SNK Enterprises, Inc. Takes Big Iron Down to Size
In the annals of overworked modern-day phrases, "bigger is better" must rank near the top, alongside such other instant classics like "bucket list" and "spoiler alert." Particularly perplexing, as Jason Nitz will attest, is the fact that bigger is not always better. As the owner of SNK Enterprises, Inc., a Troy, New York-based general contracting firm, he has been proving it for several years now, steadily replacing his larger iron with smaller Kubota track loaders, compact excavators and more. To underscore his satisfaction with doing so, he's pulled a phrase of his own from children's literature, dubbing those tools: "The Little Machines That Can." It's a phrase he says is not only true and accurate, it comes to life every day in a broad range of applications throughout the Capital Region.
What's in a Name
Started more than 30 years ago by Jason Nitz's parents (Sandy and Ken), SNK Enterprises' construction roots are in swimming pool installations. But the business extends much further back than that, he said.
"My grandfather originally had a company which delivered spring water to area residents," said Nitz. "My father joined him, later took over, and grew the business to include filling area swimming pools with the spring water. He then expanded to include digging for in-ground pool installations, which opened the door to other excavating work such as house foundations, water lines and so on. When I joined the company, we continued doing small residential projects, but also began getting into commercial projects and sizeable department of transportation work."
Today, SNK has 13 regular employees, serves the greater Albany area, and has become a specialist in excavating and paving. Over the years, mostly in a capacity as a sub-tier contractor, they've done a good deal of government work, including projects for the Departments of Energy and Defense.
"It really wasn't planned, but doing a few government jobs helped us develop relationships with a lot of these entities, and things have just grown went from there," said Nitz. "The type of projects we do can vary, but usually includes anything from emergency work such as water main breaks and sewer line reconstruction, to putting in new infrastructure, building foundations, paving - you name it. We've been doing work at some of these government facilities for more than 20 years now, so it's become a decent piece of our business."
Surprised By Small
To make this all happen on a regular basis, SNK had amassed a decent fleet of excavators, loaders, backhoes, etc., which initially served them well and, to a lesser degree, still does. The operative phrase, however, is "to a lesser degree," explains Nitz.
"Like a lot of construction companies, we always believed that the bigger our equipment was, the better it could serve us," he said. "So we built up our fleet with Kobelco 115 and Doosan 180 model excavators, a New Holland 130 loader and a pair of CASE dozers. However, because of the nature of our work, we often found ourselves in situations where we couldn't get our larger machines into some areas. A good example is a water line we had to lay, which involved a narrow 30-foot stretch between two buildings. To get that done, we had to reach as far as we could with the excavator or backhoe and then resort to hand digging."
Seeing the growing popularity of smaller machines, Nitz said he decided to try renting small track loaders and mini-excavators and was pleasantly surprised with what they could do. It was upon purchasing a Kubota KX-41 Mini Excavator, however, that he became totally sold on the approach.
"We found the possibilities with that 41 to be even more than we imagined," said Nitz. "The first time we used it, we were doing a job at an assisted living facility and we had to get into a courtyard area to grade three large dump trucks full of topsoil. In the past, that would have meant using six guys with wheelbarrows and shovels to spread and flatten the soil easily a two-week job. Because we could retract the tracks of the KX41, however, we were able to drive through the front of the building and out to the courtyard. We got the area graded in a single day and really improved our profit margin on the job. At that point we thought: "˜These things are worth their weight in gold.'"
Change of Course
SNK was so impressed with the production and versatility of the compact excavator that, over time, it started focusing its new equipment purchases in that direction. Working through both Sharon Springs Garage (Sharon Springs, New York) and Abele Tractor (Albany, New York), the company currently runs a solid line of compact equipment (all Kubota), including the KX41 mentioned above, a trio of mini-excavators (two KX121-3s and a KX080), an SVL90 track skid steer, and R420 and R520 wheel loaders.
"I think what we've done is really indicative of what's happening in the construction world in general," said Nitz. "Before, it was either you bought big or you didn't buy at all. That's all changed as the smaller lines have grown in popularity. I would guess that right now about 75 percent of our business is being tackled using compact equipment."
Craig Crandall, a 17-year company veteran and one of SNK's main operators and project managers, has also seen those changes take place and is still amazed at what the smaller iron can do.
"A lot of times we will go onto a jobsite thinking we need to use a full size excavator," he said. "But then we'll get into areas around a building or near overhead lines or underground utilities, and find that the compact units can do so much more work, and do it faster than the larger machines. It seems our customers are always impressed when they see the lifting and moving capacity of our KX121s. It's just amazing what they can do."
Loaded With Benefits
The addition of the track loader to the SNK compact arsenal was the result of a rental to fill a particular specialty role on one of its projects. The company had a steep grade slope stabilization project for which they rented a pair of track machines.
"They did the job well, which got us to thinking that a track loader could fit nicely in our fleet," said Nitz. "But we also knew that, if we were going to buy a loader, we were going to buy a brand that we trusted. So we went with the Kubota SVL90 and, now that we own the machine, it is at work almost continually."
Having tracks allows SNK to run in soft or muddy conditions without having to worry about creating the ruts so common to a wheel loader. The company also boasts a nice selection of attachments for the SVL90, including a set of forks and a Blue Diamond bush hog. "We have contracts to mow brush at a couple of area landfills - jobs that also have some steep grades," said Nitz. "But teaming up the SVL90 and the bush hog really makes the job a breeze."
As SNK continues to grow, the company shows no signs of slowing its push toward the compact side of the equipment equation. Nitz said that battle was won once they found out how fast the units were, their capabilities, the performance of the hydraulics, their lifting capacity, maneuverability, ease of accessibility and fuel savings.
"When we recently bought our second KX121, that purchase was as much about stopping my guys from fighting over the first unit as it was about added production," he said. "I really can't overstate what an integral part of this business the compact units have become. In fact, we are in the process of selling an excavator that we purchased in 2000. It had 900 hours when we bought it and, in 15 years, we've only added 2,500 hours. That, more than anything, shows what's getting used and what's not."