(L-R): Darren Hennings of Hennings Construction Company talks with Tony Goins and Richie Ambrose, both of May Heavy Equipment.
When Darren Hennings’ crews head out on a job, he tells them, “I like our customers to see us like the calvary when they see us coming over the hill, and that’s how I want you to act, too.”
That attention to customer service goes a long way in explaining why Hennings Construction, specializing in grading and site utilities from its East Bend, N.C., headquarters, not only survived the recent recession intact, but in the years between 2008 and 2011 doubled in size. The company’s only downturn was in 2009 when revenue fell a mere two percent.
“We had a lot of good customers who were obviously good contractors so they had some work and in turn, they gave us work,” Hennings said. “We thrive on repeat business. We had good relationships and we like to think we are a kind of go-to contractor and were able to have enough work to keep things moving. It was just a lot of hard work and a lot of hard work on the part of our employees.”
Hennings knew from a young age that he wanted to operate his own business. His father worked for a general contractor and Hennings got involved working with the firm during his high school summers. He studied at North Carolina State University, earning a degree in engineering. His first year out of college, he worked for a soil testing company, then became a project manager for the general contractor where his father worked. But the call to start his own business was strong, and before long he had his first contract.
“We did an animal shelter here in Yadkin County,” Hennings said. “We did the clearing and grading and a bit of storm drains. It was a $40,000 job, moving a couple thousand yards of dirt.”
At first he wasn’t certain he’d made the right decision, but it didn’t take long for Hennings to know he was exactly where he was supposed to be.
“I really felt like I was on vacation when I was out there working, just something I always wanted to do.”
Today, he has a staff of 55, including his brother, Britt, a partner who looks after the office, and handles estimates, bidding and contracts, and his wife, Cathy, who manages the payroll.
From that first job moving a couple thousands yards of dirt, Hennings Construction has gone on to working on projects including shopping centers, schools, a gym and a food service center. Today, his crews are hard at work clearing and grading pads for the 26-acre Hanestowne Village development in Winston-Salem, the former site of the Hanes textile manufacturer. It’s a brownfield site, with contaminated soil that must remain on site. Crews are using some of the soil to create building pads.
“We actually built a mechanically stabilized earth wall,” Hennings said “It was 30 feet tall and 400 feet long. That’s where we put 75,000 yards of excess soil they needed to get rid of. The wall is soil with a geogrid wire basket face.”
His fleet of equipment has grown from one piece to more than 50.
“I started out with one piece,” Hennings said. “I just added machines as we needed them. I have 13 excavators, six track loaders, one rubber tire loader, three motor graders, rubber tire backhoes, skid loaders, trench rollers. It’s a lot to look after for sure.”
He recently added new equipment from May Equipment.
“I bought a motorgrader from them years ago in 2007,” Hennings said. “That was a Caterpillar grader. I recently bought a Terex off-road truck, and two new Hyundai excavators, a 260 last fall and a 160 this year. They gave us a real good price on them. I thought they were nice machines and with the price, they were a good value. We haven’t had any problems with them. They’ve been good to us. I also bought a Terex truck. We rented four of them on various jobs and rented this one for about a year. I just decided to go ahead and buy it. The May service crews have maintained the machines. I had couple of repairs on the truck, which has about 3,000 hours on it, and no repairs on the excavators. The 260 has 1,500 hours and the 160, less than a thousand. The service has been good.”