Rick Leaming Construction & Manufacturing Expands Family Business to Meet Increased Customer Needs
What started out as an invitation for a few small jobs eventually turned into a life-long journey for Rick Leaming. His uncle Les owned and operated Leaming Construction in Newkirk, Oklahoma, building feed mills. Leaming lived on a farm south of Kansas City in Pleasanton, Kansas, and helped put up grain bins and build augers in the local area when he wasn't in school. When Les needed help building some grain bins he had sold, he enlisted his nephew.
"Les sold a couple of grain bins and asked me if I would come and help put them up," recalled Leaming. "I was happy to help out, and in 1980 I joined him full-time. About 10 years later, I took over the business. During the time we worked together, a transition was occurring. Les started the business in 1972, and at that time there was a lot of work geared toward building small feed mills. In the early 80s, those began shutting down because they weren't very efficient and bigger ones were being built.
"We started putting up larger mills, but we also placed a heavy emphasis on long-term-storage grain elevators," he continued. "By the time I took over the business in 1989, it was the bulk of our work. It still is, but on a much larger scale. Today, we're building bins with 200,000 to 300,000 bushels of storage capacity, and in some cases multiple bins on one site."
Rick began expanding the business soon after he took it over, adding more equipment and manpower. He also scaled up manufacturing operations and began machinery jobs to build components related to the construction and expansion of grain bins and feed mills. Eventually, he changed the name to Rick Leaming Construction & Manufacturing.
"We manufacture elevator legs, augers, gates, collectors, fans and pretty much anything else related to moving grain and processing feeds," said Leaming. "It fits right in with the construction aspect."
Most of Leaming's construction projects are split into two groups. One involves completely new steel or concrete bins. The other is expanding the capacity of existing structures. Rick Leaming Construction & Manufacturing provides a full range of services from design to completion on all projects.
"Customers bring us their needs, and we develop plans for them," Leaming explained. "If they like our idea, we design it, bid it and build it from the ground up for new construction. We provide the earthwork, have concrete poured for the base - and tanks, if that's the type of bin they choose - and erect the steel. We install the legs and other components that we manufacture specifically for them."
Leaming pointed out that grain storage capacity needs have grown considerably over the past several decades. Higher crop yields and bigger machinery are creating more bushels at a faster pace.
"Go back a few decades and most everything was moved by pickups or small trucks, and bushels per acre were relatively small compared to today. Bins weren't designed to meet modern demands," he said. "In some cases, customers want to expand on what they already have so they can more efficiently move large volumes from the semis and rail cars in use today. That's where our expansion component comes in. We add on to structures and increase the size of the legs, augers and other components to handle the additional capacity and speed they want. As a result, we've helped customers go from moving 6,000 to 20,000 bushels an hour."
Grove Cranes Provide High Reach
As projects got bigger, so did Leaming's equipment. Bins typically are about 52 feet in diameter and up to 140 feet tall. To make the picks, Rick Leaming Construction & Manufacturing uses Grove 60-ton-capacity TMS 700E (36 to 110 feet of reach) and 110-ton-capacity TMS 9000E (36 to 142 feet) Truck Mounted Cranes.
"Before we bought our own cranes, we worked with crane companies who had several different types of cranes," said Leaming. "We prefer Grove because the reliability is good and they are best suited for our needs. With the TMS 700E and TMS 9000E we can sit in one spot and make picks all around the machine. At max height, the TMS 9000E gives us the reach we need for the largest bins we put up. The fact that they are mobile and travel at highway speeds is a really big plus as well."
The mobile cranes created more opportunities for additional work. "People saw we had the Groves, and they began calling us for crane service, such as lifting air conditioning units onto buildings. So, that opened new doors. That's about 10 percent of our overall business now, and it continues to grow," Leaming said.
To load and unload materials from trucks and support the cranes on the jobsite, Rick Leaming Construction employs Manitou MT 12042 XT Telehandlers and a JLG 600S Telescoping Boom Lift. For digging, it uses a Komatsu PC210LC-10 excavator. Everything, including the Grove cranes, was purchased from Kirby-Smith Machinery, Inc. with the help of Crane Division Account Manager Todd York and Territory Manager Peyton Chatham.
"Everyone at Kirby-Smith has been excellent to work with," said Leaming. "If we need something, they take care of us right away. Service is a big factor in equipment-buying decisions, and the fact that we have purchased so many pieces from Kirby-Smith says a lot about how everyone there treats us."
Growing Family Business
Rick Leaming Construction & Manufacturing is currently adding on to its headquarters in Newkirk as the company continues to grow. Leaming's wife, Debbie, helps manage the office, along with Office Manager Barbara Smith. Rick and Debbie's son Tyler works for the company and their son Andrew is expected to join at some point after college.
Leaming said they all have been a part of, and will play a role in, the firm's growth. Expansion during the past few years has been slow and steady, and Leaming says that will likely stay the case.
"I've always believed that growth is healthy. We have about 25 people on staff, which is up from four when I took over the business. Some growth has been forced on us by the projects getting bigger, and some has been by design. I think in the near future we'll probably add a couple more cranes, and certainly our manufacturing operations will expand. Long term, I foresee the business being two to three times bigger."