of rock directly to the architectural and building segment.

“The market was asking for it,” said Morey. “In cities all around us, Washington, Montreal, Boston… there are projects that require high quality, big stones, and the people developing them need to know that they can count on a large available supply of the same stone for many years.”

Job Site Solutions

Another significant move has been the company’s participation in Job Site Solutions, a Caterpillar fleet management concept that has gained traction with companies that have equipment working in a set location. Here’s an overview of the program:

A Milton CAT and Caterpillar team works with each customer to determine which and how many machines will be needed for efficient and profitable operation, and they provide and manage the use of new or rebuilt equipment. The customer’s focus then becomes meeting business goals, not owning iron.

Job Site Solutions customers pay an hourly fee that covers usage, maintenance and management services; the terms are designed around the economic life cycle of the individual machine in the unique customer application. The main goal of Job Site Solutions is to increase efficiency; in addition, customers who are working with this model report,

• Reduced overtime

• Greater competitiveness

• Peace of mind

• Improved forecasting capabilities

• Benefitting from the latest technologies

• Reduced fuel consumption

• Better operator morale

• Reduced carbon footprint

What prompted Morey to adopt this fleet management model? The short answer is, “Stone is my business, not equipment.” But of course there were many good reasons behind the decision. Being a ruthless self-analyzer, Morey had to face the fact that maintaining such a large fleet was a challenge by itself; combine it with a short work season and high volume demands for product, and you get a problem on your hands.

As he explained it, “Job Site Solutions has allowed my focus to move from owning many machines in varying condition, to counting on the use of a smaller and more efficient fleet in top shape.” Morey’s next comment is a crucial one for companies considering this concept — “My question was whether we would manage with the new set-up, but having worked so long with Milton CAT, I was confident in them when they said that they could do it.”

Champlain’s Corporate Planner Carrie Black confirmed this, saying “Champlain Stone has always used Milton CAT for preventive maintenance services, so the trust was there to take it to the next level.” Black’s one of the members of the Champlain Stone’s Job Site Solutions team; the other members are representatives of Milton CAT and Caterpillar.

Program Implementation

“Job Site Solutions implementation began with a site and operation assessment which highlighted some machinery and process inefficiencies.” As a result of that analysis, Milton CAT was able to design a fleet package that was almost half the size of the original fleet and could still maintain the production rates that Champlain was looking for, Black explained.

“Cat and Milton CAT matched the fleet to our needs really well; Job Site Solutions made it clear that we had had an excess of equipment,” said Champlain’s Quarry Superintendent Mark Morey.

Each machine has a customized program based on an hours per month usage, and the program is structured to skip payments during the months when the quarry is closed for major extraction —January, February and March. Besides machine use, the hourly payment covers maintenance and repair performed by Milton CAT.

Morey had the option to sell to Milton CAT the machines that were not going to be part of Job Site Solutions, thus getting a good cash injection that could be used towards service hours, or to acquire other specialized quarrying or cutting equipment.

Job Site Solutions is intrinsically a very customized program; in this case, for example, Champlain has some machines on the program and some not, which makes a lot of sense. Not all the machines were going to meet the hourly usage minimum needed for Job Site Solutions, but at the same time, having a percentage of the fleet on the program relieves pressure, since the quarry management knows that those machines are always going to be in top shape.

“We have a short work window in the Adirondacks, so when you’re trying to fill an order, downtime can be an absolute killer,” Morrey said, adding “The machines that aren’t on the plan can be worked on as time allows — there isn’t the pressure to have them up and running right away as there was before.”

It Makes a Difference

Straight from the mouths of key people at Champlain Stone, including Carrie Black, Mark Morey and equipment operator Roger Hitchcock come these assessments about Job Site Solutions at work for Champlain Stone.

Black appreciates the clear, productive communications between the Caterpillar, Milton CAT and Champlain Stone team members and the program’s customization and flexibility — “The program allows us to adjust as time and our needs change, and we know that each machine is the right machine. I can increase the hours we will need on one machine and lessen them on another and that helps us greatly with inventory demands being so variable.”

Talking about all the online data coming from the machines, Black said, “I can have up to the minute reports on how we are doing machine by machine.”

“Repairs always happened at the worst times; the new set up really takes the pressure off and if there ever is a problem like we had once with a starter, Milton CAT was here that same afternoon — they have lived up to the agreement completely,” said Morey.

Roger Hitchcock added that, “I would say that the time that it takes for me to load a truck with stone and take it to the cutting area and come back has been cut by a third, over the course of day or week that is a huge difference and I am much more comfortable and a lot less tired at the end of that day.”

As for Mike Morey himself, he doesn’t mince words, calling the program, “genius,” and “right for him,” and saying, “When I was younger, I used to look up and see all those machines and smile with pride at the size of my fleet. Today I still look up and smile, but now it is because I see brand new, well-maintained equipment, that I am getting efficient use out of, right down to the hour.”

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