Contractor's Growth Comes From Making Right 'Moves' for Customers
Many businesses are willing to travel outside their territories for the right customers. Few would consider moving their entire operations, but Bennett Steel did just that.
📅 Thu August 11, 2016 - National Edition
Dave Bennett, president of Bennett Steel.
Many businesses are willing to travel outside their territories for the right customers. Few would consider moving their entire operations, but Bennett Steel did just that about a year after Dave Bennett founded the company in 1980.
Bennett Steel started in Okmulgee, Okla., but its largest customer was located near Tulsa. So, in 1981, the company moved to Sapulpa, Okla., to better accommodate what was at the time known as Liberty Glass Company. Three years later, Bennett Steel moved again, this time to its present location in Sapulpa. Today, Bennett Steel is a multi-pronged company that provides erection services, steel fabrication and crane rental.
“In the early days, our mainline offering was erection, but over the years we transitioned into about half our business being erection and fabrication with rental making up the balance,” recalled Bennett, president of the company. “We believe that diversity allows us to best serve our wide-ranging customer base, as well as help us react to changing market conditions.”
In addition to Dave Bennett, the company's key personnel includes Matt Bennett, vice president-production; Jack Pitcock, vice president of sales; Delbert Brown, shop superintendent; Floyd Duncan and Richard Williams, project managers; Carla January, drafting coordinator; Chris Wilson, crane superintendent; Harvey Swift, field operations manager; Max Glendenning, operator foreman; Randy Magee, Billy Rice and Pat Morgan, sales representatives; Tony Palmer, shop foreman; and Charlie Whitesell, field safety director. In total, the business employs nearly 200 people.
About the same time that it moved to its current location, Bennett Steel opened a fabrication division, which has a 65,000-sq.-ft. (6,038 sq m) full-service shop. The fabrication division does work for Bennett Steel's erection division and offers its services to outside customers as well. The American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) has certified Bennett Steel as a fabricator.
“Our shop takes projects from concept to a finished product,” Bennett explained. “We provide detailed drawings, fabricate beams, bolt or weld them together and deliver to them to any location the customer wants. We have ample space that allows us to handle practically any size job. Additionally, we have a group that fabricates form metal, such as stainless and aluminum handrails, and installs them. We also manufacture grates.”
Strong Emphasis on Safety
Bennett Steel is one of the largest erection service providers in the region and holds an advanced, certified-steel-erector credential from the AISC. The company also is recognized as a qualified erector by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute.
Bennett Steel carries a large, diverse fleet of cranes for rent, with capacities from 8 to 400 tons (7.25 to 363 t). The crane-rental division works closely with customers to determine the right crane for their needs and offers lift plans. Rentals come with a certified crane operator.
“Our crane rentals run the gamut. We offer everything from taxi service, where a mobile crane moves from job to job each day, to large, multi-day projects that require comprehensive rigging and lifting plans,” Bennett noted. “Having certified operators, riggers and signalmen ensures that our customers' lifts are done safely and properly.”
Bennett Steel strongly emphasizes safety, and its record is among the best in the industry. The company employs six safety professionals who audit job sites and the company's fabrication shop to ensure proper safety practices are always in place and followed. That's helped Bennett Steel gain and maintain a very low OSHA total recorded incident rate (TRIR).
“We, and the companies we work with, take TRIR very seriously. In fact, you can't get on many of the companies' sites if your TRIR is too high,” said Bennett. “More importantly, we make safety a priority because we value our employees. They are the backbone of the company. In fact, our employees built this company. I have fortunately pushed and pulled the right levers at the right time. Currently, we are bringing on new blood. Last year, we lost about 260 years of experience, but I have confidence in our staff to recruit and train quality people.”
Bennett Steel's completed project list includes numerous high-profile jobs throughout the Midwest, but one of its biggest was right in its own backyard. With about 60 employees and five cranes, the company put up 1.3 million sq. ft. (1.2 million sq m) of roof and 950,000 sq. ft. (88,258 sq m) of mezzanine for a new Macy's in Tulsa. This project also involved installing precast walls during a six-month period. Crews worked 47,000 man-hours on the Macy's project with zero incidents and helped Bennett Steel earn a Project-of-the-Year award from the Association of General Contactors.
“That's the biggest project we've done to date, and we're obviously proud of it,” said Bennett. “We take great pride in all our work. We approach each job as if it's the most important one we have, no matter how big or small or how long it takes to complete. Our jobs run anywhere from an hour or two, all the way to months and sometimes years.”
For another highly visible job, the company fabricated structural steel, handrails and stairs and erected them for Oneok Field in Tulsa, home of the Tulsa Drillers AA baseball team. Bennett Steel also fabricated and erected steel at Oklahoma State University's football stadium and Devon Tower in Oklahoma City.
About the same time that Bennett founded his company, Ed Kirby and Fred Smith started Kirby-Smith Machinery. Bennett said that the service Kirby-Smith provided at that time and through the years has factored heavily into why Bennett Steel mainly uses Grove and National cranes and Multiquip welders. Bennett works with Kirby-Smith's Todd York, crane division account manager and Peyton Chatham, territory manager.
“They helped me greatly when I was starting out, and I can still call anyone at Kirby-Smith and get a quick response,” Bennett said. “Kirby-Smith understands that downtime is critical, and they work to keep ours to a minimum. Todd, Peyton and Kirby-Smith are terrific to work with.”
Bennett Steel's crane fleet includes Grove truck-mounted 110-ton (99.8 t) TMS900Es; 165-ton (150 t) GMK5165; 275-ton (249.5 t) GMK5275 all-terrain models; and National NBT45 45-ton (40.8 t) swing-seat boom trucks. All are part of the Manitowoc crane family.
“The technology on cranes has changed dramatically from when we started,” Bennett noted. “All brands and models we run allow us to not only make the picks, but also easily put together lift plans and communicate from the office to the job site via tablet. We particularly like the all-terrain cranes because we can drive them from job to job. We can set them up quickly, and they have ample load charts.”
Growth Beyond Expectations
In addition to its headquarters in Sapulpa, Bennett Steel offers crane rental from locations at the Port of Catoosa in Pryor, Okla., and in McPherson, Kan. Bennett admits that he never expected the business to be as big as it is today.
“I started with three other people,” recalled Bennett. “I thought if I could make a good living for the four of us, it would be as good as it got. The opportunities kept coming, and we continued to capitalize on them. We focus on providing quality work and excellent service, and if you do that, customers tend to find and stick with you. And, we tend to stick with them, too.”
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