Do you believe in destiny?
Mike Stiles, owner of Stiles Excavating & Trucking Inc., in Halfmoon, NY, does.
It was back in the 1960s — when New York’s north country didn’t even have a Northway — that Stiles discovered his love of earth. He was working the land with his uncle and brother.
“We were farmers. My uncle operated a grader for big road outfits. There wasn’t enough money made from farming, so we did extra dirt and earthwork. We started out small with a hand shovel and pickup truck.”
Stiles Excavating & Trucking opened for business in 1964. A fast learner, Stiles quickly diversified from farming into excavation to accommodate the area’s growing residential population.
At that time, he recalled, “There were 100 acres and 100 cows. Now it is more like 100 homes and 100 lawnmowers. In the beginning the work we did had a place because that was all there was around here. Most people fended for themselves. They did their own fixing, raking, etc. As more people came [into the area] we stayed with it, joining forces with some of the builders. Moving earth was something we understood.”
And understand he did.
Stiles can be considered a modern-day success story. This year his company is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Over those 40 years Stiles has proven that hard work, fairness and integrity are the principles needed to lead a small business and survive the challenges that growth can present for a community.
Stiles Excavating continues to be the preferred company for many of the region’s individuals, along with residential and commercial builders, for their site preparation, raw material and trucking requirements.
The reason for that is simple.
“Mike and his employees continue to deliver solid, quality work and products to their customers with fairness and honesty. When most small business owners are considering selling or closing their business after 40 years, Mike Stiles and his team continue to grow and provide expanded services and products,” said Peter Aust, president and chief executive officer of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
In the early years, Stiles would travel approximately two hours to the north and south and one hour to the east and west of Halfmoon in search of customers. Not so anymore.
“Most of the work keeping us busy now is within a 10 mile radius north and south, and 7 to 10 miles east and west. We will go beyond that but it’s getting so we don’t have to.”
Nowadays Stiles and his handful of employees are kept busy servicing the 60,000 homeowners located in the three surrounding townships. Their work includes clearing land for the remaining farmers, digging porches and cellars, performing demolitions, enlarging grass areas, installing drains, adding topsoil, cutting grade and clearing sites for swimming pools.
“It used to be that jobs would take us anywhere from one month to several hours to complete. Today, the average job runs [us] between four hours and two days. We are in and out, which makes for better cash flow. You can’t work and wait for your money.”
Tools of the Trade
Stiles started out plowing gardens with a Ferguson loader farm tractor. Next he acquired a 10-10 John Deere all-hydraulic, live power take-off with power steering and a John Deere four-cylinder gas tractor. Over the years he has owned a 420 John Deere bulldozer, a Case 450, a John Deere 450, 550, 750, D-8 and D-3, loaders and excavators.
“Currently, we have nine Deere and several Cat and Michigan pieces. Most of my machinery is old — 1966, 1977, 1980s and several 1990s — but it is all in good shape. We make it last, buying equipment as we need it. When business was going strong it was nothing to purchase three pieces a year. That seemed to be the rule of thumb, whether it was a radio, backhoe, dozer, pickup truck, tractor or loader. I can remember buying equipment without knowing how I was going to pay for it. The equipment was that critical.”
Stiles is confident there will always be a need for excavating. What he is not so sure about is whether the next generation of excavators will have the wherewithal to be successful.
“It will be hardest for those who want to start from scratch, those who do not own their own land or possess the know-how that comes with growing up on a farm. It will be difficult for them to get into the business and stay in, especially if they don’t have the support of their family.”
As for himself, Stiles anticipates working another 40 years. During that time he hopes to see a reduction in government involvement in business.
“Too much bureaucracy is not good. We need less government, lower costs for doing business and fewer permits. Since 1964 things such as sales tax, OSHA and NSHA have taken the fun out of doing the job. The time spent keeping up with all of the regulations is harder than doing the work.”
To that end Stiles plans to pound his local politicians “harder than I have done in the last 30 years. I attend all of the town meetings, where officials listen to your comments and then forget about you. I plan on being so persistent and perpetual that they won’t forget.”