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Sugarhill Contractors Builds Strong Reputation

Thu February 16, 2023 - Southeast Edition #4
Eric Olson - CEG CONTRIBUTING EDITOR


Sugarhill Contractors’ decision to purchase SANY equipment was based on the trust in Ironpeddlers the company gained while working for other contractors over the years.
(CEG photo)
Sugarhill Contractors’ decision to purchase SANY equipment was based on the trust in Ironpeddlers the company gained while working for other contractors over the years. (CEG photo)
Sugarhill Contractors’ decision to purchase SANY equipment was based on the trust in Ironpeddlers the company gained while working for other contractors over the years.
(CEG photo) The husband and wife team of Kristi and Fate Lawing owns Sugarhill Contractors.
(CEG photo) Sugarhill Contractors recently purchased the SANY 20,000-lb. SY80U.
(CEG photo) Fate Lawing said he also is pricing some of SANY’s larger excavators and has received quotes on a couple models from Ironpeddlers.
(CEG photo)

So many of America's successful small and mid-sized construction companies were started by individuals who, as youngsters, had grown up on job sites watching their elders make a good living in the trade.

Almost invariably, those children grew up to love running heavy equipment and being involved in constructing buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. And if they had the opportunity to run their own construction business, they often chose to make it a family affair.

Such is the case at Sugarhill Contractors LLC, a three-year-old company in the western North Carolina town of Marion, approximately 36 mi. northeast of Asheville.

Sugarhill is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Fate and Kristi Lawing, with Fate working in the field and serving as president, while Kristi, as CEO and majority owner, runs the office staff, payroll and administrative side.

But it was Fate Lawing who, from his boyhood, absorbed a love for construction and watching equipment run. He constantly heard about building projects around the dinner table, as well, and sometimes was allowed to hang around job sites, he said.

Not only did his father work in the trade, for Charlotte's Blythe Construction, but his great uncles, Woody, Doc and June Ledbetter, worked for Asheville Contractors, which built much of Interstate 26 and I-240 in the rugged mountains around the city.

"I worked with them because that was back when a kid could go on a job site," said Lawing. "I was raised in a company pickup truck and by the time I was in the sixth grade at school, I knew what I was going to be doing when I got older."

He added that before Asheville Contractors closed in the early 1980s, "They did about everything west of Asheville — if they wanted it, they got it. Besides those highways, they also worked on making the open cut through Beaucatcher Mountain in Asheville," a project that allowed I-240 to pass through the eastern part of the downtown.

Lawing considers Sugarhill Contractors to be a "family-oriented" company, mimicking what his great uncles had at Asheville Contractors.

But he credits his firm's success to its people, and the fact he hires good folks and pays them well.

"Right now, we have 39 employees on the payroll," he said. "There are not too many weeks that we go without 40 hours of work. We always have something to do for them, and because they are such good help, we work to keep them and take care of them. It is not about me; it is about them making money for their families."

Lawing Works Hard to Gain Success

Lawing officially began his career as a pipe laborer, before working his way up to running an excavator, then a loader and on to a foreman's position.

"I worked in the business for over 25 years for different companies in Charlotte and western North Carolina," he said. "A good friend of mine was looking to start a grading company and wanted me to be involved. We looked at several companies to buy, but they all ended up having such a big backlog of projects. If we had bought one of those businesses, we would have had to hire a lot of people to do their work. I told him that I would rather just do it on my own."

That led the Lawings to start Sugarhill Contractors in 2019, with the new company's first job being the grading of a horse-riding arena next to the world-renowned Tryon International Equestrian Center in nearby Polk County. Even before going out on his own, he had helped to build the equestrian center while working for Clary Hood Inc., located in Spartanburg, S.C.

"We did all the work there, including erosion control, clearing, mass grading, fine grading, storm drainage, water and sewer installation, curb, stone and paving," Lawing said.

With a first project for Sugarhill under his belt, Lawing got pre-qualified to take on work for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

As a result, he and his expert crews are currently working on their largest project to date: clearing 172 acres for the 5-mi.-long U.S. Highway 221 Bypass around the town of Rutherfordton, N.C. Sugarhill is the subcontractor for that job in support of East Tennessee's Wright Brothers Construction Co.

"It is a bit of a step up for us, so I bought a few more pieces of equipment and two grinders to get it done right. I would say I have about $800,000 invested in grinders alone," Lawing said. "We will be done with that project in several months. It may not be the most difficult job, but it is in tough terrain and is a bit complicated."

