D&J Erosion Control Specialists: Focus on Reliability Drives Company’s Success
Controlling stormwater-related sediment runoff into nearby bodies of water through the use of silt fence is a critical facet of most any construction project. Despite its importance to both onsite progress and regulatory compliance, silt fence installation is often relegated to that of a secondary operation. It is frequently seen as little more than a means to an end, an opinion re-enforced by fence installers themselves through improper installation and poor maintenance.
Some silt fence installation professionals, however, are working hard to change that reputation. Using a combination of specialized compact equipment, decades of construction expertise and a commitment to excellence in the business, Jacksonville-based D&J Erosion Control Specialists is one such company. Today, only three years since startup, they’ve not only begun changing perceptions of the silt fence installation industry, they’ve also established themselves as one of the Jacksonville areas most in-demand installers.
Needing a Change
When Jamie Lewis left a solid position as a construction superintendent with a large company, he wrestled with what direction he wanted his career to take. Forming a business was a foregone conclusion – what type of business to start, was not. However, after being on the inside and seeing less-than-impressive service from some of the support trades, he and his wife Diana hit on a brainstorm. They knew that if they could establish a business that did one of these functions, but did it well, customers would beat a path to their door.
A construction veteran with more than three decades’ experience, Jamie Lewis had a career to which most construction professionals aspire. As is often the case, however, the sense that there had to be more was nagging at him.
“I come from a family of construction people,” he said. “My father was in construction, my brothers are in it, it just seemed natural that that’s where I would end up as well and I enjoyed the life I had made for myself. But, at the same time, I wanted to be in better control of my destiny, so Diana and I looked at the various crews that supported a construction project. Almost immediately we agreed that, if there was one group that had a reputation for doing sub par work, it was the silt fence companies.”
In his previous position, added Lewis, he would call on a company to lay silt fence for a project and find that just getting someone to commit could be a feat in itself. And, if they could get a company booked, the work was often questionable.
“At that point, we decided that we wanted to be a reliable silt fence company.”
With a basic business plan in hand, The Lewises approached Jeff Ohlrich at Coastal Equipment in Jacksonville about helping them fill their equipment needs. Jamie Lewis stressed that, while he wanted a machine that could provide solid performance and versatility, reliability was an equally important component of the purchase.
“We were committed to being a company who would be there for our customers when they needed us,” he said. “So we could not afford to miss projects or have them delayed because equipment was down. Jeff recommended a Kubota SVL75 Track Loader and mated the machine with a Bradco 625 Trencher. That combination has been the key to our success – it could not have worked out better for us.”
The track loader/trencher combination proved invaluable to D&J allowing them to hit the ground running. From a machine standpoint, Lewis said he sees a number of advantages in the SVL over other track loaders he’s used in the past.
“The all-around visibility and sight distance with the machine is so much better than any other machine, and that’s important to us,” he said. “One of the key issues Diana and I stressed when starting this company was to have a comprehensive safety program in place – again, not something a lot of silt fence companies in this area choose to address. So, for us, that improved visibility is a plus in safety as much as it is in productivity; we feel it’s better than having a back-up camera.”
While silt fence installation represents about 85 percent of D&J’s current business, recent equipment acquisitions have allowed the company to grow its capabilities. A Bradco Model GSS60 Bush Hog for use with the SVL75, for example, has opened up a whole new market for them.
“We’ve landed some really nice mowing projects with that bush hog,” said Lewis. “In fact, we just wrapped up a job that took us from the Buckman Bridge five miles to the east. It’s an application that we hadn’t considered when we started the company, but one that fits in very nicely now with the track loader. In addition to the bush hog and the bucket that came standard with the machine, we also bought a set of forks that we use to lift pallets of silt fence and other supplies and move them around our yard. That machine rarely sits idle.”
In addition to the SVL and attachments, Lewis recently purchased a Kubota KX91-S32 which D&J uses for a number of applications such as grading and stump removal. The machine has also been a key component in silt fence maintenance work – an area that has become increasingly valuable and lucrative for the company.
“For situations in which the fence is already in place but a section of it has been accidentally knocked down, the trencher will not work. The existing fence makes that almost impossible,” said Lewis. “However, the KX-91 is perfect for such work. We simply cut the fence on each end, rip out the center section and I dig a small 6- to 8-inch deep trench with the bucket. My crew then reinstalls the new section of fence, ties it together and we are done. Because of this capability we are picking up maintenance contracts in addition to our own silt fence installation work.”
Reliability is Key
Lewis makes no qualms about his level of satisfaction with the equipment he’s chosen to build his business. The Bradco attachments have been workhorses and have allowed him to broaden the scope of what they offer. As to the Kubota machines (in addition to the SVL75 and KX-91 they also own a Model Z-725 Zero-Turn Mower), his praise is unequivocal as well.
“Simply put, if every piece of equipment we own did as well as our Kubota units do, I would be one very happy business owner. We have just about worked that track loader to death without a single major issue in three years. Here’s a perfect example: we recently did 2 miles of silt fence on a cut-through road near the airport. The area was all swamp – we never worked a day without hip waders and a chain. There were times when we buried that SVL almost cab deep in mud, dug it out and just started trenching again; it’s that reliable.”
As D&J Erosion Control Specialists moves forward, Jamie and Diana Lewis look forward to continued growth and additional opportunities.
“This area of the state has really seen a nice period of growth of late and there doesn’t seem to be hints of any slowdown in the near future,” said Jamie Lewis. “We have our certification as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Jacksonville Small & Emerging Business (JSEB) which will open some new doors for us in pursuing additional work. Our long-term goal is for the company to get large enough and self-sufficient enough that Diana and I can have solely a managerial role. With the dependable crew we have in place – including Chad Brinkley who’s really stepped up as a project manager for us – and the equipment needed to make their jobs better and safer, that’s certainly do-able.”