(L-R) are Terry Thomas, general manager, James River Equipment; Ted Doran, western North Carolina sales manager of James River Equipment; Kevin Champion, managing member of CK Contractors & Development; and Brian McManus, managing member of Hoopaugh Grading Company.
The John Deere Hitachi factory in Kernersville, N.C., is celebrating 30 years in Kernersville. Four years ago, through this joint venture, they completed a $150 million dollar expansion and now make 13 to 45 metric ton excavators. The campus is 145 acres with a fabrication facility and a new assembly facility.
John Deere and Hitachi recently invited two well established and respected contracting firms to its factory in Kernersville, N.C., for a roundtable discussion about Deere equipment and the service they've received from their local dealer — James River Equipment.
CK Contractors & Development, a construction site development firm, has been operating on the East Coast since 1966. The company specializes in laying the groundwork for residential site, commercial and institutional development projects. From clearing to major earthwork, underground utilities, concrete and paving, CK Contractors & Development produces a full range of services to complete its customers' site development objectives. The company employs approximately 200 people and has a fleet of 150 machines.
Kevin Champion, a managing member of CK Contractors & Development, said he grew up operating machines in high school and stayed in the business after that.
Brian McManus, managing member of Hoopaugh Grading Company, also got involved in the business while in school — paying his way through college by working in construction.
Hoopaugh Grading Company, founded in 1953, offers its customers within a 75-mi. radius of Charlotte turnkey site development services. Today, the company has 286 employees with more than 200 pieces of heavy equipment and 200 operators.
Two Companies — One Equipment Brand
For mass excavation, McManus said it is essential that the machines the company operates be of the highest quality and reliability. Down time is Hoopaugh Grading Company's biggest expense and prevents the company from hitting its contracted schedules with its clients.
“The partnership we have with James River Equipment maintaining our Deere /Hitachi machines keeps us digging and minimizes our risk of downtime,” said McManus.
Champion agreed, “We are similar situation. The quality starts out with the machine, that's a fact. And, it all comes down to the dealership. We count on James River as a dealer to be part of the solution. If there is a mistake or an issue, they stand up and back up their product.”
Technology Changes the Game
According to McManus, machine-integrated technology, particularly grade control, has enabled his operators to grade accurately on building projects of various sizes. It also helps with quality control, he said.
“For our new operators, the grade control systems work as an accelerated training tool,” he said. “You still need to know how to operate the basic functions of the machine. In our case, a finished grade operator who has 10 to 15 years' experience can fine grade, but you can also take an operator with five years' of experience, and the grade control features speeds up the skill set of the operators shaping abilities.
“I believe the GPS has helped our production on previous jobs,” said Champion. “I agree with Brian [McManus] from the standpoint — it speeds up the process with our operators, but it still takes the same time to handle the machine. You still have to know how to operate it.”
Even the best machines break down, and when that happens, contractors need the support of a good dealership. Recently, McManus put James River's dealer support to the test. Within the past two months, the company needed servicing on its John Deere 470 excavator.
“I called Ted Doran, [western North Carolina sales manager of James River Equipment] around 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and said, 'hey, it's showing all sorts of codes, we lost all power and the boom is stuck in the air.' It was a safety issue for us, and we had to get a technician out there immediately to get the hydraulics released to lower the boom down. James River dispatched a technician within 1 hour, released the hydraulics to lower the boom, diagnosed the issue. James River provided us solution and had HGC digging by 9:00 am on Monday.
“When we go out and buy equipment, we look at the brand, but the dealer really makes the brand. They keep the brand polished; they keep the brand serviceability where we need it. James River does an excellent job.”
The goal is 100 percent uptime, Champion said, but acknowledges that the standard is all but impossible. He does, however, commend James River, which he calls an extension of John Deere and Hitachi, for doing its best to eliminate the problems.
A Big Thank You
“Well, I would just like to thank you for the quality that you do put out,” Champion said. “It makes a living for 200 of my employees, and it goes a long way for me, being a business owner. I would say it starts with you to make a quality machine. You are all important to us.”