Jim Flowe has not relied on mere luck to get his business to where it is in 2015.
His firm, J.O. Flowe Grading Co., is the perfect example of how hard work, perseverance and integrity is still the recipe for success.
He has been proving that now for 40 years.
Since its founding in 1975, J.O. Flowe Grading has built a reputation of providing top-shelf work from conscientious people dedicated to not leaving a job until it is done properly.
“If our name is going to be attached to that building project, we want to make sure that we have not done a sorry job by the end of the day,” Flowe said from his office in Midland, east of Charlotte, N.C.
“We do everything in our power to satisfy the customer because that follows you down the road. Making money is one thing, but we need to make sure we have done our best work.”
Serving the Charlotte Metro Area
Most of the firm’s work is in the Charlotte metropolitan area, Flowe said.
The company does the full range of services from lot clearing, erosion control, grading, underground utilities, concrete and asphalt paving. That includes residential and commercial work, the latter of which helps general contractors to build apartment complexes.
Among the bigger such projects Flowe is involved in are Fountains Matthews, just southeast of Charlotte; and Brayden, in Fort Mill, S.C., both for the general contractor Carocon Construction. Another new project is located near downtown Charlotte and is called 1305 Central Avenue.
All of it means Flowe’s crews are constantly busy.
“For instance, on the residential side where we clear lots there could be subdivisions with anywhere from 25 lots to 150 lots,” Flowe said. "You could clear one to five lots in a day or you might do a rough grade on one or two, then you could make four visits to one house while it is under construction.”
Flowe’s crews are assisted by 25 on-road dump trucks, lowboys and trailers, as well as another 100 heavy pieces of equipment that include bulldozers, backhoes, loaders, scrapers and motorgraders.
The majority of those pieces are Caterpillars.
One Man with One Tractor
Flowe’s preference for Cat equipment goes back 40 years to when he scraped together the money to buy a 955K track loader as his first piece of machinery in his new business.
“I was working for a grading contractor and trying to figure out how to make a better living for my family,” he said. “I knew a contractor who I had worked for in the past who decided to sell some of his equipment. He was also a home builder and he said that if we were to buy a piece of equipment he would give us some work.”
The cost of the 955K was $20,000, so Flowe got his dad to co-sign a note for $5,000. He then got a bank to loan him another $13,000. Determined to secure that tractor, he borrowed another $1,000 against his home from a finance company.
“Finally, the guy I bought the tractor from gave me $1,000 in credit, so I was in business,” he said.
“Now, I had a bulldozer but no money to run it on, so I went to work for the builder and he paid me every Friday for however many hours I ran that machine,” Flowe said.
From there, he met several prominent home-building firms in the Charlotte area and was able to grow with the city’s booming new-home market in the 1980s and 1990s.
“The work was steady and we were paid every week so cash flow wasn’t a problem,” he said. “We grew to 30 employees and worked for these people for years.”
Although some of those contractors are no longer in business, many of their people went to work for other companies and recommended Flowe to their new bosses.
Perseverance Pays Off
The economic recession of the last decade hurt many businesses like J.O. Flowe. After experiencing steady growth for a number of years and seeing as many 130 employees, the hard times took their toll.
This is where Flowe’s perseverance got his biggest test.
“Right when the recession hit we decided not to shut down the company, but to stay in the game and play ball just as hard as everyone else,” Flowe said. “We did have to lay off some people because we just didn’t have any work for them. We went down to about 35 people and it looked very bleak. But then three years ago it turned around slowly and we began hiring again and we are now back to 130 people.”
The company also has added an agricultural side to its business and operates 10 large poultry houses where it grows broiler chickens under contract for Tyson Foods. In addition, it has 2,000 acres of prime farmland in Cabarrus and Stanly counties where it grows corn, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum and rapeseed. Around 100 beef cattle also graze on its farmland.
The family has a long history of farming, according to Flowe’s son, Barrett. He is a graduate of N.C. State University with a degree in agriculture and works as the company’s farm manager.
Jim Flowe’s daughter, Amity Flowe-Broome, also works in the company as office manager. In addition, Jim’s wife, LuAnn, his other daughter, Ivey, and her two sons, Tristen and Isaak Love, contribute to the success of the firm.
Flowe recognizes the invaluable work of Tim Stewart, his chief estimator and a man who has been with him for 34 years; and Eddie Connor, who is in charge of all the residential site work. The two of them have served the longest at J.O. Flowe.
Some of the other key members of Flowe’s team include Tom McClester, the general superintendent of site development; Dennis Goodman, his utility superintendent; and Reggie Carroll, the grading manager. His operation also runs smoothly due to the contributions of Willie Evans, Alan Belk and Charlie Dulin, he said.
“We have just been blessed to have employees that have the same standards as us: hard work, honesty and integrity,” Flowe said. “We also met the right people that just believed in us and we have tried to support what they wanted us to do. We didn’t have growth on our minds; we just wanted to keep our customers happy. The man upstairs watched over us and took us where He wanted us to go.”
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