Philly City Council Passes Construction Tax

Reputation for Quality Work Keeps Harrisburg Firm Busy

Sat January 29, 2005 - Northeast Edition
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When John Hockenberry started Mainline Excavating in June of 2000, he had one employee other than himself and just a couple of small machines. But Hockenberry never had any doubt as to whether or not his company would be successful.

“I was a fairly young guy, but I’d worked for other contractors long enough to see what you had to do to make it in this business,” said Hockenberry.

“One, you’ve got to be in an area where there’s work being done —- and there’s a lot of work in and around Harrisburg [PA]. The other thing is customer satisfaction. You’ve got to give your customers what they want, which is quality, on-time work — and we’re definitely not a contractor that leaves a job with a dissatisfied customer. If that costs us money, so be it. We figure our reputation is worth more than that.”

It’s a philosophy that has worked well for Mainline.

“We don’t advertise,” said Hockenberry. “We don’t have signs up on our jobs and we’re not in the Yellow Pages. Almost all of our work is done for repeat customers and by referral.

“Many of our jobs come from engineering firms that have gotten to know us through the years. They like our work because we take a lot of pride in the finished product, just like they do. We’re very competitive in the sense that we want to be the best. We’re not going to accept that any other contractor can do a better job than we’ll do.”

The Total Package

Mainline Excavating specializes in commercial site-development work by providing a total package for its customers.

“We’re a full-service site-development firm,” said Hockenberry. “We do our own clearing, including grinding. We strip the topsoil and do all the earth work. We do all utilities — not only water, storm and sanitary, but also phone, electric trenching and underdrains. We grade for the curb and we put stone down for the blacktop. We do everything ourselves except for the paving and the curb and gutter, but we oversee that work as well.”

Hockenberry said the total package Mainline provides is an advantage for customers.

“Because we’re doing it ourselves, we’re in control of both quality and speed. We’re not dependent on subs, so we’re able to coordinate a job in the most efficient manner and we’re able to guarantee the work will be done correctly.”

Much of Mainline Excavating’s work is for A. P. Williams, a general contracting firm that primarily constructs large office buildings.

“A.P. Williams is a partner in Mainline Excavating,” Hockenberry explained. “As such, we do virtually all of their site work, which amounts to about 30 to 40 percent of our annual workload.”

Mainline Excavating works primarily within approximately a 30-mi. radius of Harrisburg.

Talented, Hard-Working Crew

In order to do the type of work that generates repeat customers, Hockenberry counts on a talented and hard-working group of employees.

“We’re not a large company. There’re only 13 of us, not counting office personnel. But because of the competent field guys we have, we’re able to do the work of a much larger firm.”

Key people include Superintendent Charlie Berrier and Foreman Jason Imeso.

“Charlie’s been with me since day one and is basically my right-hand man. He oversees all the field work. If we’re running multiple jobs, he’ll be at one and Jason will be at the other. They both do a great job. But they’re not alone. Honestly, we count on all our guys. They’re all really good, which is why we’re able to get so much done with such a small number of people.”

Recent site-work projects completed by Mainline Excavating include a new hotel on Eisenhower Boulevard and phase five of the King’s Crossing housing development, both in Harrisburg.

“At King’s Crossing, we actually replaced another contractor on the job,” said Hockenberry. “It was gratifying because we weren’t able to start the work immediately and they were willing to wait a couple of months until we had the time to get to it. That’s quite remarkable in the housing business where they’re always trying to get houses built and sold as soon as possible.”

Productive Equipment

For the King’s Crossing job, Mainline Excavating rented a Komatsu PC300LC-7 hydraulic excavator and two 30-ton (27 t) Komatsu HM300 articulated trucks from Midlantic Machinery in Harrisburg.

“For some larger machines like the PC300 and the trucks, it makes more sense for us to rent rather than buy because we can’t keep them busy year around,” said Hockenberry. “At King’s Crossing, we needed to move quite a bit of dirt in a short period of time and the Komatsu pieces allowed us to do that. It’s one of the first times we’ve used Komatsu and I’ll tell you, they’re good machines and very productive.”

Foreman Jason Imes said of the excavator, “There’s a lot of room inside so it’s actually more comfortable than what we’re used to.”

Hockenberry’s father John Sr., who was driving one of the HM300s at the King’s Crossing job, concurred.

“With the automatics and the air conditioning, the truck is really comfortable and nice to drive. I like it a lot.”

The younger Hockenberry credited Midlantic Territory Manager Sean Kosier for supplying and maintaining the Komatsu units.

“My guys are operators, not mechanics. We know how to move dirt, not pull wrenches. Midlantic did a good job with the service, and the units themselves have worked very well for us. Traditionally, we’ve used another brand of equipment, but Sean and Midlantic were aggressive in their efforts to get us to try Komatsu and I’m glad they were.”

Slow Growth

Mainline Excavating has grown slowly, but steadily since opening its doors four years ago. It’s a growth process Hockenberry expects to maintain.

“We’re definitely growing, but slow is the operative word. I have no interest in getting too big too fast. I could put an ad in the paper and double our workforce overnight — and I could keep those people busy. But it’s just not what we’re looking to do. I’ve got a good group of employees and they’re here for a career — not just a job.

“Most of them tell me they want to retire from Mainline Excavating. Those are the kind of guys I want and that’s the kind of company I want us to be, so we’re very careful about whom we hire and how fast we grow.”

Hockenberry also likes the fact that being relatively small allows him to be very selective about the type of work Mainline does, and the customers he serves.

“If we had 150 people, I’d probably have to be out there bidding the market and being very aggressive in trying to win enough jobs to keep everybody busy. But at our present size, I don’t have to take anything and everything that comes along. I can get enough work by only bidding jobs that I’m requested to bid. As a result, we can be very choosy, which is a nice situation.”

As he looks further down the road, Hockenberry is optimistic about Mainline’s long-term prospects as well.

“The key, of course, is the overall Harrisburg economy and, at least for now, I don’t see any signs of it slowing down. As long as the community continues to grow and we continue to give our customers what they want, I believe we’ll be able to grow and stay as busy as we want to be.”

(This story was reprinted from the “Midlantic Machinery News.”)