Compact Equipment Vital To Landscaper's Success

By Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

DCM Landscaping is a family-owned business headquartered in Nekoosa, Wis. The 17-year-old company was named from the first initials of its three owners, Dan Irwin, his wife Cheryl, and their son Michael, whose wife Amanda now also works for the company. In addition to the Irwins, DCM has four other employees, who are like extended family.

Dan, a seasoned equipment operator with more than 30 years of experience, handles most of the excavator and loader work. He also works with planning and regulatory groups. Cheryl runs the office and business functions. Mike leads the crew, serves as backup equipment operator and designs the larger projects.

Operating by old-fashioned values, DCM prides itself on delivering quality work on schedule, at a fair price.

To do that, DCM relies on its quality employees and a few key pieces of compact equipment.

Says Cheryl Irwin, "The two most important keys to our continuing success are the quality of our crew and the effectiveness of our compact equipment. The crew has great chemistry, works hard and is focused on doing excellent work. And our compact equipment — especially our Case compact excavator and Case compact wheel loader — enables us to complete jobs that would be unprofitable without it."

DCM's fleet of equipment includes two skid-steer loaders, a compact track loader, a Case 621 wheel loader, a Case CX50B zero-tailswing compact excavator, a Case 321D compact wheel loader, a 17-yard three-axle dump truck, and two smaller dump trucks.

Its stars are the Case CX50B compact excavator and the Case 321D compact wheel loader, both of which DCM uses extensively every day.

The 14,000-pound-class compact excavator handles work that ranges from digging and filling trenches, to digging out stumps, placing riprap on shorelines, removing brush, and handling materials such as sand, gravel, mulch, and decorative stone.

The compact wheel loader lifts up to 13,355 pounds at ground level, and 7,100 pounds with the boom at full height. DCM uses it to move dirt, rock, and other material on job sites, and to handle materials and load and unload trucks in its yard.

DCM's bread-and-butter work includes installing retaining walls,putting in dock fronts, doing shoreline work, building seawalls, land conservation, putting in gravel pads and driveways for camper-parking sites,excavating small basements, doing final site prep, digging trenches for plumbers,removing stumps, laying sod, plowing snow, and providing complete landscaping service, including low-voltage lighting, for entire sites.

The company does 90 percent of its work within 30 miles of its shop in Nekoosa in central Wisconsin. The remaining 10 percent takes place within a radius of about 100 miles. About 80 percent of its work is residential, and the remaining 20 percent is commercial work for industrial plants, health care facilities, businesses offices,restaurants, and municipal parks.

Working from early March to late December each year, DCM completes 200 to 300 projects, each averaging 1-1/2 days. The remaining three months are spent plowing snow, maintaining equipment and bidding jobs for the coming season.

Larger projects are designed and drawn up by Michael Irwin. One of those current jobs includes designing and installing a 250-foot-long waterfall that stretches all through the customer's property.

Dan Irwin has a long list of features that make the CX50B compact excavator ideal for DCM's work, but his four most important are compactness, power, stability, and hydraulic thumb attachment.

"Our niche, especially in excavating," he says, "is doing smaller jobs in tight places on soft, uneven ground. We work where large equipment won't fit, so our compact equipment is vital. We have worked in places with only 3 inches of clearance on each side of the machine. The CX50B's zero-tailswing upper works can work anywhere the crawlers will fit. That is important to us."

Stability is equally important. "Though the machine is stable on its own, when I'm working on a very steep slope, I can lower the hydraulically powered blade to provide extra stability and resistance to sliding. That helps make the work go more quickly and easily," he says.

Irwin recommends investing in a hydraulic thumb attachment. "Every compact excavator I buy from now on will have one," he says. "It lets you grip things that won't fit into the bucket. I use it for handling brush and debris, placing rock, pulling fence posts and stakes, removing timbers, and all sorts of other work."

Irwin chose an 18-foot boom because it provides a 36-foot-diameter working area, easily digs to a depth of 10 feet and is still short enough to work between tightly spaced trees.

DCM also uses the Case CX50B compact excavator's crawler power and plow blade to move dirt, even pushing piles uphill while churning through soft sand.

The other half of DCM's power tandem is its Case 321D compact wheel loader. When equipped with forks, it carries stacked pallets of stone and brick weighing up to 6,800 pounds, with the stability and reach to place them in the front end of the truck.

Says Irwin, "I've been in the seat of just about every compact wheel loader made, and nothing else feels as stable. We call it our little goat because it has power, stability and will literally climb right up a steep pile of dirt.

"It's compact enough to work on tight job sites; travels well in sand, soft ground or hilly terrain; can handle a 1-1/2-cubic-yard bucket of dirt or rock; and easily pushes 2-1/2 yards of dirt. It's the perfect complement to our compact excavator," he said.

DCM's ongoing business success shows that combining know-how with good employees and a few essential pieces of equipment can be the key to staying on top.