In addition, Lawing also is working with United Infrastructure Group in Charlotte to perform grading and install stormwater drainage and utilities on a project to widen Marion's Sugar Hill Road to three lanes south from its intersection with I-40. The county road also crosses the interstate on a newly built overpass.

This road project, he said, has proved to be the most challenging job Sugarhill Contractors has taken on, but due to the skill of its people, the company has so far reached its goals.

"The job had already started, the whole county was waiting for this bridge to open, they were still driving on the old roadway, but after we got onto it, we hit all our milestones on time," Lawing said. "First, we had to finish some grading that had intermediate construction times on it. For instance, there was a ramp that we had to have open in 21 days, and another that could only be shut down for 14 days so we could work on it. During that time, we needed to remove old asphalt, grade, add fill, and pave it. In the end, we got it done on time."

Much of Sugarhill Construction's work, though, comes from helping to build subdivisions, he said. It offers complete site work solutions, including tree and brush removal, heavy excavation, grading, water, drainage for sewer and stormwater, stone placement, asphalt, and curb and gutter.

"We try to do everything in house, but there are some smaller companies around town that I will sometimes use for erosion control," Lawing said. "If we are busy, I will get subs for paving and curbing, the only things we do not do ourselves."

The largest new-home development in Sugarhill's portfolio so far is the 28-acre Sparks Crossing Phase III subdivision in 2021 in Spindale, N.C., which brought a little more than $1 million to the company, he said.

The ability to deliver residential and commercial projects like these on time and within a set budget has made Sugarhill a favorite subcontractor for the larger builders that employ it. Along the way, Lawing has earned an excellent reputation in the business.

"Once I started the business, work began coming to me — I usually don't have to chase it," he said. "If somebody realizes he needs grading, he will say, ‘Let's just call Fate. He will take care of it.'"

Sugarhill Contractors employs six crews dedicated to tackling certain tasks on its job sites, Lawing noted. They include one each to handle clearing, grinding, mass grinding, fine grading and two teams that do pipe work.

Pairing the company's crews with the best, yet most affordable equipment, is a job that Fate and Kristi Lawing have taken on together. With the help of Ironpeddlers, based in Monroe, N.C., they recently bought Sugarhill's first mini-excavator made by SANY America Inc.

His decision was based on the trust in Ironpeddlers that he gained while working for other contractors over the years.

"I have had great luck with that company," Lawing said. "They are a family-based dealership, and when I was doing a job over at the equestrian center for Sugarhill, Jeff Snyder, an equipment salesperson at Ironpeddlers, called me out of the blue one day. I had never met him, but he told me he had tickets to a Professional Bull Riders event. I had never even called Ironpeddlers in the whole time I had been running my own business, but after meeting him and going to see the bull riding, he left a SANY SY60C mini-excavator for me to demo.

"After I tried it, I was impressed, so all I did was call him to ask if he had anything a little bigger," he added. "Jeff said, ‘Yeah, I have a SANY SY80U.' I told him to bring it to me, and the whole time he was on his way, I introduced the SY60C to another guy I knew. I told him, ‘Man, you can't beat the price on it.'"

He put his money where his mouth was, too, as he purchased the 20,000-lb. SY80U, which Lawing said saved him about $40,000 versus buying from another maker. In addition, he bought an SY60C from Snyder in the last week of December.

Lawing noted that he is also pricing some of SANY's larger excavators and has received quotes on a couple models from Ironpeddlers.

"There are not many of these smaller excavators that have a hydraulic coupler that you can change from the seat," he added. "I like the fact that I can pick up the phone and tell Jeff I need something, and he will send it to me as quick as he can — there's no hassle with it at all."

As far as Ironpeddlers' product support, Lawing said that has also been problem-free, and whenever even the most minor issue with one of the machines he got from the dealership has arisen, it has been quick to respond.

Sugarhill's fleet of machines and trucks continues to grow as the contracting firm has six dozers, eight excavators, two rubber-tire loaders, a skid steer, five rollers, two trench rollers, two tub grinders and approximately 20 pickup trucks, in addition to a Lowboy to haul them around.

As Sugarhill Contractors begins to mature, Lawing noted that he wants to see more growth for the sake of his people, but not to the point that it gets too big.

"I have a great utility guy, so I know we can pick up some straight utility work; we have gotten two just lately," he said. "I enjoy municipality and government work, like projects for NCDOT, so we are looking for more of those contracts." CEG




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