Maverick Contractors

FOCUS ON EARTHWORK PAYS BIG DIVIDENDS FOR HOUSTON-AREA COMPANY

Mar 11, 2014

Komatsu equipment and technology increases efficiency

When Mike Whitlock decided to go into business for himself, he made a conscious choice to focus the business on what he knew best. In 20 years, Maverick Contractors has never strayed from that original intent.

“Our concentration is earthwork,” stated Whitlock, who along with his wife, Connie, founded Columbus, Texas,-based Maverick Contractors in 1994. “I had a lot of experience in earthwork, so it made sense to focus our business in that direction. We handle everything from clearing to final grading, with a special emphasis on mass excavation and soil stabilization, including constructing detention ponds, building pads and road subgrades.

“We do offer full site development packages, which means that utility installation sometimes falls under our scope of work,” he added. “ If that’s the case, we sub that out to other solid contractors who we believe are the experts in utility work. That approach has served us well.”

In addition to other contractors, Whitlock has built longstanding relationships with several developers. Maverick Contractors works with them on a repeat basis, and they rely on the company to deliver projects on time and on budget.

“Customers trust us because we give them a fair and honest price, and when we finish a job, it is done to their satisfaction,” said Whitlock. “We take great pride in the quality of our finished product. We approach every project as if we were doing it for ourselves, which has helped us gain additional work from our existing customers, and those same customers have referred us to new ones.”

Projects large and small

That approach led to rapid growth for Maverick Contractors. The Whitlocks started the business with Mike and a couple of other hands in the field, including his father. Connie oversaw the bookwork, payroll and accounts receivable/ payable, which she still does from Maverick’s office in Columbus.

“Our first project was a $20,000 regrading job at the Houston polo fields. Not long after that job, I began building the site for a new outlet mall in Sealy,” recalled Mike. “It was 15 acres of cutting, filling and balancing about 100,000 yards of dirt. That one really put us on the map.”

Maverick Contractors performs jobs both large and small, with its average project being $500,000. The company generally has four or five projects going at any one time, and it works within about a 50-mile radius of Houston.

To date, its largest project was site work for the Methodist Hospital in Houston. Maverick Contractors bid it as a full site package, subbing out the utility installation.

“In terms of yardage, it wasn’t the most we’ve ever done on a project,” said Mike, who estimated that Maverick moved between 50,000 and 60,000 yards of dirt. “The site was tight, and that made it challenging, but we don’t shy away from that type of work.”

Today, Maverick Contractors is working on another phase of an ongoing project that’s presented challenges as well. The current phase involves building about a mile and a half of roadway for access to a new sand and gravel operation south of Columbus. The company cleared the right-of-way and is overexcavating the roadway to get down to more solid ground.

“The ground is sandy, so we had to go down about three feet on average to get to firm clay,” Mike explained, saying that wet conditions have also been an issue. “We’re borrowing good dirt from locations on site to fill back in. We’ll put rock on the top when it’s finished, some of which will come from current borrow pits. In total, we’ll move about 100,000 yards during this phase.”

Excellent, experienced staff

Completing such challenging projects, as well as more routine projects, is possible thanks to a staff of about 30. Key personnel include General Superintendents Sidney Oliver and Jim Robinson and Estimators Mike Stasney and Dan Andres.

“I can’t give our staff enough credit,” Whitlock stated. “They’re as dedicated to customer satisfaction as I am, and their experience plays a big role in our ability to ensure that each of our customers is pleased with our work. Jim has been here from the beginning, and Sidney has been here for about 15 years. We have many others who have been with us a long time, so we have very little turnover.

“I’ve always adhered to the adage of surrounding yourself with good people, and we certainly have,” he added. “Taking care of them and treating them the way I want to be treated is important to me as well. For instance, despite business being down during the recession a few years ago, we didn’t lay anyone off. I figured that eventually the work would come back, and I wanted us to be in a position to take advantage of it.”

Komatsu, Bomag, WPI from the beginning

Another staple of Maverick Contractors is Komatsu equipment, which Mike began using from the start. Working with WPI Sales Rep Steve Robinson, he’s rented and purchased numerous pieces over the years. Recently, he bought Tier 4 Interim dozers (D65PX-17s), excavators (a PC360LC-10 and a PC490LC-10) and haul trucks (HM300-3s), which were added to a fleet that includes several other Komatsu pieces.

“We face some tough conditions in this area, so having equipment that can handle any issue productively and without breaking down is essential,” said Mike. “Komatsu has provided that from day one. With each new model, they’ve made upgrades that have increased production and efficiency. We especially like the excavators because of their versatility. We use them to clear, dig and load trucks. They perform exceptionally well in all applications. All our Komatsu equipment is easy to operate and fairly priced, and when it comes time to trade a piece in, I know I’m going to get good value.

“I also appreciate the added benefits that Komatsu offers with programs such as Komatsu CARE on the Tier 4 Interim machines,” he continued. “WPI contacts me when a service is due, and they come to the machine. I don’t have to worry about those intervals being done on time, which is great peace of mind. KOMTRAX is a good feature too, as it lets us see where a machine is, its hours, how it’s being used and idle time.”

Maverick Contractors has also purchased Bomag mixers, stabilizers and compactors from WPI. “When I started, I had no equipment,” said Mike. “Steve helped me get what I needed, and that’s always been the case with him and WPI. I consider them partners – we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

Embracing technology

Whitlock began using GPS grading several years ago and continues to equip his dozers with Topcon systems. He also uses software for estimating and bidding.

“Technology has improved considerably since I started in earthwork, both in machinery and other areas, and we’ve embraced it,” said Mike. “It’s increased our efficiency, but what hasn’t changed is our approach to how we treat customers. I still believe in being hands-on and providing the best value possible.

“We’ve grown a lot in recent years, and I believe we’re just the right size now,” he added. “I honestly never thought we’d get to this point. It proves that hard work and dedication to service pay off in the end. People tell me that I work too hard, but I don’t believe that. If you truly like what you do, it’s not really work at all.”