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Soil Design Bucks the Economic Trend

Mon August 31, 2009 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

A decision implemented six years ago enables Gene Hale, president of Soil Design Inc., Escondido, Calif., to say: “We’ve remained extremely busy through this economic slump and have a solid work schedule for at least the next year.”

How is this so? The answers involve a fleet of compact machines and a very affluent customer niche that is mostly immune to the economic roller coaster.

“We shifted our business model in 2003 from the traditional ’bigger is better’ mentality,” said Hale. “It used to be that our big equipment kept our compact machines busy, but now it’s flipped —our compact equipment is the heart of our business approach.” At the time of the shift, Hale saw opportunities for projects with smaller footprints and tighter quarters —ideal for compact equipment.

Clearly, its small size means that compact equipment can squeeze into tight sites and easily navigate obstacles. That much is obvious. However, Hale also recognized technological advances in the machines design made the shift possible:

• Rubber track running on a fully suspended undercarriage enabled work in all terrain types.

• High performance power trains and a broad array of work tools replace the need for larger, more specialized machines.

“To me, it’s important that we run the latest equipment, since there are definite technological advances with each new model that give us the competitive edge, while providing improved productivity,” Hale said.

The customer niche Hale identified, and in which Soil Design has claimed as its specialty, is the large-scale custom estate market. “These are spectacular sites, with all the complexities and challenges you might imagine,” Hale states.

On these dramatic mansion locations, Soil Design handles everything from site prep, drainage, sewerage, and access roads to finish grading, landscaping, and detail work that may even include placing exotic, imported stones that can cost $50,000 each. At any time, the company is engaged in a handful or more of these complex projects. Each site can take two- to four-years to complete. Because the project scope can change frequently — additions and upgrades are common — Soil Design issues progress invoices on a time and materials basis, rather than working against a set bid.

Hale admits his team enjoys difficult, challenging work. “We spent 30-plus years being successful completing project after similar project. Now, the tougher the project, the better we like it.”

Hale said he likes Cat dealer support from Hawthorne Machinery, which includes sales representative, Dave Johnson, and all the parts, service and sales staff.

“In more than 4,000 cumulative hours logged on our new C-Model machines, we’ve only needed one minor repair,” Hale said.

Advice to the

New Kid

Thinking of starting your own landscaping or dirt-moving construction firm? Gene Hale cautioned: “Recognize first, that it’s a tough business, and if the voice inside says ’Don’t do it,’ you may want to listen.” But, for the hardheaded, he offers this advice:

1. Take care of the customers and treat them honestly.

2. Buy the best equipment you can.

3. Work hard — when the work is there, you’ve got to grab it.

(This story originally appeared in Compact Edge’s Summer 2009 issue and was reprinted with permission from Cat Publication.)

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