Partnership leads to massive growth for Charlotte-based site-prep company
Hoopaugh Grading Company, LLC is bucking the trend. Most companies that are more than 50 years old are comfortable with how big they are and aren’t looking for an explosion in growth. Hoopaugh Grading took a different approach.
“We’ve more than quadrupled in size in the last three years, going from about 20 employees to more than 80,” said Owner Larry Hoopaugh, whose father Daniel started Hoopaugh Grading in 1953. “We started the growth spurt just after I took on Brian McManus as a partner in 2002, and we’ve been growing ever since. I credit much of the growth to Brian bringing some new energy and technology, and to us sitting down together and establishing a new plan for the business.”
McManus, who holds an engineering degree, serves as the company’s project manager and handles bidding. Hoopaugh works the field, acting as a general manager for what McManus describes as a turnkey site-development company that handles everything involved with site preparation.
“We take projects from the engineer’s design plans to the point where a developer can put up the structure,” McManus explained. “We’re responsible for the clearing and grubbing, erosion control, cut-and-fill operations, utility installation and the paving. Our specialty is earthmoving, performing cut-and-fill operations. We generally sub the rest out, but we’re responsible for getting it done. Developers who hire us like it that way because they only have to deal with one contractor.
“At the same time, however, we’re not locked into doing just full-site packages,” he noted. “We also take on projects where we just move dirt. That versatility is critical for us; it’s helped us build up our list of jobs, and has been a key to our growth. On average, we have anywhere from eight to 10 jobs going on at once, where before we had one or two.”
Shift in focus
Hoopaugh and McManus estimate 70 percent of their work is providing site packages for developers building private subdivisions. The remaining 30 percent includes commercial site projects such as warehouses, office complexes and shopping centers. It’s a virtual 180-degree shift from what the company did before McManus joined forces with Hoopaugh.
“The focus of Hoopaugh Grading for a long time was on commercial projects, basically doing prep work for a utility contractor who built water and sewer treatment plants,” Hoopaugh recalled. “After I joined my dad in the company full time, we basically just focused on the commercial end of the market. When Brian joined the company, we took a hard look at the markets and decided a focus on subdivision work was the best place for us. It’s really paid off. We’ve increased our sales in the past three years by about 800 percent.”
A solid reputation
While Hoopaugh Grading’s sales were increasing, the company was further cementing an already rock-solid reputation in Charlotte and the surrounding area it serves. The company is well-known for its ability to deliver a project on time and on budget. Hoopaugh estimates 75 percent of the company’s work is for repeat customers, much of it negotiated.
“We have companies that give us a set of plans and set us to work before we’ve established a price,” Hoopaugh pointed out. “They trust us because they know we’ll give them a fair price and provide a quality job in the end. My father and I worked hard over the years to establish a reputation for fair, honest work, and I think it’s served us well.”
That reputation drew McManus to Hoopaugh Grading. He worked for another company and met Hoopaugh while working on a common job in Charlotte. Hoopaugh was looking for someone to train to eventually take over the business and McManus was looking for a new opportunity.
“We felt it was a perfect situation,” McManus commented. “Larry was wearing so many hats that he needed someone to help out in the office, handle bidding and meet with clientele while he worked the field. So we complement each other’s skills very well. I asked around about Hoopaugh Grading before I started here, and everyone I talked to had good things to say about Larry and how professional the company is. That made it an easy decision.”
Hoopaugh and McManus credit a solid corps of employees for maintaining the reputation Hoopaugh Grading has built, including General Superintendent Paul Heape, Superintendent Stephen Parker, Engineer Brian Ribelin and Office Manager Roberta Seaberry.
“They are the height of efficiency,” said Hoopaugh of the staff. “We have some people who have been around a long time, and, obviously, we have many people who have only been with us the last few years. Either way, we have an excellent group of people who work hard to make sure our customers come first and our projects are done with the utmost quality. They are a big part of our success.”
With growth came a need for more equipment, including Komatsu excavators purchased from Linder Industrial Machinery Company’s Charlotte branch through Sales Representative Bill Cross. Hoopaugh Grading purchased four 81,820-pound PC300HD-7 excavators to go along with a PC270LC-6 and a PC400LC-7 excavator. The company uses the machines mainly for mass excavation.
“Our work is such that we keep everything we own and run it for as long as we can, so reliability and performance factor into our equipment-buying decisions,” Hoopaugh asserted. “We’ve been sold on Komatsu for a long time. We had a PC280 excavator for more than 14 years and put 11,000 hours on it without ever touching the engine or the undercarriage. That’s the kind of production we’re looking for, and we really liked that machine because it was built with a bigger undercarriage, so it was more stable. I believe that was a reason for its longevity.
“We bought the PC300HDs with the same idea in mind, because those have a bigger undercarriage too,” Hoopaugh continued. “They are a good match for our 30-ton trucks. We use a three-yard bucket and find the performance is exceptional. The bigger undercarriage on those machines really helps with stability. You can get a bucket of mud, turn the machine all the way to the side, stretch out the bucket and dump without it rearing up. They have great breakout force and lifting capacity; that’s one of the biggest reasons we decided to go with that size machine.”
Another factor in their decision was the responsive service Hoopaugh Grading receives from Bill Cross and the team at Linder. Hoopaugh Grading handles routine service on its machinery, but turns to Linder for heavier maintenance needs and parts. The company occasionally rents equipment from Linder as well.
“Bill and Linder have done a terrific job for us,” Hoopaugh reported. “We rely on them for a variety of things, and they’ve always been very prompt in responding. Bill has done an exceptional job of meeting our equipment needs. With the newer equipment, we haven’t had problems, but if we need something, they are very prompt about taking care of us. They understand customer service is important.”
Fine-tuning the future
The same can be said for Hoopaugh Grading. In fact, Hoopaugh and McManus emphasize the importance of customer service.
“Customer satisfaction is the key to any business’ success, and Brian and I talk about it constantly, always looking for ways we can improve,” Hoopaugh asserted. “Often, when companies grow as fast as we did, they lose the personal touch and customer satisfaction suffers. We are determined to not let that happen.”
With the company’s reputation as solid as ever, Hoopaugh and McManus are looking ahead to what they see as a bright future. Both are committed to growth, but under the more usual route of consistently building a step at a time.
“We believe we’ve done a good job of growing quickly without mismanaging anything, and it’s time to step back and assess what we have,” McManus said. “Our size is just about right. What we really want to focus on is finessing and fine-tuning what we have. We’re adding GPS as part of the process, because we feel it’s a valuable tool and will make us even more efficient.
“We’re certainly looking to grow,” he added, “but we want to slow it down and continue to ensure we can provide the quality that Hoopaugh Grading was built on. Occupying a new 5,000-square-foot office and 10,000-square-foot shop in early 2007 should help achieve our goals.”