Third Generation Business Focuses on Diversification

Wed June 11, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero


Richie Ambrose, May Heavy Equipment; and Charlie Goll, Sarah Jeffcoat and John Blanding all of Palmetto Corp talk about the compaction and consistency provided by Sakai products.
Richie Ambrose, May Heavy Equipment; and Charlie Goll, Sarah Jeffcoat and John Blanding all of Palmetto Corp talk about the compaction and consistency provided by Sakai products.
Richie Ambrose, May Heavy Equipment; and Charlie Goll, Sarah Jeffcoat and John Blanding all of Palmetto Corp talk about the compaction and consistency provided by Sakai products. The operator uses a Sakai SV540D compactor on the Highway 52 widening project. Palmetto Corp recycles, crushes and reuses asphalt using this KPI-JCI machine. The operator uses a Sakai SW 850 on the Thompson Creek bridge project in Cheraw, S.C. Palmetto Corp likes the production, consistency and the results provided by the Sakai SW 850 II.

Palmetto Corp is a third generation family business, based in Conway, S.C. Marshall Godwin started Palmetto Paving in 1987 after years of working for his father, Mack, at Godwin Construction. Marshall’s son Shawn Godwin joined the company about 20 years ago, when there were about 25 employees. Today, there are more than 200.

"We believe that the growth is because of our focus on diversification," said Sarah Jeffcoat, marketing director of Palmetto Corp. "Shawn took the company from what was traditionally known as just a paving company to a true complete site development company, which allowed us to grow and helped us weather the recent economic storm."

Today, Palmetto Corp has five different divisions, including asphalt paving and maintenance, grading, concrete, crushing and a building division.

"I grew up in the business — it was my father’s business," Shawn Godwin said. "He started it in the late 1980s, and I came in — working in the business as soon as I got out of college in January of ’94. But as a kid, I was always in the business, and then when I got out of college, it was a natural fit for me to come back and start working in the business."

Godwin noted that in the early 90s, he remembers there were about 20 employees.

"We were mainly in the asphalt paving business," Godwin said. "We had a small little asphalt plant in Conway, South Carolina, and then I saw some growth opportunity. In ’99, we expanded into the Florence, South Carolina, area. We bought a new asphalt plant for that area, and expanded more into doing not just asphalt paving, but grading, storm drainage and concrete. It was a natural fit with most of the jobs that we were doing. We didn’t have to subcontract that out — we were able to do it ourselves.

"Then in 2006, I saw another opportunity and bought another asphalt plant. We put it up in a town called Bishopville, South Carolina. In general, we work a 60-mile radius around our asphalt plants."

Godwin said that several years ago, Palmetto Corp got into the concrete crushing business. The company was replacing old concrete, and needed to decide what to do with it.

"We decided to crush it, rather than dispose of it in the landfill," Godwin said. "We created a couple of recycling yards where we bring our concrete there and crush it and reuse it — make stone base out of it. And now what we do is we allow other people to bring their concrete there as well, so that we have more product that we can crush and either sell to other contractors or we use it ourselves on our own jobs."

Currently, the company has more than 200 employees, and focuses mainly on asphalt paving, concrete and grading.

Godwin sought out opportunities for growth partly to allow him to take on more of a management role.

"When you only have 20 employees, you basically wear a lot of hats — you’re bidding on the work, you’re selling the work, and then you’re actually going out and doing it," Godwin said. "That’s fine, but I wanted to get into a position where I didn’t have to be in the field every day and could focus more on the big picture. So what has to happen is that you expand enough to where you can justify having people do various things. I knew that was my ultimate goal, but looked for those opportunities to come up, and fortunately for us, those opportunities came up, and we were able to expand. We’re doing the same thing now — we’re always keeping an eye out for new opportunities.

