Bo Carter's path to up-and-comer status wasn't easy. He founded K.T. Carter Contracting in late 1999, after divorce ended his position in the successful construction company he and his former wife had operated. Carter and two associates, A.J. Musgrove and Tony Mah, struggled to launch the new company, actively bidding on dirt and utility jobs.
But nothing happened.
"We were stuck in limbo for more than a year," says Carter. "We bid a lot of jobs and would be close, but just couldn't seem to land a contract. With three leased machines, we graded driveways and took other small jobs to survive, waiting for doors to open to larger projects. Billings for 2001 were less than $200,000."
The breakthrough came on Christmas Eve 2001 with news that Carter would be awarded a contract for the complete site-preparation package for a new home-improvement center, including demucking the land, land clearance, moving dirt to balance the contour of the building site and surrounding area, and constructing storm and sanitary sewers and lift stations.
Gearing up quickly, Carter executed lease-purchase agreements for six earthmovers and a dozen off-road trucks. Making the deals wasn't easy for the small company with no track record.
"It took some persuading," Carter says. "But suppliers knew us and knew that the principals of our company had experience with big projects with other firms, and that helped convince them."
The number of employees jumped from three to 40, and Carter crews finished work ahead of schedule. Almost immediately, Carter landed a turnkey project to clear land, do grading, put in sanitary and storm sewers, build retention ponds, pour curbing, and pave streets for a 100-lot subdivision. Billings in 2002 jumped to more than $5 million.
K.T. Carter Contracting now has 65 employees, and the momentum that began with the home-improvement center and subdivision contracts continues. At the end of the first quarter this year, Carter crews were completing site work on a major street project, constructing cells at two landfills, and installing new water and sewer lines at the Jacksonville, Fla., zoo. Bids pending with developers, general contractors, and public agencies should lead to a substantial increase in billings for 2003.
Carter's equipment fleet consists of four John Deere and two Caterpillar excavators, six Deere dozers, six Cat wheel loaders, two graders, three Ingersoll Rand soil compactors, 18 pickups, five service vehicles, and one off-road dump truck. Additional haul trucks are rented as needed. Carter owns and leases equipment; 95 percent is under warranty.
In a business dependent on equipment, Carter selects machines based on versatility, productivity, reliability, and durability, and then takes meticulous care of each machine.
"Maintenance is the lifeblood of keeping equipment operational," Carter says. "We service our own equipment in accordance with factory guidelines and use only factory replacement parts. Two fuel-and-lube service trucks perform preventive maintenance in the field, and we have two fully equipped mechanics' trucks."
Operators record on time cards the hours each machine has run, noting any problems or damage. Cards are collected daily by foremen and turned into the office. Data is entered into the company's computer system, which maintains records of accumulated hours and other information on each machine.
K.T. Carter Contracting has quickly built a reputation for quality work, and Bo Carter expects growth to continue.
"Everything fell in place for us last year," he says. "Much of the credit has to go to our employees. We hire good people, allow them to do their jobs, make them accountable, and together we succeed."