In 1999, Patricia Nichter decided it was time for a change. Since the age of 20, she was a successful realtor in the Louisville, Ky., area. Nichter gave up her office for an outdoor job moving dirt as a contractor specializing in site preparation.
"I was burned out and wanted a career change," she says. "It just happens. Many people devote years in a profession and then realize it's time to move on. My family was in the construction business; I grew up around machinery, and my dad taught me how to run the equipment he used. So for me, going from realtor to construction wasn't as drastic a change as it might seem."
Nichter explained what she wanted to do to a Louisville Bobcat equipment dealer, and TCB Grading soon opened for business with a Bobcat 863 skid-steer loader, a truck and trailer to haul it, one dump truck, and a service truck.
Now in its fourth year, TCB has added three more track loaders with a host of specialized attachments, another dump truck, and necessary support vehicles and equipment.
"We move dirt and rock, do finish grading, landscaping, straw blowing, landscaping, or about any other kind of land improvement," says Nichter. "Clients include developers, builders and large general contractors, and we often do work directly for property owners."
Although the workload slows during the winter months, TCB is busy throughout the year. "We're on the way now to do a backfill and clean-up job," said Nichter during a January telephone conversation from her truck. "There's snow and ice on the ground, and the temperature is near zero, but we're on the job. Weather seldom stops us, although customers often prefer to wait for better conditions."
Compact loaders are the heart of TCB's small fleet, and attachments equip the versatile machines to do specialized tasks required by the company's clients. The company operates Bobcat T190, T200, and T300 track loaders with rated operating capacities from 1,900 to 3,000 pounds and a 2,500-pound 863 skid-steer. Most-often used attachments include trencher, auger, backhoe, ram hoe for rock removal, landscape rake, straw blower, and snowplow.
All equipment is company owned; Nichter says she has never considered leasing. "My philosophy is that it is best to own all equipment," she says. "I believe ownership encourages taking proper care of equipment—attention to maintenance reduces downtime and ensures performance on the job."
Nichter oversees regular maintenance procedures. "Maintenance is the heart of an equipment-dependent business," she says. "We do fluid checks daily, lubricate three times a week, and follow the service schedules recommended by Bobcat. We use a check sheet that records what and when maintenance was performed and who did it. Major repairs are done by our dealer."
In a relatively short period of time, TCB has built a solid reputation for doing quality work. "We don't accept payment until the job is finished and the customer is satisfied," says Nichter. "I am personally involved in every project, and I will not leave a customer unhappy. We have good people who are professionals. I pay them well and in turn they do quality work."
This way of doing business, says Nichter, brings repeat business and referrals from clients who recommend her services to others. Clients and revenues have steadily increased each year, and 2004 looks busier than ever. Current projects include clearing and grading lots and cutting drives for several million-dollar show homes for the next Louisville Homearama, and rough and finish grading for a new apartment complex.
"We had a heavy workload scheduled even before the spring work season began," she says.
Even so, her growth plans are conservative. "We want to maintain growth," she says. "But big isn't necessarily better. My goal is to maintain control—I don't ever want to grow so fast that service suffers. I want to take care of my employees and my customers and be the best I can be every day of my life. To me, that's the measure of success."