As the owner of a residential grading and landscaping company, Keith Martin prides himself on getting work done quickly and efficiently for homebuilders.
Operating within a 100-mile radius of Des Moines, Martin's crews work at new home sites throughout central Iowa, performing rough grading, finish grading and laying sod.
"The first thing we do after all the concrete is done is rough in a yard," says Martin, who has 15 employees. "We also level out dirt in preparation for a building pad. After that, we will come back and get it prepped for irrigation, put a finish grade on it and edge everything, and then we turn around and sod it."
Creating a Company
Martin started the business in 1997 after purchasing a skid steer loader and working side jobs apart from his day job with a grading company. Within a year, Martin had enough work to go out on his own. By 2005, Martin was doing jobs with two skid steer loaders. In the ensuing 10 years, the company's reputation for performing quality work has grown, resulting in a corresponding increase in the volume of work and additional equipment required to do the job.
The company currently has nine pieces of Caterpillar equipment, including three track loaders, two multi terrain loaders, a skid steer and a compact wheel loader.
"I like the smaller machines because they are more compact and maneuverable," Martin says. "Houses and lots are getting so small that we are able to do more with less in a confined area."
With three senior equipment operators, Martin Grading has the know-how to get the job done.
"We come in, and my guys know exactly what to do," he says. "We are very efficient at what we do and builders appreciate it."
Martin counts on his fleet of Caterpillar compact machines to maximize uptime at each of the half dozen jobs the company is working at any given time.
"Anytime something breaks or is not working right, I just take it back to Ziegler, my Cat dealer, and they take care of the issue for me. There was one time when I blew a hydraulic line, and they came out to the jobsite where we were working and brought us a new machine to use while they fixed it."
One of the features that Martin likes about his 297D multi terrain loader is its lift height for efficient truck loading.
"The height that it reaches makes it easy to load full-sized trucks," Martin says. "It lifts high enough that you could throw dirt on the other side if you wanted to. The breakout force on them is great. And the tracks wear really good - on the 259 compact track loaders I can get 1,400 to 1,500 hours out of those tracks, whereas most people are getting 700 to 800 hours on another brand."
The low ground pressure exerted by the compact machines is another advantage in a residential setting.
"If it rains, we can still put those machines out on the job and get something done," Martin says. "We don't break concrete curbs or driveways with the track machines like we did in the past with other machines."
Attachments help make quick work out of the task at hand. A Caterpillar grapple is handy for clearing trees, Martin says. "And they are great for picking up and loading instead of trying to chase the tree around the yard."
Martin uses an auger to dig footings for porches and decks for homebuilders. Perhaps his favorite attachment is the landscape plane tool, which crews use every day for finish grading. A snow pusher attachment helps with snow removal during the winter months.
"All of my Cat attachments shorten the length of time to perform tasks, while also reducing manpower needed to do the job," Martin says.
Lease-Purchase Keeps Equipment Up to Date
Martin's Caterpillar machines are set up on lease-purchase agreements.
"I like leases, because I know exactly what my costs are for that machine every month, and there are no extra costs," Martin says. "And at the end of three years, I turn it in and get a new machine on another three-year lease. I like to keep all my equipment new. I use the machine as much as 1,100 hours a year, so it works out perfect."
Martin likes the financial terms terms and the convenience of purchasing his machines through Cat Financial.
"I like it because I have to do very little on my end," he says. "I just call them up and give them my financials, and they just get it done efficiently. I call my sales rep, and tell him what I want, and he gets it all set up and tells me when the machine is ready."
The recession caused Martin to expand his repertoire to include finish grading, erosion control and mowing.
"The main thing I learned from the recession is that loyalty matters," Martin says. "I have some very loyal builders. Even when things started slowing down, they never let me go. I offer a good price and good work, and as a result, I have some very loyal builders."
Martin also started keeping a closer eye on fuel costs during the downturn.
"We make sure that we don't have two of the same kind of machine at a job, or that one is going further out when there is another right next door to do the same job. When fuel costs were really high, we started leaving machines on the jobsite, so our guys could go home from where they were without taking the machine back to our yard."
Product Link enables his Cat dealer to keep an eye on the location of Martin's machines, as well as monitor fuel consumption, maintenance intervals and other key systems. If a service code pops up, Martin's Ziegler representative notifies him that a machine requires service.
Martin attributes his success to his employees, and the support he receives from his Cat dealer.
"I have very good employees," he says. "We are a small company, and we all get along. If not for them, I wouldn't be where I am today.
"And I know I can count on Ziegler and Caterpillar for ongoing support," he adds. "They have produced a machine that is so reliable, I basically have no downtime. When you have unscheduled downtime, it costs you a lot of money.
"The combination of Cat equipment and excellent support from Ziegler ensures that I stay on schedule and don't have any downtime."
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