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Johansen Excavation Goes the Extra Mile With Hitachi Iron

Tue March 07, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

The Johansens must have one gigantic Christmas tree to put presents under.

JoAnn, one-half of the husband and wife ownership team of Johansen Excavation in Glen Head, NY, likes to buy big toys for her husband, David, for Christmas. This past December, for example, JoAnn arranged, for a second time in three years, to have a Hitachi excavator adorned with a big bow delivered to her husband. This time it was a Zaxis 270, which is now their company’s largest piece of equipment.

The couple founded Johansen Excavation 20 years ago as an excavation and drainage contractor handling projects throughout New York City and Long Island. Over the years, though, the company has branched out to tackle demolition jobs because as David puts it, “If you provide site excavation, but not offer demolition of existing structures, you are likely to lose the job.”

Johansen Excavation is very much a team operation.

“I operate the machines,” began David. “JoAnn prepares all of the estimates, keeps track of receivables and payables, and keeps track of payroll. And, if that’s not enough to do, typically on weekends we go out together to do estimates.”

David’s affinity for construction work and equipment formed early, moving into the industry directly from high school. He confessed to have always been a bit of a motor head, intrigued with the operation of heavy equipment. His first machine was a 1970s vintage Dynahoe (a large tractor loader backhoe that was typically only sold in the New York City and Boston areas).

Early on, David was an innovator when operating equipment. Starting out in 1986, he did a lot of trucking and septic work and was among the first septic contractors to use an excavator when lowering septic tanks, instead of a crane. The company primarily owned smaller excavators, while most of their competitors owned larger excavators. It was the smaller equipment, however, that allowed them to do a lot of residential work.

The Johansen’s first excavator, a Hitachi EX-160, was purchased from Jim Brewster of Formula Equipment of Rock Tavern, NY, approximately seven years ago. After that many years of continuous operation, the company recently sold that machine with more than 8,000 hours on it. No major repairs had needed to be done to the machine during Johansen’s ownership. This has contributed to the company’s preference for Hitachi.

“Jim Brewster initially offered us a demo of the excavator and that’s what really sold us on the machine,” David said, referring to the EX-160.

“After a six-month rental, we decided to buy the machine. Over the years we have used many different brands of excavators and we are really sold on the Hitachi and the service that Jim Brewster and Formula Equipment provides us. It is not unusual when we need parts that Jim personally delivers them to us. As a general rule, Formula Equipment’s service trucks and mechanics have been at our beck and call whenever needed.”

Today, because of the company’s growth and diversity, the company has eight employees, including David and JoAnn, and an equipment fleet that includes five 10-wheel dump trucks, one tractor-trailer, two skid steers, two wheel loaders, one backhoe and five Hitachi excavators, which were purchased from Formula Equipment. The excavators range in size from an EX-35 mini-excavator to the recent Christmas gift, the 68,000-lb. (30,844 kg) Hitachi Zaxis 270 excavator.

“This is the first larger machine [the Hitachi Zaxis 270] that I have owned and you cannot help but notice the huge difference in breakout force and cycle speed,” David said. “The 68,000-pound excavator works great for some of our drainage projects, which at times involve going down as deep as 50 feet.”

The new Zaxis 270 is hard at work on a project on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens where Johansen Excavation is demolishing several buildings to make way for a new medical building. Typical with most New York City projects, work involves operating in a very tight area. Though the excavation work is relatively light, with most of the soil in the area composed primarily of sand, the work site is so tight that only one machine, the Zaxis 270 excavator, and one truck can fit in there at one time.

Johansen Excavation is slated to wrap up the project soon, then it’s on to the next set of jobs, which often total three at a time.

Pride in work is everything to David and JoAnn.

“Our reputation is rooted in always going the extra mile,” David said. “For instance, for years one of our trademarks was that any foundation that we prepared was hand-raked upon completion. That is an extra step that most of our competitors just do not do.”

And David and JoAnn look forward to even more growth in the future.

“We are growing with our customers,” he began. “Over the years we have worked with many developers and as those developers have grown they have gotten involved in larger projects. To keep their business, we have had to grow along with them.”

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