Site Work Success

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

In McDonough, Ga., south of Atlanta, Andrews Excavation is combining careful management of its heavy equipment fleet with an in-depth understanding of developers' excavating and grading needs to carve out a solid niche in the site work field.

Drew Andrews, president and CEO of the firm, started in construction after serving in the Navy as a fighter jet aircraft mechanic. After developing a reputation as a custom homebuilder, he soon began developing properties on his own. Eventually his interests focused on the site work phase, and in 1998 he and his wife Debbie (who now serves as chief financial officer of the company) founded Andrews Excavation to serve the area's fast-growing development market, working out of their garage.

But the company quickly outgrew such limited quarters.

"The business just took off," he says — in part, he says, because he understands what developers need — and it's been going strong ever since.

Today, Andrews Excavation employs 175, fields two dozen crews and handles a variety of projects for residential and commercial developers. At the Sports Authority Distribution Center in McDonough, Ga., for example, Andrews is currently handling all phases of site work — work which involved clearing close to 18 acres, moving well over 500,000 cubic yards of dirt, installation of erosion control, construction of the building pad for the 160,000 square foot building, and construction of six acres of parking — plus installation of all stormwater infrastructure, construction of a huge walled stormwater retention pond, and paving and curbing.

Another project, equally multi-faceted, is for Strong Rock Christian School, a new private school in Locust Grove, Ga., set to open this fall. The campus will include not only a state-of-the-art school but also a football stadium, baseball stadium, outdoor amphitheater, and rodeo center.

"At Strong Rock, we have handled the total site work package," Andrews says, "from clearing and grading to installation of water, sewer and stormwater lines. We have also constructed a 2-plus-mile-long four-lane access road."

The biggest challenge, however, was the school's aggressive schedule. To meet it, Andrews fielded three crews, brought in light towers and worked 22 hours a day.

"And we met the goal," Andrews says, "moving almost a million yards of dirt in less than 30 days.

"What we're doing on such sites is fairly typical of what we do on many of our projects," Andrews says. "We are truly a total site development company. We do it all."

To meet such challenges, Andrews draws on a fleet of almost 200 machines. Most of the firm's excavators and dozers are Komatsu. The fleet also includes Ingersoll Rand rollers, Volvo off-road trucks, and Caterpillar compactors and scrapers, among others.

"We select the models and manufacturers that we feel give us the best life and best service in the types of work we do," Andrews says.

Andrews places great emphasis on keeping the fleet in top condition.

"I love my tractors," Andrews says, "and we take care of them. Think of it this way. If you had $10 million in a stock portfolio, you'd be watching it all the time. For us," he adds, "it's the same way with our equipment."

Andrews Excavation handles most of its own maintenance. Working out of a large multi-bay maintenance shop, the team includes four field mechanics, two PM mechanics, one shop mechanic, two fabricators, and one parts runner, all working under the direction of equipment manager Randy Woodall.

"Our attitude is let's keep it fixed and keep it running,"Andrews says.

Andrews adds that his company does not hesitate to make modifications to equipment.

"Part of our maintenance philosophy is that there's often a better way," he says. "And anything we can dream up," he adds, "these guys can make." He cites the custom-made bedding stone boxes that the company uses on its projects. These boxes are fabricated in the contractor's shop, and Andrews says that they have a life expectancy "several times that of any we can buy."

Working with an outside engineer, Andrews also designs and builds many of its trench shields, which are all engineer certified.

"We don't hesitate to spend money fabricating or modifying things if we think the result will help us do our job better," he says.

But the major thrust of the company's equipment management program, he says, is minimizing downtime.

"The cost of downtime is incredible," Andrews says. "You can get all the work you want, but if you don't have working machines to do it you won't succeed."

One key to whether a machine is still earning its keep, he says, is how much the machine is "eating." If a machine starts eating a lot of parts and logging a lot of shop time, he says, then the value of that machine needs to be reviewed.

That's one reason he tends to favor purchasing new machines instead of spending the money it takes to maintain old ones. He cites one case where he traded several older machines on a smaller number of new machines.

"Some people thought I was crazy," he says, "but what I was spending on parts to keep the old machines running literally paid the note on the new ones. Besides, the new ones were more fuel efficient, and that saved money too."

Of course, he says, there are some applications where older machines are satisfactory. But in others, machine availability is critical.

"For example, if one of our mainline excavators stops working," he says, "then that whole project can stop." And that, he adds, is not acceptable.

Also not acceptable, Andrews continues, is anything less than a total focus on safety.

"There's nothing we have to do that is worth the risk of somebody getting hurt on the job," he says.

The company's safety program includes weekly toolbox meetings and quarterly safety meetings. The company also has a full-time safety director, Felix Marrero.

"Our safety director does not have any other responsibilities," Andrews says. "Safety is his only job. It's too important to approach it any other way."

Marrero is fluent in both English and Spanish, greatly enhancing the company's ability to communicate its focus on safety to its entire work force.

"In fact, everything that comes out of this office is in two languages," Andrews says, adding, "If you can't make everybody that works for you understand what you're saying, then it's like you never said anything at all."

Andrews adds that this investment in safety pays off.

"We have found that it is more profitable to be a safety-minded company," he says. "If nobody is hurt, then OSHA is not there. We have a better reputation with general contractors and owners. Our insurance costs stay down.

"We don't make safety an option," he adds. "It's not open for discussion."

Not surprisingly, this attention to safety, efficiency and understanding the market has helped make Andrews successful in an increasingly competitive field.

"Having been in the development business myself," he adds, "I know exactly what our customers need."