"In the past we’ve always expanded just by going to a new market. The next expansion that would probably take place would be more of a merger, or acquisition-type situation, but there is nothing on the horizon right now. I think it’s going to be opportunity based, so we’re going to be looking at jobs that are coming into our area, and around the facilities. As more money is spent, we’ll get our share of it, and try to continue to be profitable while we keep our eyes open for opportunities in different locations or in new markets."

According to Godwin, Palmetto Corp has had its struggles over the years like a lot of businesses, but diversification has helped them to weather changes in the economy.

"Over the years, it’s been maybe 60 to 70 percent government work and 40 percent commercial/private work," Godwin said. "There are better margins in the commercial work, but when the market turns and commercial work is not out there, the government sometimes will have a tendency to spend a little more money in those times to try to give the economy a boost. So now a lot of the business is probably 80 percent government work and 20 percent commercial. As the commercial work grows, those percentages probably change a little bit, but being diversified allowed us to stay busy and keep all of our people on board. Now that things are turning, we’ve got a good base of people who have been with us a long time, and we’re in a good position to continue to grow."

Godwin noted that one of the main things the company did, in response to changes in the industry, is increase the use of recycled materials, especially on the asphalt side.

"Asphalt is 100 percent recyclable, and South Carolina has gotten more aggressive with the amount of recycled material you can reuse in the asphalt product," Godwin said. "We’ve taken advantage of these new recycling guidelines, which are also huge savings to the tax payers and our customers, and a great way to reuse a product that is 100 percent recyclable."

Charlie Goll, vice president of equipment services and purchases, has seen his share of growth in various areas of the company.

"Palmetto Corp is a fast-growing company," Goll said. "It was a smaller company when I started back in 2006, and with Shawn’s approval, we’ve moved forward with growing into a larger company and trying to be on the cutting edge all the time. He likes to move forward into the future, and likes new and experienced people coming into the company. When I first started with the company, we had maybe 260 pieces of equipment, and now we’re somewhere around 440 pieces — everything from smaller equipment to larger equipment. We’ve been moving pretty well, and thanks to the economy right now, we’re starting to move forward a lot faster — we’re expanding all our grading crews, and concrete crews. We’ve expanded our paving crews, and this year we’re trying something new and subbing some of our paving, which has been unusual for us to ever do, but business is allowing that now, and we’re going to try to move forward with it."

Goll noted that in the paving division, the company is doing a lot of mainline work.

"Some jobs that will be coming up shortly are a lot of four-lane out of two-lane, and we’ll start off with widening on a lot of jobs, and come back and do the mainline work," Goll said. "We aren’t into any type of superpave right now. We’re running normal bases, and surface, but we’re using automatics. We haven’t gotten into the GPS yet with the pavers, but it’s coming."

Goll’s choice for rollers was May Equipment and Sakai because of his earlier experiences.

"I requested Sakai because I was with a large company a long time ago, and we did compaction testing with every roller that was made, and Sakai was a top player," Goll said. "We picked Sakai because I knew that they were bullet proof. I’ve run Sakais all along, and I’ve known that they have been good and dependable — hardly ever have any down time with them, and with compaction, they’re number one. We really went through some extensive testing, and we tested in four different areas of the country, and in each one Sakai came up in the top ranking for being able to pave with speed and still get compaction. I worked with Sakai’s owner at the time — I was on a procurement program — and he was real good about accepting change. We gave him information on how to make changes, and it worked out well for us."

Goll has been pleased with the service the company has received from May Equipment.

"I have done a lot with May in the past," Goll said. "They carry a variety of equipment when we need it. They’re easy to work with, and get the product on the job for me. We just had a history, and like I said — we haven’t had to have much Sakai support, because there’s no support needed."

Godwin feels that the company has a solid foundation and history that will continue into the future.

"I think most contractors are pretty resilient," Godwin said. "In the construction business, it’s not a set, easy, "do the same thing every day" job. Whether you have to deal with changing economy or internal issues, you have those issues in any business. I think most contractors can figure a way out to make it work. We’ll continue to do the same as we continue to look for more growth opportunities."