Special to CEG
For Rusty and Wanda Grant, starting their own business was a big decision. Rusty had worked for a contractor for many years and Wanda worked in a nursing home before the couple started Mountain Creek Contracting in 1994.
“It was a big risk, but one that we thought was worth taking,” said Wanda, who serves as president and majority owner of the company. “Rusty knew the business and we felt like we had a good chance to make a success of it if we worked hard, and that’s exactly what has happened.
Mountain Creek Contracting, based in Robbinsville in western North Carolina, started out by reclearing right-of-way utility power lines.
“I had two tractors and two tree cutters,” Rusty recalled. “We did bush hogging with just me and a coupe of other guys for about four years. During that time, Wanda continued working in the nursing home in addition to the office and paperwork she did for Mountain Creek.”
About three years ago, the company got into erosion control. “I had been doing erosion control work for a contractor, suing his seeder, and it jus seemed to make sense to get our own seeders and do it for anybody who wanted to hire us,” Rusty said. “Today, it’s a major part of our business.”
Much of Mountain Creek’s work is for DE & S, the engineering arm of Duke Energy. “We do the erosion control for their clearing jobs and we do access grading for them,” said Rusty. “We also do erosion control for highway contractors. We’re fortunate right now to have a two-year job doing the seeding for a new four-lane highway near Robbinsville.”
In addition to its erosion control work, Mountain Creek has a contract to provide cover dirt for a Waste Management landfill in Ball Ground, GA. “We have two people down there with an excavator and a truck, and their jo9b is to keep the trash covered with a certain amount of dirt each day.”
Today, both Rusty and Wanda work full time in the family business. Rusty, the vice president of Mountain Creek Contracting, takes care of the operations end of the business, including overseeing field work and doing the estimating and bidding. Wanda handles all of the office work, including payroll, insurance, invoicing and seeing to it that materials are supplied at the job sites. “With just the two of us doing all the inside work, we’re able to keep our administrative costs very low,” explained Wanda.
Valued Employees Do Quality Work
The company employs 12 people, in addition to the Grants.
“Until recently, I was spending most of my time out in the field,” said Rusty. “I still pay close attention to what we’re doing, but we not have enough good ment that I can rely on them to get the jobs done and get them done right. We’ve got really good people who do quality work whether I’m there to watch over them or not.”
The Grants to their best to keep their valued employees happy.
“We want to keep our guys with us, so we try to treat them right,” noted Rusty. “Good pay is part of it, but it’s also respect and consideration. For example, I try to make sure that everybody gets home every weekend. It wasn’t too long ago that I was working for a contractor, and once I was out for eight weeks in a row. YOu get burned out on a schedule like that and I don’t want that to happen to my guys.”
Those long-term employees enable Mountain Creek Contracting to do the kind of work that keeps its customers happy.
“Quality work is what we hang our hat on,” said Wanda. “Two months after you’re done seeding, nobody is going to remember that you did it really fast. They’re going to see that you either did a good job and it looks nice, or that you did a lousy job. We always want our work to look good after we’re done.”
“Our reputation is important to us,” added Rusty. “Quality work keeps your existing customers happy, and it makes it a lot easier to get new customers. We try to make sure that there are never any problems on a job, and if there is a problem, you can bet that we’re going to make it right.”
In order to do quality work, Mountain Creek Contracting needs equipment it can count on. Most of the company’s machines come from J.W. Burress’ Asheville branch and Sales Representative Tug Nix.
The company has two Hitachi excavators, an EX270 and Ex200. “The EX200 is on our utility jobs for DE&S, where we sue it to build and remove access roads,” said Rusty. “The EX270 is at the landfill in Georgia loading trucks. Like all contractors, we can’t afford downtime. We count on our machines to be working at all times. We like the Hitachis for their reliability. Before we started Mountain Creek, I was a mechanic, and the contractor I worked for had Hitachis and I found them to be very dependable machines. In addition to that, they handle well. The bottom line is that they’re just really good backhoes.”
Mountain Creek also has two Finn Hydroseeders from J.W. Burress for its erosion-control work. The company owns a T330, which is Finn’s largest hydroseeder. It can cover up to an acre, which is ideal for highway jobs. The company also has a T170, which carries a 1,700-gal. (6,435 L) liquid capacity load with a 200-ft. (61 m) discharge distance.
“We consider Finn to be top-of-the-line in Hydroseeders,” said Rusty. “It may cost a little more, but it’s a lot better. One of the problems with Hydroseeders is that they get plugged up if the mulch is not evenly suspended, and you can spend all of your time unclogging it. But the agitator system on the Finns keeps the mulch suspended evenly in the water so they hardly ever clog up. They’re also well-designed and well-built machines so they last a long time.”
In addition to the excavators and Hydroseeders, the company ha two Finn strawblowers from J.W. Burress. “We think the equipment we get form Burress is the best around,” said Rusty. “We also like the service, plus we trust Tug and respect his opinion.”
Keeping Clients Happy
the Grants credit not only their employees for the company’s success, but also the people they work for. “D.R. Phillips is a contractor who has helped us out a lot,” said Rusty. “Andy Cloninger is the supervisor for DE&S that we work with, and he’s been great. And the folks at Waste Management in Georgia are a pleasure to be associated with. We owe a lot to all of them and appreciate what they’ve done for us.”
“We do our best to give the people we work for exactly what they want, when they want it,” added Wanda. “Our philosophy is that it’s easier to keep a client happy than it is to get a new one, and that attitude has allowed us to develop some good, long-term relationships, which are very important to us.”
Future Looks Good
That philosophy has worked well for Mountain Creek and the Grants are happy with where the company is situated.
“We really don’t want to get a lot bigger than we are right now,” said Rusty. “We’re big enough to do a fair amount of work, but we’re not so big that we can’t oversee the operation by ourselves. I think one of our strengths is that the small size of our company allows us to be ’hands-on’ owners. We’ve discussed whether we want to hire more people, get more equipment and go after more work, and I think we’ve decided against it.”
“We optimistic about the future, and there’s a good chance we could grow the business if that’s what we wanted to do.” said Wanda. “But running a construction business is hard work. When we started, there were a lot of sleepless nights. We’re doing okay now and we don’t want a lot of headaches. I don’t want to get so big that I’m just worried to death all of the time.”
“The bottom line is that while we like what we do, we also like to have a life outside of work,” Rusty added. “It doesn’t always seem like we have much of a life, but it’s a balance that works for us. We’re happy with where we are, so why change it?”
(Reprinted with permission from J.W. Burress’ publication ’In the Works.’)
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